Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Hole as a Whole

EXHIBITION TITLE: MOMENTS (Bringing Back the Now) Moment 1 of 3: 100 Performances from the Hole – Take Two
LOCATION: SOMArts Cultural Center’s Main Gallery 934 Brannan St San Francisco, CA 94103 DATES: March 6 - March 20, 2010
CURATORIAL TEAM: Kevin Chen, Jackie Im, Lex Leifheint, Lucy Kalyani Lin, Peter Foucault, Justin Hoover and Jennifer Locke

"This soil and the space extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity's jurisdiction." Mark Brest Van Kempen's text from the Free Speech Monument, Berkeley.

How can a hole function as a depiction of completeness and freedom? An interesting show at SOMArts featured a hole as main character for creativity, freedom, and craziness throughout live performances. Artist and curator Justin Hoover originally conceived the idea of honoring a hole. The show was based on Hoover’s short lived Garage Biennial, in which he first invited people to use a hole as a performance venue. Inspired by a (w)hole and expressed alive in front of the audience, the 100 performances’ exhibition featured professional artists and amateurs in the same stage, where singers, rock stars, and dancers play with the hole’s emptiness and bring completion within their acts. Over the course of six hours, participants created a multitude of two minute performances. To me, the event was more like a theatrical play in which the audience got bored as well as amused at certain moments, so minutes of climax and tension along with ones of calm and boring-ness were staged. Based on what I saw, San Francisco could be identified as a key place to experience live art. If so performance may be the Bay Area's primary medium of visual art. What does this claim suggest about San Francisco’s temperature in contemporary art?

Regarding the main character: what was a hole doing in the floor of a gallery space? Located in the west corner of SOMArts main gallery, a 5' by 6' by 3' hole, previously used as a mechanic's pit, has participated in art installations since Justin Hoover came on board as the gallery director. Instead of hiding or fixing the hole, curators at SOMArts made it evident as a submerged stage for anyone who had something to express. (This hole reminds me of the one that exists in the University Museum of Science and Arts in Mexico City MUCA Campus, where the only time the hole was shown was in Helen Escobedo’s solo exhibition in 2000. Escobedo knew about the hole since she was the director of that museum for several years. The artist broke the floor of the gallery and made the hole a part of her installation for a specific artwork. The audience was amused by the fact that the solid floor of the gallery where they were standing was actually full of emptiness.) SOMArts’ hole gathered more than 100 performance artists who made a variety of work ranging from fantastic to failed. Since there were 100 options on the menu, audience members were able to find something they liked. However, this makes me wonder about the parameters of a successful performance. Is a positive response and participation from the audience what determines success? Or is it the content of the work shown there the only aspect that determines good work? What if the performance did not shock the audience? Instead, if boring-ness ruled, was the performance good? What if nobody claps at the end of it? In this questioning, I want to focus on one performance that went beyond these limited questions and audience’s expectations: Third Hole by performance artist Kathryn Wiliamson, an MFA candidate at SFAI. Kathryn uses her body to perform in everyday situations, from falling down on the street to drinking an excess of water. She states, "I believe art happens everywhere." Kathryn has developed a very interesting body of work that emerges from what she observes from her environment.

Kathryn Williamson Third Hole

For MOMENTS, Wiliamson prepared what I interpret as a summary of the whole evening's event: one action followed by another that could not be easily predicted. Kathryn entered the hole in a very focused mood. Once there, she started to get undressed and people grew quiet when they saw that she was stripping. However, Wiliamson stopped undressing when she got to the layer of her skin tight black suit. This time, she took the scissors and cut a hole in the fabric around her crotch. One might have expected the performance to continue along the lines of Yoko Ono's Cut Piece. But instead, Kathryn again changed direction when she took a rod and inserted it inside of her vagina. Was it a dildo? No. Kathryn lit the cylinder, assumed a yoga position with her legs in the air, and sparks started to fly out of her vagina. Was it going to explode? Would she be hurt? The sparks subsided and for the next few minutes colored gas came out and invaded the whole gallery. (At this point, Justin asked the crowd to exit the site since it was difficult to breath.) Was there any clapping at the end? Did the performance fulfill peoples’ expectations? Did the element of shock force people to like or dislike this performance? Interesting questions are the ones that I keep asking myself regarding this specific performance. One last question is the one that could abstract them all: Is a great work of art one that clarifies a process of internal questioning? The artworks, the great ones, are the ones that take you somewhere else, that does not shock you but instead awes you, where the like and dislike are mixed together without distinctions, and when you find yourself so astonished that your hands cannot move, so there is no clap at all. (Could this also be a sense of human completion? Is this the goal of art?) Thanks to this show, the hole at SOMArts showed us a whole range of possibilities regarding art.

-- FRIDA CANO DOMINGUEZ, Fundación/Coleccion Jumex scholar

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