Gray Spaces curated by Ben Gansky

by Samuel Draxler

Fire Drill

Performance by Fire Drill. January 9, 2015. The Special Effects Festival. Photo courtesy of Fire Drill.

Transmedia artwork – work that moves between genres and forms – is never wholly foreign. By working with the materials of multiple disciplines, transmedia artists reproduce genre conventions and themes. This type of intermedia performance was the focus of Gray Spaces, an evening of performance curated by Ben Gansky that took place on January 9, 2015 for The Special Effects Festival as part of The Wild Project.

In the evening’s opening act, the duo Fire Drill sequentially performed dozens of ultra-brief segments of movement paired with sound. The manic assemblage of choreography was culled from different periods of music, dance, and pop culture. Within the indiscriminate array of clips were a number of gems, but the compelling and entertaining moments couldn’t linger, given the rapidity of the piece’s structure. The performance privileged this type of superficial viewing, inviting the audience to recognize and collect references, while feeling uncomfortably like scrubbing through a video on YouTube, re-closing ads while searching for a specific moment.

Sophia Cleary’s piece began as amateur stand-up: “do you ever feel like getting up on a stage?” With the perfect mix of awkwardness, affect, and self-deprecation, Cleary changed tack and began to lay out her notes on the stage in front of her, transitioning into a lecture format. Cleary’s chosen subject was the difficulty of connecting with an audience and conveying her true self, and this was narrated over a slide presentation that included, in its entirety, one slide of her loft, one of her therapist’s office ceiling, and one of Jordan Wolfson’s much-hyped automaton.

Over this last slide, Cleary claimed to be the dancing sculpture – described by Cleary as a partnership between her and a less famous, less talented artist. This fabrication led into a story in which she showed a video of herself (as automaton) to a man, whose response was to ask, “Can I get a copy of that?” Cleary indignantly responded that it’s not porn, and that he can’t have access to her archive. Of course, Cleary then performed the dance for the audience.  Explaining after that she was focused intently on a specific aspect of it, Cleary stated that she wasn’t happy with the results. There’s a delayed realization: during the performance Cleary had urinated, leaving a dark stain down one leg.

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Performance by FlucT.  January 9, 2015. The Special Effects Festival. Photo courtesy of FlucT.

Sedated switched back to tweaked out, for the performance by FlucT. It’s an aggressive and manic dance piece. Sensual and bodily, but agitated and twitchy. Sensual like having a stroke. Peter Mills Weiss appeared on stage for the final act. He stood stage center, posed as a storyteller or a comic, smacking his lips in a surprisingly revolting manner. Weiss began by sharing what was requested of him: to tell a human story, like what you’d hear on NPR.

And so, he began to narrate his parent’s divorce, and the abundance of food that he received from his now-separated parents. Stories – about pulling apart insects, apocalypse hoarders, and destroying human bonds for food – eventually segued into an unexpected and impressive beatboxing interlude. After which, a drone flew over the audience to deliver a piece of meat to Weiss, who consumed it before exiting the stage.

The event was billed as radical: “Existing between the black box of experimental theatre and the white rooms of the art museum, gray spaces explore the marginal zones of performance.” This line suggests that “gray spaces” are the alchemic result of fluidly mixing white galleries and black theaters into a new (gray) entity. However, while neither black box nor white gallery models of performance neatly encapsulate any of the works, the artists are all invested in traditional genres of performance, pulling from dance and choreography, theater, and stand-up; performing on a stage for a seated audience; and balancing artistic intent with the desire to be engaging and entertaining.

In this regard the closer color metaphor isn’t an even “gray space,” but Fire Drill’s houndstooth jumpsuits were an interwoven pattern that combined elements to produce something new. The rapidly switching courses within and between performances, the constant pivots: these double the digital sampling and remixing that runs through the program in clips, videos, glitches, and drones.

With technology creating new opportunities for creation, but also new means of mediating relationships, what does sincerity between an artist and audience look like? The performances in Gray Spaces, if not uniformly successful, are an attempt to engage with this new, remixed landscape, in which every action has its own baggage.

Sam Draxler is Director of The New York Performance Artists Collective (NYPAC),  a performance art non-profit.

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