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Performing arts

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Ecosex goddess with a bullhorn

“Lick the ground! Lick it!” called Annie Sprinkle to the small group clustered under an enormous sequoia. She’d already directed us onto our knees and had us press our foreheads to the earth. Now our little yoga class was getting weirder.

“Taste Mother Earth, or maybe just caress her. Run your hands across her curves,” said Sprinkle, her voice wavering excitedly. “But only if you feel comfortable.”

I suppose I should have expected this from an “Ecosexy Walking Tour” run by a former porn star, but I didn’t have much time to prepare myself. Just a few minutes before, I’d bumped into a graduate teaching fellow from my art history class.

“Are you going on the ecosexywalkingtourwithanniesprinkle?” she said, looking at me like I was a delicious tofu patty.

“The… wait, what?” I said.

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Ceremonials

Now, as I pretended to French kiss a patch of pine needles, I was getting a bit worried. Ever wonder if you could have resisted the Kool-Aid? I had my answer, and it wasn’t good.

Sprinkle was a porn star in the 70’s, a porn director in the 80’s, has been in a monogamous relationship since the 90’s, and is now an environmental crusader. Or should I say dominator? Only with the tree’s consent, of course.

None of this interested me very much, at least past an initial vulgar curiosity about Sprinkle’s self-proclaimed “ecosexuality.” What really held my attention was that my GTF had described Sprinkle (with utmost seriousness) as a performance artist. The fact that she’d been invited by the UO Department of Art upped her cred even more. Having just studied the Fluxus movement, I had to bite.

Fluxus was a disparate group of 1960’s artists that saw no boundary between art and life. To them, every mundane moment was a work of art. Their pieces had less to do with producing a final product (like, say, a painting) than experiencing an event. They called these events “happenings,” which could be anything from building an ice palace on a blazing hot day to licking jam off the hood of a car. You know, everyday stuff.

Sprinkle’s eco-neo-Fluxual performance, clearly organized into a series of happenings, felt like strange serendipity. Actually, it felt rough, like the bark of a tree.

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The Sprinkle-Stephens Scale of ecosexuality

The first few happenings had been orientations. We’d picked earth names (my new brothers and sisters: Damp Soil, Caves, Mowed Grass, Jellyfish), looked over the Ecosex Manifesto (“I promise to love, honor and cherish you Earth, until death brings us closer together forever”), and reviewed the Sprinkle-Stephens scale (based on Kinsey’s, but greener). Now we were taking the relationship to the next level.

“You really want it to be a full-body hug,” explained Sprinkle’s co-host, Portland eco-sex shop owner Kim Marks. Sprinkle nodded, keeping an eye on us as we approached the tree. You’d better not be giving Mother Earth no side hug, child.

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Hugging the sequoia was what you might call my transcendent moment. It was warm and comfy, and there was a spectacular view of the canopy. For a second, I stopped wanting to giggle or roll my eyes and existed within the happening. This is the whole point, I think. Or it would be the point if there was one, but that’s not the point.

I had class, so I cut out early while Sprinkle lead her followers off to find their “e-spots.” My departure was probably a good thing, as everyone had started complaining about last month’s “treeicide” and my earth name happened to be Snow.

As a gimmicky performer, Sprinkle was pretty good. She can spin out ecosex jokes like only a porn veteran could, and she slipped in some good messages about environmental stewardship and safe sex.

As a performance artist, at least in the Fluxus sense, Sprinkle left something to be desired. The Fluxus folks definitely had a sense of humor, but they fiercely believed in their art. Sprinkle’s happenings were all gags- bizarre, yes, but far from the brink of true Fluxus absurdity. Her imagined ecocult with its rituals, charts and chants was ludicrously intricate, but seemed a bit flat and overdone when dropped in the hippie hotbed of Eugene.

On the other hand, famous Fluxian Yoko Ono has probably been an ecosexual at some point in the last eight decades.

BONUS: Earth Day is comin’ up. Learn 25 ways to love the earth from Annie Sprinkle herself…

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This is Fred.

Fred spent the hours of 3 to 7 pm yesterday dancing in the drizzle along Coburg Road in a Statue of Liberty costume. The 26-year-old Eugenean is going to “tax school,” but in the meantime he’s stuck on the lowest rung at Liberty Tax.

Some might be discouraged by this, but not Fred. I spotted the enthusiastic gent on a drive, and was so impressed by his dancing and sign twirling that I had to get an interview. I caught him right at the end of his shift but still bubbling with energy.

Here’s Fred on life, liberty and the art of marketing:

Fred is clearly one of those people who puts his heart into everything he does. He’s been complimented by a fire dancer for his sign twirling, and was scouted off the street by Papa John’s for another sign holding job.

“Do you consider your job art?” I asked him.

“Well it depends,” he said. “You get a lot of sign shakers and sign wavers that are just like…” He gave an unenthusiastic smile and thumbs up to a passing car.

I think it’s fair to say that Fred elevates his job to an art. Along with Michael Jackson and MC Hammer, he said that Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges all influence his moves. Something tells me Fred’s on his way to being someone else’s dance idol. Or possibly the president of Liberty Tax. Watch out world!

…and just listen, because the video is craptastic! In my defense, I was eating ice cream at the same time and Jenna kept sticking her head in the frame.

This is my friend Julianna’s brother’s band. That’s a really bad way to introduce them, though. This is my FAVORITE LOCAL BAND. I’m not exactly a music maven, but I’d say Homeschool is worth a listen or five. Their laid-back, bluesy sound perfectly complements talented lead singer Tyler’s forlorn lyrics. “I ain’t no saint in the eyes of God/But I know a thing or two about sinnin’, Lord.” Brilliant.

That was the extent of my ability to describe music, at least at 1:30 a.m. Now sit back and listen to this rock lullaby.

BONUS VID: Click here to watch Homeschool play “Yellows and Blues,” my FAVORITE SONG from my FAVORITE LOCAL BAND.

P.S. Lots of exciting things this week, starting with a post on a super creepy totem. Just wait for it…

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Julia Holtzman, “Don’t Look @ Me”

I just saw Me and You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July for the first time. If you haven’t seen it, watch this goldfish death scene, and you’ll get the gist. The movie was a perfect addendum to a day full of strange encounters and interesting characters.

Six of those people live in the same woman, whose name is Julia Holtzman. These identities, from a police officer to an Amy Winehouse lookalike, are tacked in a quirky lineup along the wall of the Laverne Krause this week. They’re connected by a long red line of lipstick, and point to a television screen.

On it is an old woman hobbling along a busy sidewalk. She turns toward the camera and reveals a smooth face. It’s Julia. She starts to cross a street but drops her cane, and a passing gentleman scoops it up for her. For a second he seems to look into her eyes, but then he has vanished from the frame. Did he even see her at all?

With every flicker of the television screen, Julia’s identity fractures. Suddenly she’s a spy of some sort, sitting conspicuously at a cafe in a fake mustache and fedora. Then she’s just Julia, peering into a mirror and scribbling the apparent title of the piece, “Don’t Look @ Me.”

In the row of portraits, every character stares straight into the camera- and nearly leans out of the frame- except Julia herself. She stares into a mirror, pensive and vulnerable. The message seems to be, “Don’t look at me, look at them.” But her worried eyes reveal a person who, above all, wants to be seen for exactly who she is.

Holtzman has promise as an actress (her often manic characters would fit perfectly in an SNL skit), but someone who can so confidently be me, you and everyone we know has a bigger challenge first. She must learn to be herself. And she knows it.

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Garrett Royce Kovaks, “Without You, There Would Only Be Me”

I keep forgetting to tell you how Garrett Royce Kovaks’ live-in gallery experiment ended up (you know, the one where he started out butt naked). I walked through the doorway of the Laverne Krause Gallery on Friday and discovered the Great Wall of Cardboard rising before me.

The forbidding construction was a stark reversal from Kovaks’ nude kick-off on Monday morning, when he was enthusiastically asking passersby to come back with much-needed supplies. On the other side of the new wall, a fully clothed Kovaks was sitting with a friend. He looked up with puffy, tired eyes and seemed to swallow a moment of frustration at my intrusion on his conversation.

“I woke up this morning to KVAL’s news cameras in my face, asking me for an interview,” he said wearily.

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I’d checked in on Kovaks on Wednesday, when he was still in social mode and learning how to use a toilet that someone brought him. Now there was a bookshelf, a garbage bin, a house plant, a sitting room, a giant painting, a pantry nook, a TV room, a wall of business cards, and even soft music playing in the background. Kovaks had stayed up until 5 am constructing his little house, and the fatigue wasn’t doing him good.

“I keep trying to have important conversations with my girlfriend,” he said. “But it’s kind of hard when people are constantly walking through.”

How ephemeral it must have felt, sitting there like a zoo animal as countless visitors peered in, knowing that in a few hours he would have to tear it all down. Now that he’d created this world, what more was there to do but destroy it and return to things like class schedules and girlfriends? The performance was finished, the statement had been made. As he’d said from the beginning, the piece was really more about the public than it was about him.

“I think I might take a nap later,” Kovaks said. I imagine that after it was all over, he took a little more than a nap. Without us, there would only be him… and maybe sometimes that can be a good thing.

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Tim Hamilton, untitled

The zombie was sprinting toward me through the thick crowd, his moldy head bobbing closer and closer each time I saw him. I dashed around bike racks, a tree, a planter. The door to Lawrence Hall was thirty feet away, twenty feet away…

Remember those zombies in old movies that moan, drag their feet, and are only really good for blocking traffic? In the UO’s Humans vs. Zombies, a giant game of decaying-cat-and-mouse that I’m currently playing, zombies are more of the 28 Days Later ZOMBIE RAGE VIRUS variety.

It’s a pretty simple game. Humans wear green armbands and carry Nerf guns to stun zombies for short periods of time. Zombies wear green headbands and tag the humans to infect them. Buildings are safe zones.

I rushed into Lawrence and turned around to peer through the glass door. The zombie had completely vanished.

Approaching the Laverne Krause gallery, which I’ve been visiting every day to check on live-in performance artist Garrett Royce Kovaks (the last post on him is here), I turned the corner to find ANOTHER ZOMBIE. It made eerie squeaks and mysterious rattles, it had twitching fingers and stiff mechanical movements, it was… art.

The Krause’s current exhibition is called “Work in Relation to the Body,” or at least that’s what Kovaks has scribbled in marker on the wall. I wondered if Hamilton had been inspired by living, dead or undead bodies when he created his piece out of wood planks and bike gears. Metallic hands connected to great masses of wire reach out or hang down from the planks, slowly moving their fingers as the gears turn. The effect is truly creepy, and the piece is a little sculptural marvel. How did Hamilton design such a thing on paper, let alone actually bring it to creaking life?

I asked Kovaks what it’s like to have such a monstrous, noisy roommate. “I actually kind of like it,” he said. “It’s better to have some sound than no sound.”

“EEEEaaaaaEEEEEE,” the monster agreed.

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Garrett Royce Kovaks, “WITHOUT YOU THERE WOULD ONLY BE ME”

On the other side of the room, Kovaks had set up a lean-to and begun to sort the various objects gallery visitors have given him into different sections of floor. The food section had peanut butter, canned goods, and granola bars. The clothing area included Kovaks’ first clothing acquisition, a purple bathrobe. There was an art supplies section with paper and a giant pile of leaves. The library was furnished with at least a dozen books, but Kovaks said he might not get much reading done. “I don’t have my glasses,” he said. When you start out naked, even your spectacles are a no-no.

Just as I was leaving, someone brought Kovaks a giant metal toilet to replace his little bucket.

“If I were in here for days, I would want something I could sit on,” said the gentleman, who is clearly a bathroom reader.

Poor Kovaks. He’s got the pot, but he sure doesn’t have the privacy!

BONUS LINK: I bumped into Hamilton he other day and learned all about bringing machines to life. Read it on the Talkback page!

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Garrett Royce Kovaks, “WITHOUT YOU THERE WOULD ONLY BE ME”

“Could you stand over there and pretend like you’re writing?” my friend Jenna said to the nude Garrett Royce Kovaks, adjusting the focus on her camera.

“You want me to pretend to do something?” Kovaks said, laughing in disbelief. “What do I get in return?”

“I’ll bring you food or something,” said Jenna. A while later, she seemed frustrated. “You’re looking posed right now, that’s not what I want!”

“But you told me to come over here!” said Kovaks, exasperated. “Do you want the truth or something else?”

It was only about 45 minutes into his performance art exhibition at the Laverne Krause Gallery, and Kovaks was already experiencing the unique challenges of completely opening yourself up to the whole wide world.

At around 11 am on Monday, Kovaks shed his clothes and stood on the cold tile floor of the Laverne Krause Gallery. Until Friday, he’ll rely on the kindness of gallery visitors for all of his needs, from food and tinkling (he’ll be locked in at night, so someone brought him a bucket) to clothing. Kovaks says the piece is meant make us more aware of “these objects you bring with you and how they influence communication,” or maybe get us to ponder the psychology of giving to those less fortunate.

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But, at least at its outset, the message was entirely swept away by the spectacle, and Kovaks seemed to feel it. He’d already been visited by representatives from two different media outlets, and now an insistent photography student was asking him to “pose.” When you do something extreme that might make an interesting visual, flashbulbs quickly follow.

Oh, performance art, why do you constantly provoke me? I suppose that’s mostly the point- or if it’s not, artists are doing a pretty good job of it lately. Did you see that headline about the artist who gave birth in a New York gallery? Even the wonderful Marina Abramovic has run into some trouble lately. Turns out asking your subjects to put up with medieval torture and lie naked under human remains might be considered exploitative rather than avante garde.

Once I got past the shock value, though, there was something heartwarming about Kovaks’ piece. A young lady wandered into the gallery while I was there. She saw Kovaks and gave a little jolt. Then she haltingly stumbled around the other pieces on show, sending the naked man wary sidelong glances while he scribbled his experiment’s rules on the walls with a pen someone had given him.

Eventually, the girl ended up right in front of Kovaks. “Are you going to be in here all week?” she asked timidly, standing slightly sideways.

Kovaks turned and fixed her with a warm smile, a gentle, hairy giant in his birthday suit. “Yes, and I’m depending on you to help me out,” he said. What will happen to Kovaks? Will he sleep on cold tile tonight? Will he starve? Will someone eventually lend him a sock, at least? It’s all up to you and me.