Karla Diaz, Box and Draw: Draw Your Opponent, Honor Fraser Gallery, April 8th, 2014, reviewed by Christopher Reynolds
As the first event in the recent performance series Have At It, curated by Laura Watts for Honor Fraser Gallery, artist Karla Diaz hosted her new interactive performance, Box and Draw: Draw Your Opponent. Artists, teachers, organizers and the general public were invited to go head-to-head in a battle for athletic and aesthetic glory. Part competitive sport, part art instruction, Diaz offered a light-hearted and engaging physical and mental activity, suspending preconceived notions of what performance is and can be in a formal exhibition setting.
The performance space—a toy boxing ring inflated inside the gallery to occupy the majority of the main room—set a playful scene for the interactions, along with DJ Emilio Venegas, Jr., a cast of characters playing judges and participants, and referee and host Karla Diaz.
The performance consisted of round after round of artists and arts professionals duking it out in a comical boxing match with oversized gloves, cheering fans and the infamous bell signifying the end of each round. Upon hearing the bell, the opponents were sent to their corners to draw their adversary from memory while the energetic Diaz bounced about in the ring, adding another difficult twist to an already difficult task. While simultaneously monitoring the drawing activities, causing a bumpy distraction and enlivening the curious crowd, Diaz read from various art texts, spewing art jargon and aesthetic theory in between the dramatic violence of fist and pen.
As the judges scrutinized each punch landed and every mark made on the page, I began my own bias inclinations. I found myself picking sides, yelling from the ringside for my hero to be crowned the champion. I formed tastes for the eclectic and diverse drawing styles of the competitors when they displayed their creations and, as a person who was never blessed with an ounce of athleticism, I finally found my sports-loving funny bone.
I have known Karla Diaz for many years through community projects, events and installations, learning firsthand that a desire for interaction and connection is paramount in her work. Box and Draw was no exception; audience became participant, participant became opponent and opponent became victor. Consistent with her previous solo projects and Slanguage art collective collaborations, Diaz avoids the easy trappings of spectacle within her performance work; elements of the work grab your attention and convince you to play along without losing sight of her true intent.
Box and Draw is the ultimate art world metaphor. Simultaneously poking fun and having fun, Diaz succeeds in humorously punching the hot air out of art world norms by pairing violent competitive sports with the cutthroat nature of the stereotypical art community. With the simple inclusion of a bounce house activity, Diaz reminds us that art can and should be several things at once: entertaining, fun, educational and thought-provoking.