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Within The Present Tense: Rough Trade II Performance Exchange

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"Performance art in Boston has always been under the radar," says Sandrine Schaefer, co-founder of The Present Tense and co-curator with Philip Fryer of the recent Rough Trade II, a performance art exchange between Boston and Chicago. Often coming to life in pop-up locations, on the streets, in vacant buildings, and in alternative spaces (for example, the late MEME gallery which was co-founded by Schaefer), watching live art in action in a traditional gallery setting is still infrequent for Boston. While a resurgence in ephemeral art is definitely underway (the exhibition 100 Years: A History of Performance Art traveled from MoMA PS1 to Boston University earlier this year), I'd be willing to bet that the white linoleum floor of 55 Norfolk Street in Cambridge (then MEME, now Mobius) has seen more splattered paint, shards of wood, dirt and glitter in the past 5 years than any other building in the city. Edgy, dirty, often rough, with a heavy manipulation of the body and an ability to work in challenging spaces: this is what comes instantly to my mind when I think of the performance works I have seen in this city.

While performance art in Boston is known to be more conceptual than theatrical, you need not have a trained eye to understand or appreciate it. A sense of curiosity and the patience to allow the work to unfold before your eyes is far more fitting. I've come to understand that the narratives presented are often non-linear. Instead, they stem from a much more emotional and spontaneous place. Our artists, focused in thought or difficult actions, quickly become blind to prying eyes. The viewer is beckoned to exist within the psychological boundaries of the performer, inviting an intimacy I have come to admire.

The Present Tense's Vimeo Channel provides a virtual portal to the performances at Chicago's Defibrillator, where the first installment of Rough Trade II took place. When asked if Boston was well represented in a midwest setting, Schaefer confidently replied: "the artists presented their best work." The footage, beautifully shot by Daniel DeLuca, and edited by Schaefer, is stylized and tailored to each artist’s known strengths as a performer.

Last week, Schaefer and Joseph Ravens, the director of Defibrillator, invited five Chicago-based artists to MassArt's Pozen Center to complete the month-long exchange. Footage of Rough Trade II's Boston installment is currently becoming available The Present Tense's Vimeo Channel. Check their blog periodically for extended artist talks and interviews on the performance works throughout the exchange. The dialogue between action-based artists in Boston and Chicago is one Schaefer hopes to continue.

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About Author

Alexis Avedisian is an avid blogger and independent curator. She holds a degree in Fine Arts and Entrepreneurial Leadership from Tufts University. Alexis has worked for AS220 (Providence) and is the current resident at Anthony Greaney in SOWA.

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