Situating Ourselves With Them, organized by Paul Pescador, Five Thirty Three, Los Angeles, May 14, 2010
Situating Ourselves With Them was an evening of performances that was intriguingly devoid of spectacle. I walked in to see a relatively sparse crowd quietly milling around, engaging in activities that were not immediately intelligible to the eye. The customary division between audience and performer was erased, as performances revolved around mutual portrait drawing, peer counseling, fun with props, and ambiguous, embedded voyeurism. Simply watching was not going to reward you much here. You had to get in there and participate, as most of the performances depended for their activation on the viewer’s agency.
In what seemed to be a play on the sidewalk caricature artist, Nathan Bockelman set up a space in which he and participants took turns drawing portraits of each other with black Sharpies. I’m not much of an artist but I took a shot at drawing Nathan and was surprisingly content with the result; it seemed to capture a certain aspect of him. Nathan drew me pretty well but I was horrified to find that I looked like Yoko Ono. The visual study of each other required to complete the drawings felt like a strangely intimate act, perhaps because performers don’t usually need to look at you to complete what they’re doing.
The results were posted to a wall under the signs “Us” (pictures of Nathan) and “Them” (pictures of the other sitters). The variations among the images of Nathan were fascinating, and included an inkblot-like contour drawing and one in which he looked Puerto Rican (he’s not). It was also interesting to see the variations among the images Nathan drew; one participant noted that he was much kinder to women than to men. This piece was about the participants seeing each other, not just in passing, but well enough to render a decent drawing; the relationship between performer and audience member was thus equalized.
In addition to being a performance artist, Peggy Pabustan is also a trained peer counselor who is interested in the performative aspects of her vocation. Audience members could sign up for a private session with her and discuss whatever they felt like discussing, for any length of time. I sat with her for about 20 minutes or so and wound up discussing a relationship problem that had been plaguing me for the past few days. I quickly discovered that Peggy was indeed a skilled and well-trained peer counselor; she expertly guided the conversation in positive, constructive directions and offered insights that were sympathetic and perceptive. I left feeling supported and in a better place.
In the early part of the evening, Peggy was videotaping the sessions, but had to stop because she ran out of disc space. She wasn’t sure what, if anything, she would do with this footage, and due to time constraints she was not able to discuss at length the relationship between her peer counseling practice and her interest in performance art. She did say, however, that the most rewarding part of this work was the opportunity to have intimate interactions with participants. Thus, as with Nathan’s performance, the energy exchange between performer and audience was about equal, with each participant feeding and supporting the other.
Alexis Disselkoen contributed a dropping body tent that required one person to operate and at least one other person to experience. The cylindrical tent, made out of what felt like a thick, velvety burlap, lay limp on the floor until someone used the attached rope and pulley to lift it up overhead. One or two people could then get under it and have the tent lowered onto them, which had the effect of immersing them in complete and utter darkness for as long as it was held there. A pretty cool head trip for the person under the tent; a fun exercise in service, power, and/or sadism for the person pulling the rope.
Stephen Van Dyck made a video out of a performance he did built around the concept of “freeballing.” Through Craigslist or some similar vehicle, men agree to freeball, i.e. wear no underwear beneath their clothing, at a specified time and location. In gay culture, this often leads to anonymous sex. In Van Dyck’s video, he walks around a busy supermarket at the appointed time with what I assume is a camera hidden in his clothing. The resulting footage turns an ordinary grocery errand into something of an imaginary dick parade, as our attention is directed to every crotch on the screen, wondering if that person is freeballing or not.
Event organizer Paul Pescador directed a simple performance that seemed to encapsulate his own concept of conflating performer and viewer. He had an actor sit at a table the entire night with his head slumped over his arms. The actor blended in perfectly with his surroundings and could have just been a tired guest, and yet his sustained silence and stillness over the course of three hours also exuded an accumulated presence, a slight creepiness. The removal of the artist from this work, however, was something of a sleight-of-hand that altered its balance. Without the performer’s own agency at work, the actor became something of a cipher, a hired hand lacking in personal investment, verging on being a sculpture.