Arts & Culture News

Last Night's Performance Art Panel Combined Wrestlers and Feminism

One of the ancillary wings of DallasSites: Available Space, the DMA's month-long local art showcase, is PSWxEdu, a series of panels and experiences sparked by performance art. That programming is being organized by PerformanceSW, a newish team of talent made up of Courtney Brown and Alison Star.

Last night they held an introductory panel in the Horchow with Alison Starr, Courtney Brown, Joel Kiser, Luke Sides and Plush Gallery's Randall Garrett discussing why they choose to engage directly with an audience, rather than through a secondary object. UTA's Darryl Lauster used the first half of the evening to introduce iconic pieces of performance art and then served as moderator.

Joel Kiser and Luke Sides wore luchador masks, probably because the series culminates in a massive thumb-wrestling battle on August 15. Everyone else dressed normal.

Lauster ran through the 101: Early examples of great performative works, like Carolee Schneemann's kegel-clamping look at female objectification, Interior Scroll (1975); James Luna's anthropological self-insertion in The Artifact Piece (1987); Guillermo Gómez-Peña's prejudicial sin-absolver, Temple of Confessions; and Faith Wilding's game-changer, Waiting.

He closed with the three-minute original video of Waiting, where Wilding channels and condenses a traditionally honorable female existence down to its sorrowful, duty-lined core.

Personally, watching Wilding rock back and forth, speaking words so poignant that they haven't devolved in 40 years was the night's highlight. But there was more to do.

Because the evening was designed as a primer, the conversation didn't enter pressing territory, like the state of performance art today; what issues of 2013 lend themselves more to performance-centric work and Dallas' personal history to, and relationship with, the artform. Instead, each panelist explained what personally drew them to the craft and then answered audience questions -- though most turned out to be statements, ending in: "I guess I don't really have a question."

The panelists were extremely generous with their experiences. Still, for most of the night I was bothered by how frequently the word "entertainment" was thrown around by Irons and Kiser, and how amped-up the wrestler/actor/performers were about getting in everyone's faces.

That's some haunted house shit.

I don't connect art with pure entertainment. This life is large and offers plenty of room for both, but one needn't masquerade as the another. This thumb-wrestling finale was starting to sound more like a two-man upper-dial comedy bit than a piece of performance art.

So, I started to space out. I mentally wandered off. Then, Kiser mentioned -- as an aside -- that when you grow up rurally, without museums or colleges around, you build your understanding of culture on your surroundings, even if that's a wrestling night in the city square.

I immediately snapped back.

As soon as he said that he had my undivided attention. Now I know that I'll go see them on the 15th, but if he hadn't casually dropped the reasoning behind the project I would have skipped. Honestly, I wish he'd opened with it.

Is that unfair? It might be. And it might be more telling of my own naïveté on where the artform is now and its shifting effectiveness.

But in seminal works of performance art the ideas in question were so powerful, immediate and passionate that artists didn't want anything between them and their means of expression, so they used their bodies. There's still so much worth fighting for. So many new ideas and older, unmended ones; there's slipping traction surrounding human rights issues; rituals replaced daily by apps; an NSA more powerful than an FBI; a tsunami of data that somehow leaves us dumber -- all of that deserves attention. As do more personal backlogs, like these artists' identities being formed in geographical loose buttons. But without a reference of intent, theatrics alone are irrelevant.

Next Thursday PerformanceSW explores rituals in a hands-on experience introduced by Dr. Benjamin Lima, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Arlington. See the monthlong lineup here.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin