The performance art group, TEST has once again activated our perceptions of time, space, and action with its 10th event that occurred on July 21st and 22nd at the Devanaughn Theatre in Boston. Like so many TESTS before, the weather provided a prologue for those who came to witness the first installment of the two evening event.
The audience was greeted both evenings by a cheerful Alice Vogler who numbered each body and conducted bag searches on anyone wearing tennis shoes (night 1) or a watch (night 2). Alisia Lord Louise Waller could be found sitting in a cage shared with a monitor, stuffed animals, and blankets. The video collage showing live birds in cages as the artist dressed humorously as a dog with cruel situations flashing across the screen. While Alisia The Dog sat tied to a post and peered out from underneath a recycling bin, crushing her body on screen, she confronted the viewers surrounding her with a disheartened gaze. Quickly realizing that she is going to sit in this vulnerable state, watching each performance as it unfolds, giving us the option for interaction.
The lights are dimmed as crashes of thunder from outside’s storm invade the room. Faith Johnson enters nude and stands behind a translucent white curtain. An audience member reaches under the curtain to ignite three pieces of thread, producing flames that Johnson’s hands carefully protect as they travel from her feet up to her mouth. The flames are exhausted with kisses before the artist presses her hands and lips up against the curtain. Fluid rains out of her mouth, sensually leaving her mark on this pristine curtain. Johnson has captivated our attention for what feels like hours in this 10-minute performance of neutralizing traditional feminine and masculine materials that are ingested into the body, only to be regurgitated into remnants.
The evening continued with Sun Valley Snowballs by TEST member, Helen Pfann, a performance that made excellent use of what The Devanaugh had to offer. The piece included a video projection of feet lying in a hammock that overlooks a sea of green trees, the invigorating aroma of hay, and plenty of opportunities for audience participation. Pfann, wearing a joyous, yet mischief smile challenged us to create a makeshift hammock, play a heated game of Spoons, and ferousciously splash in puddles.
An appropriate intermission followed where fresh fruit and juices were offered on the body of artist Christiane Flores Vidal. Gang Clan Mafia followed in their Boston debut, creating a chaotic installation. The five artists involved built 3 stations that powered mesmerizing sound and action that unfolded into a game. Bones, game boards complete with dice, a cacophony of spices and intensity of sounds are only a few of the elements explored in this rich performance where the audience was open to create its own rules.
Iowa based artist, Jeffery Byrd closed the evening with a poignant and humorous performance titled, The Age of Ordinary. The audience is presented with a black chair and small table. Spiderman (Byrd) suddenly appears, placing an action figure on the table. Spiderman begins a reversed voodoo ritual of posing Tiny Spiderman and then mimicking his actions, always attempting to disguise the areas of his body that give away his human identity. The performance was complete with the signature Spiderman crawl and an unsuccessful attempt to climb walls. Byrd then sheds his Spiderman skin to reveal an ordinary male figure. Byrd poses Small Spiderman again, mimicking his every move, this time in his own skin. After working hard to prove that he is indeed a superhero, Byrd puts on his ordinary clothes and sits among ordinary people.
Newest TEST member and founder of Encounterworks, Maya Urbanowicz followed an opening of Amalgam Trio's improvised sound, beginning her performance by peacefully crumbling pages of a newspaper into a white plastic bag. She writes FREE on her stomach with the residue ink. Trembling with each breath, the artist uses a harmonica to inflate a second bag, simultaneously creating a tranquil drone. Once each bag has been filled, she juggles them, activating the vertical space above her head. Pulling out a knife, she stabs the bag filled with captured breath. Weapon in hand, she pushes her arm around on the floor in a battle with the bag that we discover contains ash that has dyed Urbanowicz’s arm and knife. She pulls the carcass of the bag onto her upper arm as armor and then stabs the other bag, collecting each piece of newspaper onto her arm. As this action accumulates, the artist is turned into a creature that is aesthetically overwhelmed by media. She uses her ash-stained weapon to write WILL on her stomach, before proceeding to shake the newspaper off of her arm with a violent stabbing motion. After her arm is free, she exits the space relentlessly stabbing the air around her.
Philip Fryer followed with a piece titled Nice Try where another mundane plastic product was the victim of circumstance. After a series of actions that included blacking out his own ring fingers, tracing his hands onto a bubble wrap dress that he wears and blacking out those ring fingers, Fryer creates a ring on the floor made of bubble wrap. The artist gently asks the audience to gather closely around his installation. Once everyone had settled, he places a paper bag on his head and begins to pop the ring by hitting his head against the floor. His intense breathing suggests this struggle and the vibrations of each explosion travel through the floor to the witnesses who are close enough. When each bubble is successfully pulverized, he takes off his helmet and dress, traces his right hand twice and concludes the performance by blacking out the ring fingers.
The closing performance, Everything that Lives Sucks created by TEST member Jeff Huckleberry was a sobering response to self inflicted violence. The room was lit only by a few clamp lights and filled by anxious noise including sounds from helicopters. Huckleberry begins by telling us, “Last night my Nephew told me that all performance artists look like this.” He makes a serious face. Huckleberry takes off his clothes and begins to write on his body that is contorted on the floor, careful to provide us with a variety of facial expressions. The story he writes begins with, “Last night He called and asked to talk to my mom and dad…” The story continues in teenage language and presents a conflict that involves insincere plans for murder. Huckleberry spray-paints his hands and feet black. He gnaws on his body, kissing away the evidence in a paranoid frenzy. A nail gun, sanders violently moving without purpose and various other tools invade the space leaving us to wonder if he will hurt himself and if we will be caught in the crossfire. Huckleberry concludes by healing us with an embarrassing scream that brings us back to reality and says, “That was stupid! That was so fucking stupid!” This anxiety-inducing monster is human after all. He exits and we are safe.
TEST’s mission is to provide artists with an opportunity to work out new ideas at their quarterly events. This could lead to curatorial chaos, but more often than not, each performance will flow into the next, creating coincidental themes. This has always emphasized the communal nature of performance as an art medium. The work included in TEST 10 possessed a balance between concepts that challenge our current political and cultural climate and remembering how to feel fulfilled in daily life. I left TEST 10 questioning how it was possible that I could feel so uplifted after witnessing a piece of art like Everything That Lives Sucks. This is how it always goes with performance. For every piece that makes you laugh there is one that makes you cry. Ultimately, in the end you are embodied, smarter, and can never look at mundane actions quite the same.
"TEST 10" was performed on July 21st and 22nd at the Devanaughn Theatre in Boston.
All images are courtesy of the artist and TEST Performance.