Confusion Is Sex #3, Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, organized by Dino Dinco, Dawn Kasper and Oscar Santos, August 3, 2013
Last December, about 40 acres of forest were suddenly cut down by the US Army Corps of Engineers in an alleged attempt to preserve public safety. According to cryptic statements made by the USACE, the lush trees and brush, home to countless wildlife species, were razed because they had been harboring gay cruisers and homeless people. This was done without the consent of any other relevant parties, and has provoked the ire of state officials and environmentalists alike.
What an ingenious, and highly challenging, spot to hold an afternoon of site-specific, gender-queering performances by over 30 artists working in a variety of media. Since 2010, the Confusion Is Sex series—organized by Dino Dinco, Dawn Kasper, and Oscar Santos—has sought to “confront/defy/examine/interrogate the desire to categorize ourselves and others [with regards to] gender and sexuality.” Sunday’s event was billed as the final event in the series, and it certainly made for a notable finish—its location in a fairly large and varied patch of land that had recently been ravaged made for the most unique and dramatic performance setting in recent memory.
Wandering through this hot, arid tableau, surrounded by burnt remains and dry clearings where there had once been ponds and greenery, and seeing nothing and no one most of the time, I felt like a seeker whose faith was being tested in the desert. Would I find some sort of worthwhile gestures or meaningful encounters on my way, or would the harsh emptiness of nature rule the day? Luckily for me, I did see some memorable work, but I also missed many good pieces, and I heard grumblings from people who never found their way to any human activity and soon left out of impatience. Oh they of little faith!
The artists who were most successful were the ones who were able to connect productively with both their natural surroundings and the sociopolitical context of the recent developments there. In that regard, Jamie McMurry’s The Devil You Don’t Know was probably the most impressive effort. Dressed like a train-hopping hobo, McMurry dragged a door and other bits of miscellaneous detritus around the site with him, while Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” played incessantly on a boombox that he carried. He wandered the paths, scaled embankments, and waded in the river with his stuff, at one point stopping to scatter two jars of glitter into the air. He seemed to embody everything that the USACE had so carelessly done away with, at the same time that he conjured a trickster’s way out of the whole mess. By the end of his performance, the once-whole door had been whittled down to a jagged corner.
Kate Gilbert also communed with her surroundings in a magical way through an installation called Loon. Stringing a thread across two trees in a clearing, she set about attaching individual sequins to the thread using a small pot of honey as adhesive. She finished just as the sun was setting, and her glittery line became a perfect accent for the deepening amber light on the horizon. It was a loving and spirited act that Gilbert performed on this abused landscape, one that restored both sex appeal and a warm sense of inner peace. Photos really can’t capture the subtle experience of this luminous, beautiful piece.
For the past year, Samuel White has been conducting a series of residencies that explore intimacy with selected individuals. Each month, he chooses a new person to do this residency with, and together they explore what it means to be intimate with one another. This month, his collaborator is the artist Asher Hartman, and White’s piece for this event, titled Tentimacy, was part of his effort to get to know Hartman.
Inspired by the pilgrimages along Santiago de Compostela, White treated his performance as a journey; dressed like a hiker and carrying a small pup tent on his back, he would stop and pitch camp whenever he ran across someone who knew Hartman. He’d then invite that person to sit with him inside the tent and tell him everything they know about Hartman. He wore a badge with Hartman’s picture on it, shared his food and water, and let people wear the same sunglasses and bandana he was wearing, to symbolize that they were on this journey together. Over the course of the day, he had conversations with about six people. Like every performance that White creates, Tentimacy had a winningly poetic and inquisitive quality to it, like a storybook that you can’t resist opening.
Allison Wyper and Rebecca Hernandez chose to re-enact an iconic painting with The Lovers (after Magritte). The reference to frustrated or cloaked desires was apropos of course, and also made for some incredibly sexy and picturesque images in front of the steel bars of the Sepulveda Dam.
Other notable works I saw included Travis Read-Davidson’s The Spirit of Taboo and Alienation, in which he drifted through the grounds dressed in an ethereal white costume that included homemade platform shoes; Ossian Winningham’s tree-based rebirth fable Metamorphosis; Stephen van Dyck’s Tornado Alley, for which he lay on a mattress and chatted with men that he met through online cruising sites; Christy Roberts’ Father Figure, a splashy synchronized swim in the LA River set to the eponymous George Michael song; and Nick Duran’s The Solitary is Not Exclusive of Love, which found the artist wading in the river for four hours while weaving a web around him with thread.
There are plenty of photos of the event scattered around the internet. I’m including a few below that were taken by friends. More can be seen at the Confusion Is Sex tumblr site.