Perform Chinatown, July 30, 2011
I might not be the best person to write about Perform Chinatown, as I had one of those fuckup nights where I didn’t get to see some of the things I really wanted to see, and I didn’t stay as long as I should have at things that I liked. Said fuckups also put me in a cranky mood, which might have colored my experience. Still, impressions are impressions and I do generally trust my instincts, as well as the opinions and stories of several people I talked to, so here goes.
Good performance art for me is about concentrated applications of energy accompanied by well thought out sets of ideas, and sadly both of those elements were largely missing from last night’s event. The organization of the overall event was obviously haphazard and disjointed, which affected the feeling that it conveyed. Performances and attention felt scattered, not adding up to a substantial experience. It also didn’t help that a couple of performances of the tired retread variety were showcased in the open areas of Chung King Road, sometimes overshadowing the better work.
An interesting/controversial touch this year was the appearance of several Viking character actors from Hollywood Boulevard, who were asked to donate their time and roam the streets during the event. On the one hand, I really hated the immediate impact that it had, which was to make the event feel like a cheesy, child-oriented Renaissance Fair (I spotted one Viking woman handing out her business card to a child and telling her that she was available for parties). On the other hand, I do admire the conceptual audacity to venture into truly forbidden territories of uncool kitsch. They would never, ever do this in New York, and that’s a good thing. Mixed in with Marnie Weber’s offbeat animal creatures, who also roamed the area, the Vikings were almost acceptable… but really, not quite. Maybe our city just isn’t ready for this level of irony. Next year, perhaps.
One performance I kind of enjoyed was Tricia Lawless Murray’s re-performance of Vito Acconci’s Seedbed, which took place in the most perfect of locations—underneath the wooden stairs leading down into Jancar Gallery’s basement. During two sets of performance times, visitors could just make out the figure of Murray through the cracks in the creaky staircase, as she sat inside naked, masturbating, moaning, and interacting with her audience. The work was technologically updated for the times: a tape of her moaning was played continuously throughout the evening for the upstairs gallery, and a live stream of her performance, in which all of her actions were visible, was made available on UStream. Unfortunately the censors caught on to her and faded her out, which made for some technical difficulties and delays.
But Murray carried on for most of the evening, and in her hands so to speak, Seedbed became a friendlier, funnier work. She and her audience laughed together often, as when she informed us that one of her dildos had decided to take a break, and someone offered to get her new batteries. Another time she remarked that it was difficult to hold the dildo and move up and down at the same time. A lot of unsuspecting passers-by came in and marveled at the nuttiness that we art world types get up to, wondering how much Murray was getting paid to jack off.
Probably the best site and the best event in all of Perform Chinatown was John Burtle and Adam Overton’s offshoot mini-festival, Perform WOW!, held in Small Form Space (which was actually Lee Lynch’s surprisingly cozy, second-story alleyway apartment). I was only able to participate fully in Stephen van Dyck’s matchmaking project, and only caught about two minutes of Matias Viegener’s meditation session. But I loved the vibes that I got in this place. It was packed with a ton of different people and the atmosphere was really convivial, conducive to good chats and horsing around in the interstitial kitchen and landing areas. The intimacy of the space led to the desired concentration of energy that was missing from Chung King Road, and from what I heard, a good variety of engaging activities took place, including an intense Pity Party with Marcos Siref, and a jovial Unnaming Ceremony with Megan May Daalder.
There were individual elements of Perform Chinatown that I enjoyed, but I was basically left thinking that maybe the whole idea of a big performance art festival is not quite right. After all, Los Angeles is kind of a nonstop, year-round performance art festival at the moment, with individual performances better served by being spread out and focused.