Performance @ Popp’s Packing: Jessica Frelinghuysen

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Though I flatter myself that I am a somewhat avid runner and yogi, I was not prepared for the hardcore booty-shaking that artist Jessica Frelinghuysen led her audience through at the opening of her new show, “It’s Exercise Time!” last Friday at Popp’s Packing art space in Hamtramck. I guess at such events my body is in rest-and-present-yourself-well mode, most of my energy going into chit-chatting and craning my neck to get a glimpse of the work on display around the clusters of opening attendees. One doesn’t stand by and observe at Frelinghuysens performances, however. Indeed, the very designation of “audience” collapses before Frelinghuysens’ boundless energy, quick wit, and all around fantastically grounded presence. It’s also a safe bet that you’ll find yourself diving into some activity that you wouldn’t hitherto have dreamt of doing in a gallery setting- which is exactly the point.

The walls around the gallery were posted with Trail Fit-esque exercise instruction graphics explaining how to properly do lifting reps with large bags of rice and knee-lift-and-punch sets while singing along to “Eye of the Tiger” (which happened to be playing over the sound system while I read that particular instruction- the invitation became irresistible.) Interspersed between instruction graphics were surprisingly lovely photographic portraits of Frelinghuysen going through her workout paces at many unconventional sites around Hamtramck- tossing sides of meat in Bozek’s meat locker and lifting a huge bag of onions outside Al Haramain Market. She told me a funny story about that moment- as she struggled to lift the unwieldy sack, a man in very conservative Yemeni dress pulled up and parked right in front of where she was lifting. He watched, without budging from his car, and when she finally got the fifty-pound bag lifted over her head, he burst into a sudden round of applause. It seems Frelinghuysens’ energy is just as infectious outside the gallery space.

Jessercise Poster, Jessica Freylinghuysen 2015 Photo by CLara DeGalan

“It’s Exercise Time” has transformed Popp’s art space into one easily mistaken for a small, mom-and-pop gym, except for the bottles of champagne that are there for both lifting and drinking purposes. This effect was pushed still further at the opening, as folks gathered around Frelinghuysen while she mounted the carpeted platform, dressed in full rainbow-hued workout regalia. She proceeded to lead us in a lengthy, fast-paced, serious cardio workout that had me out of breath inside of three minutes- Frelinghuysen broke a sweat, loosened up and launched into the next round of time-steps and air punches. Here the long tradition of displays of endurance in performance art was channeled with a lightness and hilarity that suited the bright palette and self-deprecating humor of Frelinghuysens’ exhibition. One by one, audience members were drawn into participation, as enchanted by the artists’ unaffected, funny, down-to-earth performance style as that man outside al Haramain Market. The total (and somewhat surprising) absence of irony in Frelinghuysens’ manner helps, as well. In a setting where people tend to be very concerned about how they appear, the extent to which we all followed her example, cutting loose and just having fun with our bodies, was a revelation.

All of the best performance artists I’ve seen in action assume characters that are somewhat amplified versions of themselves. Frelinghusen is a natural at this. While her performances certainly bear a trace of the theatrical- she assumes a particular garb and enters her performance space, be it the gallery or city street, with a point to make- she inhabits them in such a way that she never stops feeling present, accessible, to her audience. Significantly, she refers to the clothes she designs and wears for her performances as “uniforms” rather than costumes. This points to the importance of the uniform as an entry point, cultural signifier, and problem-solving accessory. Frelinghuysens’ many bodies of work all have a problem to be solved as their starting point. Her ongoing “Paper Helmets” series aims at solving problems of personal communication; her “Coffee Cart” performance at Cranbrook aimed to remedy the absence of available coffee for Cranbrook students and staff. “It’s Exercise Time!” makes up one part of her exploration of a somewhat more complex problem- the vast divide between “art” space, and the rest of the world.

It's Exercise Time album cover Photo by Jessica Freylinghuysen

Her impetus to dovetail gym culture with gallery culture, she told me, lay in her long-standing, serious commitment to both worlds, and how odd it seemed that her social life in the gym was so completely different than her social life on the art scene, when the two disciplines (of the body, on the one hand, and the studio on the other) bore such a close resemblance to one another. She pointed out that endurance, commitment, and serious play are all common factors between the two worlds. That resemblance extends to the aesthetic, as well- she noted how the white, clean walls of the gallery closely resemble those of the gym. Transplanting the gym to the gallery, with a veneer of humor over seriously exploratory intent, proved delightfully disruptive to the usual flow of an art opening. Frelinghuysen manages such actions with a light, humorous touch which leave people in the art world and outside of it feeling tickled and intrigued, rather than confused and defensive. She noted, “If it’s disrupting everyday life a little bit, then I’m interested in it.” Disruption is the calling card of so many performance artists- not so many manage to channel it into actions for positive engagement and change that flow identically inside and outside traditional art-viewing spaces. Frelinghuysen has already moved past those boundaries- and is playfully beckoning us to follow.

http://www.poppspacking.org

Saturday, October 24, at 2 pm at Popp’s Packing

 

 

Wasserman Projects Debuts New Space in Detroit

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Wasserman Projects, 3434 Russell Street Exterior, image Courtesy of Wasserman Projects

It’s official- the heat is on at Wasserman Projects.

What has certainly been the most hotly anticipated and energetically hyped opening in Detroit’s buzzing Fall gallery season finally exploded last Friday. For the debut of its new, sprawling warehouse-style space in Eastern Market, Wasserman Projects marked the occasion by assembling a nicely balanced klatch of three artists from its wheelhouse, Brooklyn-based painter Markus Linnenbrink, Miami-based architect Nick Gelpi, and Detroit-based sound artist Jon Brumit. Detroit DJ JeedoX was on hand spinning a dazzling array of danceable beats, with guest saxophonist Saxappeal performing on the gallery’s main floor, stepping in and out of the show’s hulking moveable installation, Linnenbrink and Gelpi’s collaborative piece titled TheFirstOneISCrazyTheSecondOneIsNuts. What was instantly clear upon entering the space was that Wasserman Projects is channeling an atmosphere of boundless, cross-pollinating possibility- and that it knows how to throw a party. Outside the entrance an army of valets lingered to provide complementary parking service. Inside, there was a coffee counter, candy kiosk, sumptuous buffet or generous open bar everywhere one looked. In the intimate, tightly interwoven community that is the Detroit art scene, the attendees of Wasserman’s grand opening included everyone on the planet- plus a new and unfamiliar auxiliary from the suburbs, perhaps drawn by Wasserman’s previous identity as a serious gallery located in Birmingham, MI, which up until now has served as Detroit’s Gold Coast of high-end galleries. The festive flavor of the opening was complemented by the playful aesthetic and feel of the work on display, which, even in the overwhelmingly crowded, noisy atmosphere, managed to hold its ground.

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Nick Gelpi, Architect, in collaboration Brooklyn-based painter Markus Linnenbrink Image Courtesy of Wasserman Projects

Wasserman’s debut exhibition for its Detroit space is both huge and intimate. The space is literally large enough to encompass self-contained smaller spaces, as in the above-mentioned installation by Nick Gelpi and Markus Linnenbrink, TheFirstOneISCrazyTheSecondOneIsNuts. A full-scale modular home on wheels designed and constructed by Gelpi opens down the middle to reveal an interior painted with bright, dripping bands furnished by Linnenbrink that nearly induce vertigo with their dissemblance to horizontality that veers off into swoops, bends and taut clusters before the viewer’s eyes. The structure was ponderously rolled open at the reception by the Wasserman Projects team as microphoned security docents anxiously waved the audience back- for a moment, the movement of the house as it cracked open like a gargantuan egg took on an uncanny whiff of rupture and destruction. The ghosts of a million destroyed homes and displaced families from the neighborhoods surrounding Eastern Market stood at the door- then all was in place, and the audience could step inside and take selfies against Linnenbrinks’s masterly bands of pure color, which are ruptured at intervals by paint drips that limn offhandedness and fierce control.

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Jon Brumit, a large-scale, multi-form outdoor installation, a sonorous grain silo. Image Courtesy of Wasserman Projects

This underlying theme of connection to the rhythms of the city Wasserman Projects has made its new home popped up again in two sound-centered works by Jon Brumit. One resides in a roughhewn structure that resembles a ring of voting booths, atop which the artist perched during the opening, mirroring the performative role of DJ JeedoX across the gallery. The subtle, vibrant sounds Brumit caused to issue from small plastic models of pastries hooked up to old-timey radio speakers, one installed in each booth, were hard to catch over the venue’s blasting soundtrack. Brumit’s other installation, located outside the gallery, provided a perfect escape from the bright, insistent visuals inside the Wasserman space. One ducks into a low doorway cut into the decapitated peak of an industrial silo and sits in near total darkness as a motion-activated, base-heavy sound piece thrums right through the corrugated metal walls and thrusts the body into the microcosmic- like how it would feel to be an atom deep within a stereo speaker. A third sound piece will be broadcast over FM radio on channel —-, completing the exhibition’s engagement with its locality through channels visual and sonic, overwhelming and penetrable. And, in 2016, Belgium-based artist — will bring his massive project—, including a population of live chickens, to Wasserman Projects. As of its grand opening, this space is doing canny, subversive justice to its new location- almost tempting one to wonder what Wasserman Projects won’t roll open in the next few years.

3434 Russell Street, Detroit MI 48207

www.wassermanprojects.com