Jocelyn Foye, Smashdown, Laguna Art Museum, February 18, 2010
Arriving early at Laguna Art Museum on Thursday night, I was treated to the sight of a motley collection of Orange County and Long Beach roller derby girls testing out the pristine confines of the museum’s California Gallery. Hardwood floors, white walls, donor names inscribed above, track lighting—all normally the habitat of inert and well cared for art objects—now played host to unruly, scantily-clad chicks with bodacious bods and names like Luz Panties and D’Cup Runith Ov’r. The anticipation was palpable, as two smooth sheets of wet clay affixed to the walls on opposite ends of the gallery awaited hard and messy contact in an exhibition match called Smashdown, commissioned as part of the museum’s OsCene survey of emerging artists.
This was the sexiest vibe I’ve ever gotten in a museum setting. Unfortunately however, the actual event, billed as a mixture of spectacle and sculpture in which roller derby would serve as the mark-making apparatus, did not live up to this initial promise. Without any explanation, the girls started skating around and randomly making contact with the slabs of clay. It wasn’t clear what they were trying to do, or if there was any game plan; teammates would double up and hurtle each other into the clay, or individual girls would just toss themselves against the walls. At halftime, one of the referees attempted to correct this confusion by explaining that each team was going for hits against the other team, and were graded on the quality of their hits on the clay. This seemed to be more of a very loose guideline than an actual game plan though, as members of opposite teams only occasionally went after each other. There was a lot of giggling and gratuitous grinding into the clay.
One might argue that in real life, people go to roller derby to see hot chicks on skates beating the crap out of each other, and who really cares about the final score? But it is in fact the rules and structure of the game that give it a backdrop of tension and drama that make the rude ass-kicking all the more pleasurable and cool. Without it, you might as well be watching female mud-wrestling or kids finger-painting.
This performance was the latest in artist Jocelyn Foye’s long-running series of events captured on clay. What makes this series interesting and sometimes successful is its marriage of artmaking with a variety of other distinctive activities that retain their own coherence and integrity. One of the earliest performances was a wrestling match; two collegiate wrestlers battled it out in a tense, best-of-three-round match that had spectators cheering and jeering like they were in the Roman Coliseum. In 2007, for an exhibition in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Foye invited a Pueblo Indian dancer to do a traditional native dance on a circular slab of clay. This performance lasted about 10 minutes and was incredibly beautiful and moving. Both of these earlier performances produced dense and evocative wall pieces, and both continue to resonate for me three years after the fact. It is exactly this resonance, born of the authenticity of the ritual, that was lacking in the roller derby match.