“A VOLCANO, Eyes are a surprise, Lava plus Knives a dream, Fire is spelled with R, Knife is not spelled with A, So is business. the UNITED STATES is a knife” This is the opening poem, the thread if you will, that melds the entirety of Erika Vogt’s Artist Theatre Program Lava Plus Knives, commissioned for Performa 2015. Featuring a superb cast of visual artists— Math Bass, Shannon Ebner, Lauren Davis Fisher, Dylan Mira, Silke Otto-Knapp, Adam Putnam, Nora Slade, and Erika Vogt—the Artist Theatre Program poses the question, “What about turning a proscenium theatre into an exhibition space?” as quoted by curator Charles Aubin.
And, what about it? Well, it’s exactly as imagined; with a surrounded area in the middle of the theatre becoming the focus, all eyes narrow in on each movement, the setting up of the work itself becomes a subtle dance as new images, light, sculptures, and people weave in and out—leaving remnants in each section of the room. There are no theatrics, there is no over-dramatization, just people, friends, and lovers making art together.
Taking an intermission from their performances, the artists leave behind sculptures, paintings, video, text and more, inviting the audience to explore the room as an exhibition. At first they are skeptical, slowly making their way to the center of the room—at least, I know I was. People begin photographing the leftovers, attempting to put it all together, Instagramming their findings, drinking beers, and socializing. I hear from the corner of the room, “People are so formal in New York! In Miami I’m sure they will interact more.” I began to question if this means anything at all, or is the very act of witnessing this communal artmaking enough?
Inspired by Barthe’s collection of writings called “How to Live Together," the group explores what Charles Aubin deems “The Politics of The Hang,” a process in which artists collaborate by “living communally while at the same time preserving and respecting each individual’s rhythm.” Following one another’s leads, some demanding silence and others attaching themselves to what came before them, there is a charming awkwardness that follows throughout.
Towards the end, the group works together to build a structure, and in a surprise feat, an audience member joins them from just across my seat. She says ”I’m interested in the imagery of lava and ice you’ve been using,” cueing all of the artists to speak at once and alleviating any notions of understanding from the viewers. Their jumbled responses clearly present that there are various thoughts, definitions, and processes involved for each individual artist, and conceivably no definitive outcome.
Now, if by this point you haven’t yet understood the basic premise of this show, here’s a simple tip: Imagine watching a bunch of friends make stuff together; imagine you’re in the back room of a huge studio, you and 50 or more people in complete silence, almost as peeping toms; you’re watching them move boxes; you’re watching them say things into microphones; you’re watching them live as they are—no smoke, no mirrors, no perfection. Just a giant theatre.
Click here to learn more about Erika Vogt's Artist Theater Program at Performa 15.