Nota Bene with @postuccio [viii]

Microscope, Underdonk

Microscope

“Scrapbook Performances” is an admirably extensive, broadly politically engaged series of evenings of performance art programmed by Microscope Gallery in relation to their current group show of video art, “Scrapbook (or, Why Can’t We Live Together).”
Performances have been scheduled for basically every Monday and Friday for several weeks already, and there are still several more weeks of gatherings to come.

They began on Friday, July 19th, with three simultaneous durational performances that were remarkable as much for their individual vigors and conceptual depth as for their rather circumstantial, incidental yet fully resonant thematic cohesion concerning variable matters of race, gender, collective anxieties and sociopolitics. Marni Kotak’s piece implied variant notions of the American dream as she reinterpreted the look and symbolism of the American flag, crafting on-site a unique but yet-recognizable mixed-media object of both intimately personal and historical, national relevance.

Diane Dwyer employed absurdity and airs of faux facetiousness intended to somewhat incomprehensibly discourage — given that she was speaking through a snorkel mask, dressed in a kind of comically dystopian hazmat suit — concern about climate change with her ad-infinitum repetitions of, “don’t worry… don’t worry… don’t worry,” a refrain she also expressed by distributing blue bandages inscribed with the same message. Rather than a denialist’s solace, she provided disquiet and urgency.

Manifold ideas about race, masculinity, stardom, hope, socio-structural limitations, incarceration, body politics and barriers broken – or yet to be – were as audible and tangible as the smack of a bat to a baseball in Julian Louis Phillips’s “1518,” which he performed while ‘caged’ in his own sculpture, “Batting Cage.” The artist’s chosen title refers to the number of hits Jackie Robinson had in his career as a major league baseball player. It’s also the number of times Phillips swung at and whacked with full force so many self-thrown pitches, none of which would travel further than a few inches before ricocheting to the floor or getting lodged in the links of his constricting, confining fence.

Subsequent performances have included several more durational pieces and a number of expanded cinema presentations, some of which have continued to take up themes of social justice and political identity. On a recent Friday night, for instance, Le’Andra LeSeur, bathed in deep-ocean blue light while her audience was cloaked in soft darkness, delivered a 120-minute reading of “There are other hues of blue,” a stream-of-consciousness sequence of socio-personal utterances addressing how systematic discrimination stirs into the elixir of emotive language.

At the very same time, up on the roof of the gallery — seated, eyes closed, shirtless, torso fully exposed to the blazing sun, baking in heat and ultraviolet light in contrast to the cool blue darkness of the setting of the performance just beneath him — Tenzin Phuntsog endured his third day of “My Skins.” He’d go on to do a fourth day as well. It happened to be the same week NYC sizzled in a heatwave.

Just a few days later was an expanded cinema presentation by Bill Brand. Pulling out all his bespoke equipment and putting on his show for the first time in about four decades, and evidently for only the second time ever, Brand helmed a screening of “Pong Ping Pong,” a most circumstantially captivating, singularly single-projector, dodeca-screen film piece of variably significant historico-political germaneness — featuring some dudes playing ping pong in the middle of a big gym. To wit, ping pong, at the time, had become as much a popular leisure sport as a meaningful leeway for diplomacy — see era, China, Nixon — not unlike other sports have been at various times throughout history. That said, Brand’s film, especially in its live presentation, isn’t necessarily an expression of political stance or opinion. On the contrary, with Brand at the screening’s center — at the wheel of a slowly two-way-turning projector whose imagery is inflected by the artist’s hand-made, gear-tastic, erector-set-like machine-amajig of a mobile lens that all seems to bob up and down and sway back and forth with a kind of intuitable but not really apparent consistency — he takes no side at all as his viewers watch the match being played before, behind, beside, between, above and below them, and sometimes across their foreheads. Oscillation, undulation and cantilever-like points of view as conveyors of historical vicissitudes, perhaps? Drometic audio repetitiously intoned to the tune of metapolitically mesmerizing diplomatic spectacles?

I reckon that all holds up well enough. I’d argue for it international court. But you might also consider it all beside the point — kinda like international law these days as well — because Brand’s piece is also truly a hella fun thing to experience, watch and witness.

“Scrapbook (or, Why Can’t We Live Together)” is still on view for a couple more weeks. Still plenty of daily screenings of film and video works, and still several more performances remain. Kudos to Microscope for eschewing the gallery standards of relaxed summer programming in favor of doing the polar, as it were, opposite: an almost unbelievable amount of very good, very frequent, generally important, even momentous stuff. Cheers.

Julian Phillips at bat.

Bill Brand pointing out a thing or two in his contraption.

[Full roster of artists and performers in “Scrapbook (or, Why Can’t We Live Together?)”: Zoe Beloff, Bill Brand, MV Carbon, Diane Dwyer, Bradley Eros, foci + loci, Morrison Gong (w/ J. (Jialing) Shih), Tessa Hughes-Freeland, Marni Kotak, M. Lamar, Le’Andra LeSeur, Jeanne Liotta, Simon Liu, Bruce McClure, Julian Louis Phillips, Tenzin Phuntsog, Raha Raissnia]

Underdonk

Fantasy, myth and fancifully formed merriment are more than mildly inherent to the mysterious, subtly magic-realist, writ-minor Tolkien-esque realm one discovers in “Drooped From the Root,” a two-person show at Underdonk, featuring arboreally circumambient paintings by Amy Talluto that lure you around the space with the mystique of their silvery green foliage, shadowy sylvan airs and intermittently gripping details, and as such providing the setting for a kind of forestal quasi-clearing of sculptures by Meg Lipke, which all together register also as a sculpture garden unto themselves.

As implied, the above elements inhere not only to the visual sphere of the exhibit, but rather also to the literary one that inspired the show, “The Goblin Market,” a peculiar poem by Christina Rossetti, published in 1862, that is as much about childhood curiosities, fantasies and thirsts for experience as it is about maturation, despair and disillusionment – as well as the truly dark depths that might factor into all of the same.

But the poem is also about fruits and goblins and sisterhood and love. It features critterish, catty, ratty, wombatty, hurry-skurry-y, loquaciously shady vendors of perilously juicy-sweet figs, peaches, plums, pomegranates, pears, dates, quinces and grapes. It’s creepily adventuresome amusement, for sure. But it is also very surely: Whuuuuuuhhhht?

To say this ostensibly fairy-tale-like poem is ‘suggestive’ is a major understatement. A fine tale for the kiddos, or maybe not? Or maybe definitely so ‘because’ perhaps not? It is certainly a fine one to be revisited and reexamined these days.

At any rate, my photo here does very little to show the show, but “Drooped From the Root” really is an emerald-like gem. And I imagine it’s all the better without fluorescents screeching down upon it, lit instead by the space’s natural light, which is substantial – and all the while getting brighter and dimmer and darker from day to night before its constituent objects wake up again in the morning, damp with dewdrops, awaiting new navigators.

Paul D’Agostino’s Nota Bene with @postuccio posts are modified versions of capsule reviews and other art notes he posts on Instagram. You can follow him @postuccio.

All photos by Paul D’Agostino

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

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