I arrived at last month's Castleberry art stroll with fairly high expectations. The formula in my brain looked something like this: Allison Rentz + Garage Projects = delightfully Surrealist performance art madness. Yet unfortunately – and I say it with genuine regret – Truebadoor was a disappointment. Part performance, part sculptural installation, and part drawing exhibition,2 the mission of the show remained unclear. What happened?My mother groan'd! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud:
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
- William Blake, "Infant Sorrow" from Songs of Experience
Truebadoor installation at large. I was (pleasantly) surprised to read Cinque Hicks' reaction to the show; although we were apparently in the same room, our minds were in entirely different solar systems. His interpretation cites the aesthetics of Southern Gothic as well as, amazingly, death metal album covers. Wow.3
Upon entering Garage Projects’ modest exhibition space, the visitor was confronted by a large, biomorphic mass of chains (above and below), twisted aluminum, and great sheets of stretched plastic. The installation created several organic planes of negative space set at different angles and degrees visibility. Allison navigated through these various spaces, either at a distance or sometimes at less than an arm’s length from “the audience.” Her performance, while not exactly dance and nothing at all like stage theatre, was inspired although haphazardly executed.
Her instrument of choice – while it certainly looked great – may have been the critical point of sabotage. In another clever use of recyclables, Allison transformed a two-liter bottle into a bright red, dreamworld equivalent of a troubadour’s flute. This one, however, was designed to muffle the human voice rather than magnify it. Unfortunately, it did its job a little too well. Truebadoor – in a show that, with its name, paid homage to the traveling poets of 12th century Europe, it’s a bit disheartening when you can’t hear the performer.
And trust me – we really wanted to hear! It must have been a conspiracy of accidents: equipment malfunction coupled with the nonexistent acoustics of the room and the distracting, ambient roar of Atlanta nightlife. As the eponymous garage door of Garage Projects yawned open onto Peter’s Street, city noise and foot traffic passed freely into and out of the art space.
In fact, it was the show's architectural aspect – both in terms of Garage Projects and as manifested by the artist’s created environment – that amplified the difficulty of the performance. Allow me to use the concept of the fourth wall. If a stage director wants to "break the fourth wall" – to penetrate the audience's physical comfort zone – the director must develop strategies and stage notes well in advance.
But in performances like Truebadoor, the situation is completely reversed. There simply was no fourth wall, and although they had no cognizance of the fact, gallery visitors had little to discourage them from walking into or through the performance area. When I look at our photos, taken from within that womb-like spider’s nest of a space, it’s hard not to imagine the artist’s terror: What the hell am I doing here? Do these people understand at all?
Some sort of "device." Perhaps this is like that other device installed closer to the head of the room. Allison said it was some sort of laundry pulley mechanism, and she's used it as a kind of personal symbol in other installations.
Untitled, another "naïve" image suggestive of some major themes: maternity, being born, giving birth, etc. During the performance, I noticed that Allison would periodically stop to gaze toward this image for a few seconds before returning to her routine. She said that she was "listening"
It's an important fact that artists who turn to performance don’t have the same training as stage actors; the difficulty of Truebadoor certainly earns my respect. But all artists (and writers) have to develop a certain relationship to fear – a type self-knowledge that we master in order to effectively engage the public with our various dreams and cultural interrogations.
So with that said, I'd like to offer some words of encouragement. Though it's an often recited 20th century cliché (as in the attributed "shamanism" of Jackson Pollock, Joseph Beuys, or Ana Mendieta) I'll say it anyway: if you really have a vision - whether it's a troubadour or whatever form this vision takes - we, the public, need our artists to Become It.
Become our Troubadour, our Shaman
Oh, and don't forget to laugh. : )
1 On the use of Sharpie: Although it seemed a bit unprofessional, somehow it added an unexpected aesthetic effect. Instead of simply covering or decorating her body, it actually emphasized the unclothed, and therefore vulnerable, quality of her skin. Although no one likes to be reduced to a stereotype, she seemed to incarnate the heroics of "struggling artist." (I mean that as a compliment.)
Otherwise, I didn't really like the use of Sharpie on plastic and on metal. I'm certainly no expert on sculpture, but maybe something else would have been better. Nothing against Sharpies; Mike Germon has mentioned a plan for a show of images created with nothing else. I wonder if he still wants to do it.
2 On the drawings: sorry, I thought the drawings in Truebadoor had little value other than as thematic ornaments of the larger installation. Call it a personal fault of mine, but something really turns me off when I see drawings displayed in plastic sleeves. (Maybe I just need a couple more years to outgrow my roots as a custom framer…) I wonder if Allison has considered teaming up with a photographer for her 2-D images.
3 Meanwhile, over in my metaphorical solar system, the planets were revolving around singer Björk and The Cremaster Cycle by Matthew Barney. (Not to mention
Hugo Ball's concept of gesamtkunstwerk and the feminist performance tradition of Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann) If you want to know more, you should buy me a drink.
Also, on death metal: The Nov./Dec. issue of Art Papers ran a cover story on this same subject. They called the article "Crypto Logo Jihad: Black Metal and the Aesthetics of Evil," and the cover image is an appropriation of the black-and-white cosmetics made famous by Kiss. I wasn't sure if it was a sign of progress or of decadence... until I read the article. It's fascinating and a little wild: discussions of murder, encryption technology, and the dialectics of "ruthless individualism" and "collective empowerment." I guess what interests me the most about Art Papers is when they break what appears to be their own sense of taste...