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Performance Art: Yesterday and Today

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Crystal Bridges’ popular Art Night Out is coming up on October 11.  This particular incarnation is titled Action/Interaction, and will feature one-night-only performances by several of the artists selected for State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. This post provides a little insight into the fascinating history of performance art, and a sneak peek at how today’s artists are bringing these traditions forward for Art Night Out.

“The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without knowledge of the way media work as environments. All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical.”

mcluhanblogThese words were written by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, whose popularity exploded in the late 1960s for his exploration of how numerous media “massage” human perception of reality and our senses. Just as McLuhan was exploring media’s effect on humans, so too were artists looking to get away from the popular Abstract Expressionist painting movement and reinvent themselves through experimentation with the creative and spontaneous form of performance. For a visual artist, performance could offer direct physical impacts between the viewer and the artist—for example, a trending group at the time, Fluxus, held “Happenings” events by Yoko Ono, Nam Jun Paik, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Carolee Schneeman.

Carolee Schneeman, Eye/Body

Carolee Schneeman, Eye/Body

(Read a recent article in The Guardian newspaper about Eye/Body, the controversial series by Carolee Schneeman, now 73). To these artists performance meant that they were both the image and the image-maker.

In State of the Art you’ll find a multitude of art mediums used by current artists who are pushing the boundaries of how a medium can affect our senses and perception. What our guests may not know is that several of these artists are using performance as their medium, as well. On October 11, Crystal Bridges’ popular Art Night Out event presents Action/Interaction, during which four performance artists will move between being the image and the image-maker, using psychology, their bodies, and relationship-building with other people as their interactive “paintbrush” of choice. Below is a listing of the performances scheduled for the evening:  as the viewer, you can decide which medium will be your massage?

Art Night Out: Action/Interaction Performances

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Wilmer Wilson, “From My Paper Bag Colored Heart”

Artist Wilmer Wilson IV will perform From My Paper Bag Colored Heart in the Great Hall from 8:15 to 10:45 p.m. The work refers to the “brown paper bag test”—a practice used by African American social societies in the early 1900s to determine if a potential member was light-skinned enough to be accepted. Those whose skin was darker than a brown paper bag were deemed inadmissible. In the artist’s view, this form of “colorism” is still happening today. (Notice: this performance involves nudity. Appropriate signage will be posted outside the area prior to the performance.)

Angela Ellsworth

Angela Ellsworth, “Stand Back”

Artist Angela Ellsworth will perform Stand Back in the Twentieth Century Gallery Bridge from 9 to 10 p.m. In this performance, Ellsworth, dressed in the traditional “sister-wife” dress of the Mormon church, will perform atop a pedestal with a backdrop of clouds, representing heaven. For Ellsworth, who grew up in the Mormon faith, this performance questions the equality of Mormon women and their right to heaven. The performance will be accompanied by local a cappella singers performing “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks.

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Autumn Knight, “I Propose that We”

Artist Autumn Knight will be waiting quietly in the outdoor courtyard housing Jenny Holzer’s Venice Installation to offer guests personal performances of her intervention work I Propose that We. Knight will be available to meet the entire evening: 8 to 11 p.m.

Jimmy Kuehnle manuevers one of his inflatable suits up the Museum steps with a little help from Museum guests.

Jimmy Kuehnle manuevers one of his inflatable suits up the Museum steps with a little help from Museum guests.

Artist Jimmy Kuehnle has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to release one of his Amphibious Inflatable Suits into the Crystal Bridges environment for some “non-host human interaction,” relying on guests at the event to assist in maneuvering the artist through obstacles. Kuehnle will periodically exercise his creatures between 9 and 11 p.m. DJ Abboriginal will provide accompanying sounds of aquatic, spatial beats.

In addition to the four performances, Art Night Out Action/Interaction will offer other ways of experiment with art in real-time throughout the evening. These include Works Progress’s Water Bar where guests can sample locally sourced waters from different locations. Accompanying the Water Bar will be the folk duo Still on The Hill performing their Once-A-River project.  Guests are encouraged to chat with local moms at artist Andy DuCett’s Mom Booth, or go to the South Lobby and make bird mobiles with State of the Art artist Calder Kamin. Finally, The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre of Fayetteville will be provide a cool-off lounge offering secret games and playful conversation.

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