Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Category: Performance

Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown @ MOCAD

MOCAD installation shot

Ragnar Kjartansson – Installation 2016, All Images Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit –  Winter Exhibition: Ragnar Kjartansson, Steve Shaw, Chloe Brown

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s cavernous galleries often echo with sound, from the frequent band shows in the café space (which is my current favorite place to drink coffee and catch up with my emails) and from the steady influx of multi-media works that always lend a distilling element to MOCAD’s exhibitions. Sound really is the cornerstone of MOCAD’s winter exhibition, most notably produced by a solitary, guitar-strumming lady seated upon a revolving dais in a large, empty gallery curtained off by gold tinsel streamers. This is “Woman in E,” a performance piece created by Ragnar Kjartansson.

Parting the gold curtains to enter the space, one is confronted with eerie, resonant chords and dim, sparse space that evoke the strange interstice after a party has ended, a telling shadow of the real action, which took place sometime before. Potent symbols of Motown, glitter rock and funk are all here, with the solemn, oracle-like figure strumming in E Minor (chosen for its melancholy, reflective effect) on an electric guitar as the focal point.

chloebrown_dancin

Film still from Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ My Heartbeat Up), 2013. Chloë Brown.

The theme of after-party fallout and cultural epoch is approached as well in the film and drawing of Chloe Brown, who’s body of work exploring the youth culture and economic gloom surrounding the closing of a Spode ceramics factory in Stoke-on Trent, England pinpoints the essential relationship between music, movement and identity in the face of great loss. Brown’s film, “Dancing in the Boardroom (Turnin’ my Heartbeat Up)” depicts a young couple dancing to Northern Soul music in a spacious, dim room with beautiful parquet floors that once bore the weight of executives, secretaries and free enterprise. Shots of the abandoned Spode factory’s lush interiors and tremulous lighting stand in stark contrast to the couple’s unabashed joy in moving to this Motown-inspired music.

A dose of life on the street is supplied by photographer Steve Shaw. Shaw’s documentary-style images of Detroiters making their way with dance, dress, and grit in a constantly shifting urban landscape supply the unstudied immediacy that is stylized out of the other artist’s work.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw, Black & White Photograph, Gratiot & Shene 1983, Courtesy of the artist.

In a show anchored in performance, Shaw’s photographs depict people drawing from the same cultural well and making many of the same movements as the performers in Chloe Brown and Ragnar Kjartansson’s works, only in real time, with skin in the game.

The Winter Show is on display at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit from January 15 through April 24, 2016.  http://www.mocadetroit.org 

 

Carlos Rolón/Dzine @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery invites the audience to an installation that includes objects and performance.

Barbershop

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Barbershop, Mixed Media & Three Channel Video 2016 All images Courtesy of the Detroit Art Review

The installation work by Carlos Rolón/Dzine at the Oakland University Art Gallery is called Commonwealth and was created by this first generation Puerto Rican artist from Chicago.

Its title makes reference to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a self-governing unit voluntarily grouped with the United States even though it remains an independent country. A post-colonial perspective melds Rolón’s memories of his youthful Hispanic cultural that includes a diverse hybrid of carefully crafted objects, installation, and performance that inform his work.

One entire gallery space is devoted to the re-creation of a 1940’s urban Barbershop that includes wall paneling, flooring, barber’s chairs and four surrounding video panels that display the hair cutting process. Rolón says “My intention is to introduce the Barber as artist/sculptor and how the barbershop creates a home and safe-haven to allow for freedom of expression.” The site-specific installation is inspired by a photograph by Jack Delano, Barbershop in Bayamon 1941, and on the opening night, two barbers were on site to provide haircuts to attendees. My interest was piqued because of my relationship with the Puerto Rican culture after having been immersed via my marriage for forty years. The food, music, religion and way of life have been part of my life since the early 1970’s.

Fine China object

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Fine Regal China, Hand Made Porcelain, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The porcelain vase/pitcher was designed by Rolón but produced in China and replicates some of the faux objects his mother collected when he was a child. For a family steeped in religious traditions, these type of porcelain objects represented high cultural art based on objects that you might think belong to an aristocracy, as do silk flower arrangements and clocks imbedded in ceramic frames. Adding these types of objects to the exhibition recreates markers or icons within Hispanic cultural traditions. Typically, these pieces were on display in ornate wooden display cabinets along with wedding favors and family photographs, all part and parcel of the culture.

Afro Comb

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Afrocomb, High Density Urethane, Resin, Paint 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Included in the exhibition is a large and carefully crafted ‘pop art’ object, the Afro hair pic that includes a clenched fist as part of the handle, both symbols during the 1970s in urban cities. The cultural object here is used to shape hair and represent the Black Power Movement, prominent in the struggle against the establishment and a promotion of self-determination. This is yet one more part of Rolón’s installation, creating an environment that paints a picture of his early personal and cultural memories.

Vendor Cart

Carlos Rolon Dzine, Nomadic Habitat, Mixed Media & Merchandise 2016

In cities like New York or Chicago, there was a time when the vendor cart was commonplace. These carts represented all kinds of ethnic food, from hot dogs, pretzels, bagels, and blintzes to the Hispanic cart that sold tostones, empanadas, fritas and pasteles. The nomadic vending carts were located in neighborhoods where people sought a bite on the go. In his piece, Nomadic Habitat, Carlos Rolón/Dzine intentionally uses the memory of the cart to recreate a replica as a symbol of his cultural. First on exhibit in “The Potential of Spaces: The Arts Incubator helps bring the Chicago Architectural Biennial to the South Side” from the Chicago Art Institute, the piece articulates the relationship of culture to the community.

For me, writing about installation and performance art feels a little like a rubber band, causing this writer to stretch his experience to include new and emerging forms of artistic expression. Certainly there is a tradition in installation that includes British Artists Andy Moss, and Jamie Wardley, who created The Fallen, a visual display at D-Day landing on the beach of Arromanches in France, and Rain Room, by Berlin-based collective Random International where at Rice University you experience the rain without getting wet. Most recently at Art Prize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Anila Quayyum Agha’s installation Intersections, casts a delicate web of shadows by filling a room with carefully crafted patterns from a laser cut wooden cube powered by a single light source. The result was a room illuminated with lace-like geometries cast onto the surrounding walls, and like Carlos Rolón/Dzine, she says, “For me the familiarity of space visited at the Alhambra Palace, created memories of another time and place from my past.” Both artists used memory and culture to form their biographical oeuvre.

Perhaps this brings me to the role of the Oakland University Art Gallery in exposing its audience of students, faculty and community to new trends in all forms of art, free from commercial purpose. The Oakland University Art Gallery has been leading in this respect for a number of years and continues to set the bar for others. University based galleries have the financial base to support such important endeavors and play an important role in educating the community in Metro Detroit.

http://www.ouartgallery.org

 

Performance @ Popp’s Packing: Jessica Frelinghuysen

pie-in-the-sky

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.

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

 

 

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