Party Ball, Eamonn Fox and Patrick Ballard, opening reception for Tubular! exhibition at an undisclosed location due to corporate patrolling of the internet, March 25, 2010
The cool, sterile confines of a certain set of West Hollywood design showrooms got much more than it bargained for on this night. In place of the usual late-capitalist parade of dull, sellable art, an unexpected festival of mayhem erupted that seemed to temporarily transport partygoers back to the raw, idealistic days of the 70s—when a phalanx of performance artists would get randy and naked, an offended artist would speak truth to authority, and the young folk would openly smoke grass in the hallways.
The evening was something of an Armageddon for the suits in charge, who looked like they were on a battlefield in Iraq, but blissful for the rest of us authenticity-starved rubes. How often these days do you see pure fun emerge from the chilly restrictions of decorum, politics, and institutional rules? How often do people bust out without worrying about getting blacklisted somewhere or somehow damaging their career/social standing? Outside of private parties and the occasional Peres Projects opening, it’s all about playing by the rules these days, staying within the good graces of The Man, and reaping the resulting status quo benefits.
Not that there weren’t consequences to the night in question. Several of the instigators had to endure scoldings from the powers that be, with some no doubt submitting to the ultimate art-world punishment of Never Being Asked Back. Horrors! As the responsible coordinator for the Tubular! exhibition, whose opening featured a performance that culminated in nudity, I was subjected to my name being written up in some mysterious Orwellian “report,” one of the guards informing me that the internet was being patrolled for footage of the offending incident, and a very veiled Kafkaesque threat of unknown “issues” to be dealt with. To this day, those “issues” have not come to light, so I am crossing my fingers and hoping that I evaded the law and won this time out. I do, however, have an argument for the integrity of Party Ball prepared in my head, should I ever be asked to present such an argument, and the substance of that argument will comprise the rest of this blog post.
Party Ball was previously performed by Eamonn Fox and Patrick Ballard at a house party in Riverside, and has steadily been gaining notoriety amongst their circle of friends ever since. I missed that first performance, and when I heard a description of the version that was being prepared for Tubular!, I didn’t know what to make of it. There is a giant ball made out of chicken wire and gold wrapping paper. The two artists sit on chairs inside of it, accompanied by a cooler filled with 30 cans of beer. They proceed to drink their way through the entire cooler. When one of them finishes a can, he punches a hole through the gold ball and tosses the empty outside. He then removes an article of his clothing and patches the hole with it. This continues until both artists are completely naked. The climax consists of them lifting up the ball and emerging to walk off into the sunset together.
What that simple description didn’t prepare me for was the raucousness and energy that would come out of this performance. As the two artists drank, they would shake the ball, yell at the tops of their lungs, and interact with specific passersby, often calling them out by name. Emily Jankowski Pezic, the mad-scientist mind behind the space-age sound effects of It Should Be Breathing (an interactive fabric sculpture that stole the show), was assailed with “HEY COM-PU-TA-TION!!!” Artist Jed Caesar, something of a mentor to the two inside the ball, held an extended conversation with them through the holes in the chicken wire. I was screamed at for setting off my flash inside the ball. And several onlookers, in the midst of reading a nearby text piece by Fox, jumped at the sudden sight and sound of a fist bursting out of the ball.
Taking place in one of the gallery’s front windows, Party Ball took the energy level of the entire opening up several notches, providing a focal point of attention for many visitors, who gathered in the hallway by the dozens to watch the action. And while this might sound to some like a cracked frat-party ritual, I was also really struck by the multivalent beauty and poetry of the gold ball itself, whose massive, shiny presence loomed large in the window of the erstwhile door showroom. Evoking both religious iconography and drag tackiness, recalling both the hedonistic brilliance of glam/glitter rock and the preciousness of a Fabergé egg, this strange living object, which was at once graceful and ungainly, fulfilled a line from Fox’s own artist statement: “When objects are successful they live in a weird space, they sort of celebrate and critique themselves simultaneously.”
In the end, the golden egg hatched a couple of little chicks, as Fox and Ballard emerged buck-naked and fully inebriated, pounced back on the egg in a sort of crush-your-mother move, and chest-bumped each other in victory. Rather than having any kind of lasciviousness or decadence about it, however, this event had more of the innocence of a real birth, as the two artists—smiling, happy, and completely vulnerable—walked off into the distance, while a flank of bewildered security personnel looked on.
(Photos above by Gary Michael Spisak)
CODA: While the artists recovered in the back room, I was left standing in the front doorway, looking at the wreckage of empty beer cans on the ground. They looked quite lovely there, the perfect ragged remnants of a good performance, and would have made a great installation piece together with the half-crushed gold ball. It was past closing time however, and security was breathing down our necks, wanting us to shut the party down. I knew that they wouldn’t see the beer cans as anything other than garbage, and that if we didn’t clean it up, they would, and they’d charge us for it too. So after making a brief and futile attempt to argue in favor of art, I made the executive decision to clean up the cans. Not having access to deep-pocket funding, I had to let The Man win this one… but that’s another complicated rant altogether.