Dawn Kasper, Karen Adelman, Tara Jane ONeil, Alejandra Herrera, and Marilyn Arsem, Free Clinic #2, curated by The Action Bureau, Human Resources, October 13, 2011

The above image captures one of my favorite things in Free Clinic #2, a suite of three performances by women artists curated by The Action Bureau. It’s the “score” that Karen Adelman worked from as she improvised primal screaming noises to accompany the ongoing OCD hoarding adventures of Dawn Kasper, while musician Tara Jane ONeil worked a drum set, a noise machine, and various objects.

In a sharp departure from her recent series focusing on popular song, Adelman channeled Diamanda Galás and Yoko Ono as she ventured fearlessly into the world of operatic noise. The work, titled Meditations in a Fucked Up Emergency, began powerfully in the dark with Adelman letting out several prolonged shrieks from the outer rungs of hell to announce the start of the piece. ONeil devised mysterious percussive and ambient noises in the background as Adelman continued her wordless sonic venturing, reaching for booming highs as well as moody, irregular lows.

L to R: Karen Adelman, Tara Jane ONeil, and Dawn Kasper. Image courtesy of The Action Bureau.

As the noise was going, Kasper rounded up large amounts of random objects and piled them into the performance space. She sometimes reminded me of a character from an old Warner Bros. cartoon as she kept pulling in comically larger objects, culminating with a roll cart loaded with folding tables. She stopped three times to read what sounded like poignant excerpts from literature or poetry.

The event was reminiscent of Kasper’s recent collaboration with Street Buddy, also a noise band; this time though, instead of an epic jam, we were treated to an interesting juxtaposition/opposition amongst Kasper, Adelman, and ONeil, three very strong artists with very distinct practices. Adelman soared sensuously while Kasper scuttled nervously; ONeil, while being a sonic provocateur in her own right, was also the necessary glue that held these two disparate personalities together.

Alejandra Herrera. Image courtesy of
The Action Bureau.

My experiences of the other two performances that night were interestingly mediated. I only caught the tail end of Alejandra Herrera’s Sagrado y Profano so I can’t really speak to it; there is, however, a YouTube video so you can watch it for yourself. I was present for Marilyn Arsem’s Dissolution but couldn’t withstand the boredom and apparent predictability of it; she took her time to slowly and thoroughly strip all the leaves off a healthy ficus plant. Like many people, I gave up about 10–15 minutes in, thinking the performance would just end when the plant was stripped, and I’d feel cheated of my time.

Marilyn Arsem. Image courtesy of
The Action Bureau.

In the days since then, however, I’ve spoken to a few artists who made it all the way through Arsem’s performance, and the accounts they gave me changed, if not my own experience, then at least my perception of the possibilities inherent in the work.

According to Karen Adelman, after de-leafing the plant, Arsem got out a pair of shears and went at the branches (at this point, Adelman groaned and thought she was going to be there all night). She then broke into the planter to get at the roots of the plant, and finally she grabbed the whole thing and slammed it down on the ground. From Adelman’s description, it sounded like an epic battle to completely wipe out the life of the plant. Tricia Lawless Murray also commented that while the performance seemed boring going in, the ending was truly shocking, which was unusual, and she appreciated it for that.

It should also be noted that site specificity is important to Arsem, and in a nod to the Chinatown theater setting we were in, her mise en scène included fish sauce that seeped on the ground, Ben Wa balls that rolled through the sauce, and dry ice. The ficus plant is also native to South Asia. Make of all that what you will.

There is plenty of documentation of all these performances on The Action Bureau’s tumblr site.

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