Arts & Culture News

Performance Art Wins: I Fall On My Own Sword at CentralTrak

I have hesitations with performance art. There, I've said it. Having sat through too many diary-open mini-sagas in my life I approach that strain of artistic expression with apprehension, but by letting myself indulge those complicated feelings rather than exploring them, I missed out on a great series at CentralTrak.

On Saturday night I attended the final installment of Harakiri: To Die for Performances. Now I wish I'd manned up a month ago.

Upon arrival there was the usual mingling and cocktails, then a woman took over and framed the experience we were about to share. Playing the role of cloaked tribal leader, she pleaded with us to shed our inhibitions and clear our minds. Her speech was so lengthy that I unknowingly gave in, forking over my right to mental brattiness for entry to the main event. We were led in a pack through the back stairs. Once in the venue's main gallery space I was directed and placed in the confines of a small pen with the other attendees; while our temporary enclosure was only defined by a square of floor tape, none of us dared venture out. This was a clever design because by pressing us together, 50 people felt like 100. Also, when you have less physical space to occupy you're more inclined to forget yourself and focus on the scene at hand.

Ahead of us in a much smaller square stands a girl with a wire collar around her neck -- think dog cone made of chicken coop fencing. She appears distressed. To her left a man is busy. Surrounded by recording and projecting devices, he whirls a reel-to-reel causing a projection: A dancing form. The silhouette produced by the film equipment is distorted and flushed with color. At first blush we see a woman's curvy hips clicking back and forth, but the figure's shoulders are broad and the hair is exaggerated. Nothing in this space is fully categorizable.

Dancers emerge. They slap and pump, fall and rise, unite clutching one another and then breaking hopelessly apart. The dance continues in this sequence and feels like the shifting gate of hormones in flux or a mind in its most manic. Love. Loss. Passion. Exhaustion. I attributed this dance, this confusion, this beautiful struggle to be the emotional innerworking of the girl with the wire collar, who now looks both lost and rabid. The multimedia work morphs as two video cameras set on live feed spring to life, capturing the flailing appendages of the dancers and the occasional movement of the caged woman. All of which layers over the original video projected on the wall.

Human beings are complicated creatures. We struggle. We face defeat. At times we even win. More often than not we exist in the middle: holding these opposing forces in balance as best we can. We stay composed and avoid showing others the chaos that layers within us. Here, in this space, we see it all. This communal work of artistic theater kept me active, thinking and engaged. And when the last drum beat fell, stars were projected on the walls. The music took an uptempo twist and the taped line was ripped up from the floor. When everyone was free, we danced.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin