by Samuel Hanson
For curator and artist Kristina Lenzi, performance art is the antithesis of artifice. It is, she says, about “real people doing real things in real time.” She eschews work that smells rehearsed, presenting the kind of “performance art” that makes the presence of the word “performance” feel suspect. As hard as some of her rhetoric–– including claiming that “performance art” is not rehearsed–– is for me to swallow as someone who comes out of dance, perhaps her view is a grounding force in the era of performance celebs like Marina Abramovic. Performance art is a nebulous space– and that’s what makes it a generative one.
The opening work in Lenzi’s Salt Lake Performance Art Festival, which took place Friday and Saturday at the Salt Lake City Main Library, was Gretchen and Zoey Reynolds’ “Watching Ourselves Always for the Return of the Italian Puffies.” Ensconced behind the glass doors of the Library’s SHARE Space, an empty storefront within a row of shops, the mother and daughter enjoyed a two hour game of gin. Their objective throughout, was to cheat against each other, and this is what drew and kept an audience. It was a pleasure to see the two eyeing each other with the strange intimacy particular to a mother and daughter. Gretchen’s work is diverse, brave and never takes itself too seriously. I can’t wait to see more of it.
Shasta Lawton’s “Magic Circles,” which followed, also made use of the SHARE Space. I found this long mediation, which consisted of drawing ever larger circles on the glass, playing with nesting dolls and rifling through papers, completely impenetrable. That said, I enjoyed it as an opportunity to watch how the audience assembled searched the room and Lawton for meaning. Would that other audiences were so dedicated.
Next, in “Gifts,” Macie Hamblin, harvested her rainbow-dyed hair into color coded objets d’art which she rationed out to the audience like party favors. In contrast to earlier works, “Gifts” took place in the middle of the pedestrian traffic that fills the Library’s atrium. It was a pleasure to see another possibility offered by the strangers who traipse through this iconic space. Though Hamblin and her collaborator/head-shaver ignored the confused strangers, their fragmentary commentary of glance and shrugs lent the piece much needed playfulness.
Day two brought some works which spanned the Library’s entire operational day. The first time I got on the glass elevator with Jorge Rojas (who was dressed as some kind of bird), he was reading Rumi; four hours later, I was treated to Byron and another Romantic whose lines I didn’t recognize. It’s a pleasure to be read to. It’s even more fun when the intimate act is shared with strangers, who come and go like fellow travelers on a vertical subway. Here was something that really didn’t need much rehearsal, just a few well-chosen texts and a lot of patient work from the artist.
Marilyn Arsem of Boston, MA, whose work Making Time was seen last year at Nox Contemporary, performed “Lost Words” on the third floor. Armed with a hundred-year-old dictionary and dressed like some kind of time-traveling word monk, she opened each one-on-one interaction with a simple query. “Have you lost any words?” Whether or not you had, you came away with one, and with the charge to bring it back into common circulation. My favorite moment was watching her give my friend Luke Williams, a local performer of note himself, the word “pruinose.” Arsem deployed the word herself to describe the lightly frosted foothills above the city. Look it up.
Saturday’s other works spanned slightly shorter periods. Bryce Kauffman out of Colorado was a giant papier mâche ursine in “Bear Necessity.” I’m not sure what his piece was about, but it was a pleasure to watch small children rushing at him as he rocked back and forth holding a giant sculpture. You might notice a theme emerging–– the pleasures of this festival were as much in watching the diverse watchers as in watching the work proper.
Lenzi herself seemed aware of this in her elegant, simple “Fishing.” Standing on one of the walkways that overlook the atrium, she was dressed convincingly right up to a floppy khaki hat. All she did, and all she needed to do, was to taunt the stream of walkers with gummy worms. I watched for almost an hour.
Finally, Eugene Tachinni’s “String,” was very promising and somewhat underdeveloped–– a good representative of the tone of the festival. Basically an experiment in sewing strangers’ clothes together with thread, “String” suffered from a lack of amplified sound while Tachinni was interrogating each of his four victims on “what makes their life better?” The turning point, wherein the artist abandons his tied-together volunteers, came much too soon. The awkward interaction that followed was real and sweet, if not sufficiently suffused with tension. Like much of what I saw, it was a beginning without an ending, within a weekend that demonstrated the tremendous potential energy of artists, strangers, and a unique building in a rising Western town–– itself unfinished, a work in progress.
Samuel Hanson, a Salt Lake City native, trained with Hilary Carrier and at Tanner Dance at the University of Utah. His recent work has been seen at the Rose Wagner, the Masonic Temple, in Montana, Florida and New York City. He has performed for Ashley Anderson, Diana Crum, Yve Laris Cohen, Lindsey Drury and others. His work has recently been published online by Dances Made to Order and The Nashville Review.