Alise Spinella, The History of WEDNESDAY, Cottage Home, Chinatown, February 18, 2011
I last saw Alise Spinella in Long Beach, when she performed the intriguing, site-specific TUESDAY (Transcribed) at Eamonn Fox’s Neon Gallery last fall. In a continuation of this same series of work, Spinella recently created The History of WEDNESDAY for Cottage Home gallery and performed it as part of Cognitive Dissonance, a video and performance event curated by Keith Rocka Knittel.
The event, layered on top of Cottage Home’s current exhibition (Anthony Greaney x Samsøn x DAN GRAHAM) as a closing party, made for a great show all around, and attracted a lively and convivial crowd of people. This made for a particularly striking environment in which to conduct The History of WEDNESDAY, a quiet walking meditation involving soft spoken words and a spool of thread. This performance could have easily been drowned out by the party, but instead it carved out a pathway of its own that was hypnotic in its understated power.
Spinella and fellow performer Shawn Lockie began the piece at the gallery’s entrance. Both were dressed simply in black, and both walked in bare feet. Side by side, they slowly traversed the entire perimeter of the gallery. As they walked, they spoke the history of Wednesday as it took place at Cottage Home—everything that happened on that day, in that space. Each woman took turns speaking very softly. As they spoke, they unwound a spool of red thread between them, using it to connect their opposing hands together, like a game of cat’s cradle. As the artist later explained to me via email, the thread functioned as a symbolic recording device: “Like an old-fashioned tape-to-tape reel, we were recording our findings on the thread, and also weaving ourselves together at the same time.”
As the two women walked, various people would come and fall into step with them, in an effort to hear the words they were saying. When they reached the end of their walk, an assistant cut the threads between them, which they dropped to the ground before saying in unison: “Wednesday! And we would transcribe all that happened on Wednesday, and maybe every Wednesday, from a two-dimensional surface into sound. To read the building’s history to itself, and then leave it behind.” (I didn’t actually see the ending myself—Spinella relayed it to me.)
There were so many beautiful and compelling aspects of this performance—the earnest nakedness of the artists’ feet walking through a cluttered urban environment; the accumulation of gravity through murmured words and steady, stoic concentration; the mysterious weaving of bright red thread; the mirror image of two women walking together; the gentle machinery of their coordinated actions; and an incantatory, spell-like quality. Spinella speaks in her artist’s statement of “exploring the space between language and form, reality and fantasy, known and unknown.” By lightly weaving herself into those liminal spaces between categories, Spinella’s work achieves an otherworldly quality that lifts it into a different realm, making her performances memorable long after the fact.