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An Incomplete Map

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Festival completely maps language and sound

I must admit that, in general, I don’t get performance art. What sticks in my mind are reproduced images of Chris Burden’s “Shoot” and Vito Acconci’s “Seedbed,” as well as this performance at Cranbrook Academy of Art in which a student wore a squirrel costume and convinced his classmates to hide food from him so that he could forage in the surrounding woods (I hear the classmates were too good at hiding the food, and that the artist was slowly starving. The month-long project only lasted three weeks because it was really beginning to affect his work study job).

Evidently, I don’t understand sound art in the least bit, either (I mentioned John Cage’s “4’33”” (1952) and F News Editor Simon Hunt informed me that I was really talking about “art music composition,” or something). So, it was with much trepidation I attended an incomplete map of everything, Links Hall’s February festival dedicated to all of the experimental art forms I find most puzzling and perplexing.

Curated by SAIC faculty member and Links Hall’s new Artistic Associate Mark Booth, the interdisciplinary festival of language, performance and sound featured readings, lectures, live music, video art, in addition to text-based and other conceptual projects by local, international, emerging and established artists. Yet, after the first night’s program, I knew I would return. I was thoroughly entertained every weekend in February thanks in part to Booth’s ambitious curatorial direction. On the whole, the projects were smart, witty, and poignant and on another, higher level than my previous experiences of performance art.

Friday, February 3

A lot is expected of an opening night and an incomplete map’s performers certainly measured up and set the standard high for subsequent evenings. Daniel Borzutzky, unable to attend the festival but invited to participate anyways, submitted a series of texts written specifically for each night of performances. Matthew Goulish read the first of these Borzutsky Proxies titled “Education Policy Speech,” a ridiculous call-to-arms on the war of education, advocating the marinating of tenured faculty and the eating of National Honor Societies.

Terri Kapsalis was hauntingly hypnotic as she related stories from “The Hysterical Alphabet,” a series of narratives about the disease of the womb, or Hysterus, for every letter of the alphabet, while John Corbett mixed the accompanying sound effects from old LPs, whistles, bells, and various other whirligigs. The audience was left hanging onto “L,” old Lena who only wants Lunch. (What a Loser.)

Christian Bök rejuvenated the crowd with a ribald reading of his experimental literature, including excerpts from the books Crystallography and Eunoia. Pure genius, however, was his performance of “Mushroom Clouds” from The Cyborg Opera, a work-in-progress inspired in part by Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers and techno music. Bök’s sound poetry sounds much like beatbox in person, and, as far as I am concerned, is sharp, captivating, and tremendously amusing

Saturday, February 18

Unfortunately, I missed the second weekend of an incomplete map but arrived early for the second night of weekend three. Eileen Favorite was invited to read the eighth installment of The Borzutzky Proxy, a completely unromantic poem written on Valentine’s Day on 2006 (I remember some kind of vague reference to stool softening).

The highlight of the evening came early in the program in the form of F News’s regular comics contributor Lilli Carré’s narrative/slide presentation. Lilli intertwined two seemingly disparate stories, one based on the life of Leif Ericsson and another about a suit sent into space to orbit the earth, as she flipped through a series of slides of white, pinhole stars set against a field of black. I was on the edge of my seat anticipating a new image every time she advanced a slide, but we the audience were only awarded with yet another slightly shifted star configuration. The work was both subtle and whimsical.

Erin Tikovitch’s and Tony Rosati’s first collaboration, “Papered & Twined,” was described in the program as an investigation of “delicacies of code through ceremonies of secret language and mapping.” Frequently in unison, the two read letters between a fictive Elizabeth and her removed lover. Unfortunately, the text/sound performance felt new and awkward. Tikovitch was constantly searching in her bag of rolled up and tied letters for the correct one to read; at times she struggled to undo the ribbon and unroll the paper. When it went terribly wrong, she delivered parts of the text from memory which made for a disjunctive performance. I chalk it up to nerves.

Jen Bervin followed with a presentation of her artist book A Non-Breaking Space, a work that was scanned and is to be read, free of charge, wherever and whenever online (http://www.uglyducklingpresse.org/clouds/pages/intro.html.)
The beauty of the piece is in the quality of the book itself, in the extremely delicate and beautiful handmade structure with cloud cut-outs and thin paper transparencies, all of which is regrettably lost when read aloud. The online version, as the work is truly meant to exist, is much more satisfying.

Friday, February 24

an incomplete map’s conclusion was just as successful as its opening. The tenth installment of The Borzutzky Proxy was a comical diatribe on makers of metaphorless metaphors. Ken Fandell presented “Sitting on My Porch as the Sun Goes Down in the Year 2000,” a stunning, time-lapsed video of the artist sitting on his porch at the end of the day. What the camera recorded was the artist’s fidgets and the waning daylight until all that is visible is the reflection of the moon in the artist’s glasses.

Kenneth Goldsmith, a collector, cataloguer, and (for lack of a better title) distribution manager of everyday speech and culture, rocked the floor after the brief intermission by reading emails directed to soft-jazz musician Kenny G that mistakenly were sent to his inbox as radio personality Kenny G. The emails were at once touching and hilarious; one woman thanked Kenny G (the musician) for her quintuplets, or as she called them her “five miracles,” and one man bashed Kenny G (again, the musician) as a “fucking grave robber” for “collaborating” with the late Louis Armstrong. The audience continued to roar as Goldsmith read from Fidget, and also Head Citations, a list of popularly misconstrued song titles and lyrics including “I Can See Shirley Now, the Rain Has Gone” (“I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone” by Johnny Nash) and “She Was a Gay Stripper” (“Day Tripper” by The Beatles).

Matthew Goulish introduced new work produced for the Institute of Failure, “Brightest Thing in the World: A Portrait of Visionary Naturalist W.N.P Barbellion.” Goulish described intending to write about the death of the turn-of-the-century naturalist when the death of SAIC faculty member George Roeder intervened. What Goulish was left with was two lives and two deaths and a story about, perhaps, both life and death.

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