It Might Be Okay + Beuys' blurring of the lines.

May was hectic. Nonstop business as I and the rest of the Cincinnati art scene volleyed ourselves around the CAC's gala, the exhibition I had curated at semantics gallery, performances as Permafringe in OTR, and the tail end of senior thesis exhibitions in Cincinnati's various studio art degree programs.

June, too, has started off dense. We have been incredibly fortunate with a great collection of performances for the Cincinnati Fringe Festival (and an artist or two that I took a strong shining too in the Visual Fringe component... i couldn't tell you why, but Citybeat does not have the mini review of Isabelle Schiltz's video art on the website. It ran in last week's issue). I didn't get to see nearly as many performances as I would have liked to. The official word from the Fringe festival was that press passes were only available for members of the press who were writing reviews (presumably then, reviews that were already lined up prior to seeing the performances). But I splurged a little on a couple of very worthwhile performances, most especially yesterday's It Might Be Okay, performed at the legendary Gabriel's Corner by a group called Project Gobi. Originally conceived as a form of cultural exchange with visiting international students, this project was uncannily sensitive and, I thought, integrated many forms of creative expression into a mixed media set of monologues.

(image circulated with advertising for the performance by Project Gobi)

This project was directed and organized by one Julianna Bloodgood, a gem in our arts scene who teaches at CCM at University of Cincinnati and has been active in many forms of grassroots and avant garde theatre (see also New Stage Collective and Concert Nova).

As Bloodgood explained at the end of the performance, this project was created through, as I understood it, deeply personal workshops where the actors used autobiography and shared cultural experiences to build answers to questions about our culture's identity, a holistic one, if indeed such a thing can be established. The result was a beautiful set of stories, a cappella covers of songs like Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" and Don McLean's "American Pie." Rap, break dancing, IKEA shopping bags, and spoken prayers from a number of languages and religions made up a collage that brought to mind other rich tapestries of human experience like the 1995 film How to Make an American Quilt. Topics like politics, environmentalism, youth, romance, religion, and mortality were observed from a number of perspectives and different American backgrounds that were fluildy presented.

One of the most striking, moving moments in the performance is what essentially becomes an execution. One of the young men in the performance recites Saul Williams' "Bloodletting:"

So that we too bear witness to the short lived fate of a civilization that
worships a male god /
Your weapons are phallic, all of them....

Perhaps it is the swishy prophecy tone of Williams' work that really connects my experience with It Might Be Okay with some recent reading. I have been revisiting a reference book at the downtown Cincinnati library: Occultism in Avant-Garde Art: The Case of Joseph Beuys, by John F. Moffitt.

To talk about Beuys as "performance art" might compartmentalize an approach to art and life that was meant to dissolve any recognizable divisions such as these. Related to Fluxus and sometimes in the same spirit of Gilbert and George (in other words, the performance piece that never ends; all of life is a stage), Beuys creative acts were so grounded in real life, using formats like the lecture or the book or the commercial object to create enigmatically poetic products that approach a mystic fusion between art and life. I think, for Beuys, there is no difference between the two, but the space that he attends to- so often occupied with the crude gesture, the ritualistic act, and a deeply personal symbology (read: connections with my experience of It Might Be Okay)- seems poignantly otherworldly. Like Agnes Martin or Fra Angelico or Mark Rothko, there is an immediately pseudo-religious experience for many artists and art viewers that relate to Beuys' work.

I usually don't distinguish between art and life. It would be deceptive to not point out how slippery the mental space is between creativity and perception, between my life activities and my art with intent. Sometimes, it feels important to demark a conceptual space around a visual art object or experience, but I'm not sure I can totally quantify when and why that impulse arises.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Matt. Your appreciation and knowledge of the arts is a "gem" to us all!!! Thank you!


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