Three Women: Performances by Dawn Kasper, Taisha Paggett, Nancy Popp; Artist Curated Projects (ACP) at the home of Eric Kim, December 12, 2009
This past Saturday, Artist Curated Projects (ACP) held an evening of performances by artists Dawn Kasper, Taisha Paggett, and Nancy Popp. The venue was generously provided by Eric Kim, who opened his Silver Lake home to guests and gave the artists free rein with their various projects. For the event, each artist developed a unique performance that specifically responded to the qualities of the space. Not widely advertised, Three Women drew a crowd of artists and aficionados who were generally familiar with one another.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this event. What I keep coming back to is the intimacy of it—the comfortable familiarity inherent in a home environment, the collegiality among the guests, the way each artist tailored her actions to the architecture of the house, the essential role played by respectful social and physical interaction. It is rare to experience this kind of intimacy at an ostensibly public performance event, and thinking about it over time, its quiet layers seem to unfold like a secret, or a gift received from a close friend.
Of the three performances, Taisha Paggett’s Decomposition of a Continuous Whole was the most self-contained, taking place in a small designated room. As a launchpad for the work, Paggett made available an extended quote from Henri Bergson’s Matter and Memory, in which he talks about the process for learning a physical exercise: while the eye perceives a continuous whole, the body’s learning process is “compound and made up of a multitude of muscular contractions and tensions… The confused movement which copies the image is, then, already its virtual decomposition; it bears within itself, so to speak, its own analysis… The true effort of repetition is to decompose, and then to recompose, and thus appeal to the intelligence of the body… a movement is learnt when a body is made to understand it.”
A series of specific movements was choreographed for this room, and Paggett undertook to perform them blindfolded, over and over, for the duration of the evening. Beginning to the left of the door, Paggett would work her way around the perimeter of the room with a colored crayon, making one continuous mark along the walls as she executed leaps, stretches, pliés, and crawls. When she got to the window on the far side of the room, she would exchange the crayon for another color from the long row of crayons that lay along the sill. Then she would continue until she got to the other side of the door, at which point she’d pause briefly before beginning the cycle of movements again. Before long, the walls and closet doors were covered with multi-colored crayon lines, all very closely paralleling one another.
Paggett’s piece was a beautiful enactment and exploration of Bergson’s diagram; by blocking her own visual perception, she laid bare her body’s process of learning and understanding through repetition—not just the choreographed movements, but the contours of the room and the sequence of the marks. A trained dancer, Paggett’s movements were graceful and balletic; at the same time however, they contained an element of pathos when she seemed to struggle to attain her mark.
Although this piece did not ask for nor require audience interaction, people experienced it by being in the room with Paggett and watching as she moved around them. Like viewing a sculpture in the round, you could alter your perception of the piece as you followed her around the room, or as you sat in one of the chairs and watched her progress.
For wall/space (working title), Nancy Popp took an enormous roll of seamless background paper, about nine feet wide, and used gaffer’s tape to drape it from the ceiling, across the living room and through the dining room and kitchen, before she ran out of paper about two or three hours later. The installation created an awkward diagonal curtain between the main entrance to the house and the cozy living room area with working fireplace. It then cut through the dining area, where Popp had to slice a big rectangle out of the paper in order to make room for the dining table, which was laid out with snacks for the guests. The paper’s journey ended in the kitchen, where it cut off access from the dining area, forcing guests to go around and through another hallway to enter. At every turn, the installation, which one observer dubbed “the anti-Richard Serra,” disrupted the normal social flow of the party, forcing guests to take alternate routes, and creating smaller spaces where there was previously an open area.
In creating this temporary, malleable architecture, the artist’s goal was to examine the partitioning of social and domestic space as a metaphor for psychological space. Indeed, we were already in an intimate atmosphere, someone’s private home where there are more rooms and the walls lean closer than they generally do in public spaces. Popp’s piece accentuated this fact, evoking perhaps another layer of intimacy with the strangely imposing sheets of very white paper that got in your face right when you were expecting to progress from point A to point B. The guests all shared the odd experience of being engulfed in this material, and yet, the material also blocked off our views of one another, frustrating some attempts at making contact. Perhaps this mirrors a kind of psychological push/pull dynamic that takes place in social situations. The ramifications of wall/space became even more interesting later, when it interacted closely with the last performance of the evening.
Dawn Kasper’s in and out of and an icy place, the effects of time alone in the home began about halfway through the evening and lasted for what felt like a very intense 40 minutes or so. The performance actively engaged with much of the house, traversing several different areas of it, and enticing viewers to follow her everywhere, even into smaller crevices where only the first five or so people could see anything. The fun of the performance lay in this scavenger hunt-like quality; it was most compelling, however, to watch Kasper in action, as her trance-like state led her through a number of unpredictable actions that evoked a host of personal associations.
She began by driving her pickup truck into the lower-level garage and emerging naked to lay out a number of black-and-white photographs on the tile floor, one photo per tile. Donning an all-red outfit that included a wide-brimmed red hat, Kasper then ran upstairs and out to the pool area, where she arranged all the candles on a table into a neat row, and piled all the wooden chairs on top of each other so that they reached the rooftop. She then took off her red clothes and set them afloat in the pool, going back inside to the TV room to put on an all-orange outfit. She took all the blankets off a couch and lay them in a neat row on the floor. Her mini-amplifier was nearby, and she unfurled a microphone attached to it. Crawling with the microphone back toward the amp, she unpacked a saddlebag full of her personal belongings and laid them out on the floor: a handkerchief filled with stones, manila envelopes filled with scraps and clippings. She seemed to try to connect the mike with the clippings, as if wanting them to speak or sing. She also stuffed some of the clippings under a couch.
Taking an orange extension cord out of the bag, she plugged it into the wall and unwound it, ultimately threading it under a door leading back downstairs. She then went downstairs with it and hollered back up to us, “What? What did you say? Can you repeat the question? I can’t hear you. I’m upstairs. I almost forgot what we were talking about. I said, do you need anything from the Trader Joe’s? What, dammit I can’t hear. Nevermind.”
Coming back up into the TV room, she crawled under another couch, squirmed out of her clothes while she was there, then tipped the couch over and got up. (I should also mention that throughout the evening, a video work of Kasper’s was playing on the large TV screen—an image of dense foliage, gently swaying in the breeze, and constantly changing colors, from yellow to red to purple and so forth, to a pulsing metal-ish soundtrack.)
After tidying the upended couch, she got into an all-pink outfit with wide-brimmed pink hat, and proceeded to the living room. Starting in front of a mirror near the entrance, she crawled under the Persian rug—and Popp’s wall/space barrier—to get to the roaring fireplace on the other side, in front of which she placed a sprig of fern. She took firewood out of a box and started arranging them in stand-up rows. She rearranged a few other objects in the room before she broke through Popp’s piece outright, taking a small white table with her. We all followed her, this being the first time that anyone at the party violated Popp’s installation, and wound up in the kitchen, where Popp was still working in the far corner. Kasper put the white table on top of the stove and piled rolls of paper towels on top of it until they reached the ceiling.
Working her way back to the pool area, Kasper jumped into the deep end and emerged at the shallow end, removing her wet pink shirt and twirling it repeatedly until it became a long string of damp cloth. As she twirled the shirt, she recounted a story of how she almost drowned in an icy river as a child, and she always thought her father saved her life, but it later turned out that he’d been at work that day. The cold pool water seemed to trigger this memory, as she demonstrated “safe side, icy side” by dipping her foot into and out of the water. Finally, she removed the rest of her clothes and arranged them carefully on the ground with the shirt. The performance ended when she ran back downstairs into her truck, as naked as she was when she arrived, and drove off. On the stairs leading down to the garage were several of Kasper’s clippings, with the microphone laying on top of them.
The OCD references are perhaps the most obvious and pervasive in this performance. But there are also some motifs that have recurred over the last few performances I’ve seen her do: the gathering and spreading out of her personal effects, frustrated attempts at communication, the recounting of stories that question the function of memory, the presence of music and noise. Such motifs are accumulating into something of a personal archive or mythology that propels and gives coherence to these new performances. Kasper’s work seems to primarily be about the workings of the inner psyche, and as such, the opportunity to see her in a non-institutionalized space filled with someone else’s personal belongings seemed especially appropriate for her practice, perhaps giving it the kind of space in which it can really flourish.