Karen Adelman, Lowering, studio performance at USC, September 22, 2011
In a private performance in her studio last night, done in front of about 20 invited guests, Karen Adelman continued her investigation of the popular song and the archive of memory and collective emotion that it represents. As she did at last year’s Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair, she performed Patsy Cline’s epic love song, “Crazy.” This time however, she added extra layers of personal history by prefacing the song with a reading of poems she had written a few years ago. Printed in book form and titled Unabashed Poems, they are odes of admiration to a loved one that sometimes verge on stalking. As Adelman writes on the colophon page, “Because nothing ever came of it except these poems, and I’m not ashamed of them anymore.”
The poems themselves are actually quite lovely, but I imagine they were painful to share in public, having been written in secret once upon a time. Adelman was visibly nervous as she read a selection of them, which was endearing. When she was done, a friend of hers got up to provide guitar accompaniment for “Crazy.” At this point, the nervousness seemed to disappear as the artist got into her element. In contrast to the earnest but crowd-diluted version at the fair, Adelman’s rendition this time was slow, bold, passionate, and impossibly intimate. A highly trained vocalist, her delivery was deep, true, and utterly stunning.
I’m reminded of the time that I found myself in a small room with a trained dancer at The Company. There are few things in life that are more exhilarating than great live performance, and even more so when the surroundings are so intimate. Sitting just a few feet away from Adelman as she sang was a thrillingly naked experience, a pure transference of energy between humans that made everything inside me vibrate. If I had been going through a breakup that day or even a bad case of PMS, I’m sure I would have cried.
Far from just being a corny or sentimental exercise however, in Adelman’s practice these experiences are held in a kind of investigative suspension where we are invited to examine the dynamics that occur and think about the collective histories embedded in them (Adelman’s book even ends with a sonnet). It really is to her advantage that she has the training that she does, which enables her to manipulate these histories in subtler and more variegated ways than if she did not have the same training.
Going back to the discussion I started some months ago about dance and song in performance art, it seems that training is really a key element for these artists. In their professional lives, training does matter. And yet, performance art (as opposed to “the performing arts”) is typically an arena for untrained acts. This leads to some interesting experiments; artists like Adelman and Flora Wiegmann shrewdly utilize their training in highly conceptualized works, whereas Hana van der Kolk may be more interested in “unlearning.”
Well this should probably be the beginning of another post altogether. But it’s a line of thought I’m interested in pursuing, just as I can’t wait to see what Adelman, Wiegmann, van der Kolk, and others I’ve written about here do next.