Human Resources grand opening, May Day Event, Chinatown, May 1, 2010
LA has a new space dedicated to performance art! Human Resources opened on the Bernard Street cul-de-sac in Chinatown on May 1. According to the press release, Human Resources “[recognizes] the relative absence of art spaces devoted to performance… [and] departs from the traditional visual art gallery to support the expression of art performers by providing them with a gallery venue as well as video and sound archiving of performances that take place there.”
Although performance art takes place at a fantastic array of venues throughout LA, it’s a welcome development to have a space that specifically recognizes the importance of this medium in our community and seeks to nurture the energy that continues to thrive within it. I am also heartened that documentation is an inherent part of their mission statement, and am excited about the resource that this will represent for present and future generations of artists and scholars. Human Resources is founded and organized by five individuals—Eric Kim, Kathleen Kim, Dawn Kasper, Devin McNulty, and Giles Miller. An interview with all of them is in the works, to appear on this blog soon.
The grand opening was a festive and well-attended May Day-themed event that included an audio presentation by Sharon Hayes; video work by New York–based advocacy group WAGE (Working Artists and the Greater Economy); performances by Lucy Indiana Dodd, My Barbarian, Fritz Haeg (reading a speech written by WAGE), Dawn Kasper, and Corey Fogel; and musical performances by Mad Gregs and Wounded Lion. In an auspicious move, My Barbarian performed a convocation ceremony that included three songs and a cleansing of the space and the five organizers by burning fresh cedar. Of the performances that I was able to catch, the two that stood out for me are written about after the jump.
Dawn Kasper seems to be getting stronger and sharper with every performance. Like yoga practice (which I’ve been getting seriously into as of late) she revisits the same places and gestures over and over, but uncovers more depth and resonance each time, becoming in the process a better orator of her own world.
In on drawing, many familiar motifs were present—nudity/changes of wardrobe, a paper bag over the artist’s head, a blank canvas, a microphone that is obsessively placed and dragged around to pick up sounds, a stream-of-consciousness monologue, the incessant presence of Kasper’s own mental processes and moods. But this time the focus of the performance, as indicated in the title, was more specifically about the process of considering and making a work of art. Dressed all in white, surrounded by a perfect white cube space, at times donning a paper bag decorated with white chalk, Kasper wrestled with the implications of a large sheet of white drawing paper, which she soaked in a white wastepaper basket before affixing it to the white wall behind her.
Speaking to the paper, she began with “Okay I wasn’t sure how to go about this…,” and talked about drunken interludes and “that other part—where I wanted a fucking job… all I wanted was to have a purpose.” Continuing the dialogue, she touched on “gesture on gesture, it doesn’t mean anything” and “it’s not cool anymore, I had to fuck it up by thinking too much” and “sometimes I think people have it figured out and I just missed it.” As she talked, she continuously re-arranged the paper on the wall, at one point delighting in a nice corner placement. She also talked about wanting to make a piece about her mom (was that a nod to a recent Dynasty Handbag performance?), wanting to put it all into an object, and how does she make it so it’s a thing after this moment? Getting tired of the dialogue, she said, “Fuck you, you’re a piece of paper—so much potential I don’t know what to do.”
The piece wound down with a few ruminations on the significance of May Day, the recent BP oil spill, and finally, a reading from Northrop Frye’s “Theory of Myths.” Her monologue was occasionally punctuated by phrases like “I forget what I was thinking about” and “I need a nap now,” firmly grounding it in the banal stream-of-consciousness of the everyday. Indeed, a lot of this is stuff that goes through my own head and feels so familiar and common. Yet in Kasper’s concentrated performances they live in a sort of sacred evocative space that becomes something more and leaves a residue, a psychic mark-making, a brief live picture.
Corey Marc Fogel presented an extended solo musical performance on drum kit and xylophone. He started by repeating the same short riff over and over on the xylophone; he then added vocal accompaniment, and finally drums. The piece consisted of the seemingly endless repetition of the refrain: “Oh, I been travelling on this road too long, trying to find my way back home, but the old me is dead and gone, dead and gone.” At one point Fogel’s voice cracked from the repetitions and an enthusiastic audience helped him along by singing the lyrics for him until he could get a sip of water and recover. The piece was most powerful during the drum accompaniment, then wound down again by going to bass drum only, then xylophone, then vocals only before Fogel dropped his drumstick and left the stage.
Not being much of a hip-hop follower, I thought the passage was something from an old American blues standard. But I was later told by two different people that it’s from a Justin Timberlake song. This fact in itself is interesting, because “Dead and Gone” is actually a TI song for which Timberlake only sings the aforementioned refrain, popping up like a windup doll between long verses. The bulk of the lyrics are a gritty, detailed account of growing up embroiled in the gangster life and trying now to leave it behind. I guess Timberlake functions as a sort of symbol of success and clean living for this gangsta rapper who has clearly seen hard times. But the fact that much of the dialectic in the song popularly gets lost under the weight of Timberlake’s star power is somewhat problematic.
Is Fogel intentionally commenting on this weird dynamic through his performance? Or is this just an ironic act of sampling for him? Hard to say, not having talked to him, but I found the performance compelling on its own merits, any way you looked at it. The act of grueling repetition created a trance-like state for both performer and audience, and the catchy universality of the words generated a sort of rhythmic empathy, particularly in the moments when the audience was singing along. It was funny and ridiculous, in a windup doll kind of way, but also touching and transcendent, like a wandering musician.