Humilious was produced, directed and costumes done by Robert Catalusci, with Smash LeFunk as director of photography and original music score by Big Swede. First in the line-up of gallery performances, Catalusci presents a two-plus minute trailer for a nearly sixteen minute film. After watching the film in its entirety, the trailer is almost misleading as a campy costume set post-70’s metaphysical thriller. It turns out to be, however, a filmic poem. The cast, one discovers as credits roll, is surprisingly minimal. Aside from Dark Matter, Humilious, the Black Hole Queen, Give, and Take; there are the schizophrenics, possessed mercenaries and dead/alive. Some of these collective-identity-individuals get sing-songy, giving the script, also written by Catalusci, a nearly classical Greek character.
True to its establishing shot accompanied by moody music, Humilious was filmed on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. Unknown insurgents have bombed the area, and in the twilight of human destruction, otherworldly entities intervene. The acting is very good, swerving between performative inflections on a dime. What from the trailer looks like a thriller morphs as elegy to good in humankind, and ultimately, loss of love.
Tim Tipton has been a regular in the Ventura poetry community since the mid-1990’s. Then with the coming of John & Sylvia White to Ventura’s art community in the mid 2000’s, specifically with John White’s 5 x 5 x 5 performance art showcase events, Tim has grown into the practice of incorporating performativity into his poetry. The first step of spoken word performance consists in getting off the written page, and is refreshing. It’s as if a poet’s language arises from the feeling mind, unmediated by written trace, delivered directly to listeners in a tradition of storytelling, one musical instrument short of the bard.
Unwilling to fulfill his father’s first wish, the poet attempts to make his dad happy by going on a game show. The most interesting part in Tipton’s narration is his mimed turning of a large jackpot wheel. We envision it spinning and spinning and spinning and…Ultimately he doesn’t win the jackpot. No, he never wins his father’s approval and happiness. What he wins in the end is a set of trophy luggage filled with unresolved issues….
“This is a poem about the universe.” The young poet, aged 17, goes on to tell us of our existence, finite infinities, hyper objects and unsolved mysteries. “Stale images of light bespeckle the sky.” One senses the poet looking for transcendence through the mind. I feel my own mind wake up to, “Time is unique to each individual rock,” especially apt in the Art City yard, filled with hundreds of stones in various stages of artistic rendering. “The perspective of life brings meaning to waste,” seems to suggest we are failing our young writers, if they feel that life is averse to meaning. There were times when our children could grow up with hope and optimism. Two other lines, “We’re still sucking dead things from the dirt,” and “We’re still eating meals that are killing the earth,” affirm my suspicions of the poet’s disenchantment with humanity, and further, with “We are the tired king.” Perhaps these are unsolved mysteries, touching merely upon the tragic.
He apologizes that he’s about to put a damper on the mood, explaining that he writes his best when feeling sad. One is reminded of the self-reflexive journey of growing up into “the bloom of maturity”, where the poet finds himself “for lack of identity, my self-confronted”. This is hopeful, as there is a differentiation between ‘identity’ and ‘self’. I see this as a pointedly Western notion of individual self, whereas, say, Chinese children are given a socially-constructed self to adjust to. Overton takes the time to rhyme, and one looks forward to the day when this poet, like Tipton before him, begins to perform his words, using his whole body and mind to deliver lines about whores and devout preachers, about ‘the fruit disappointing’. In a life of so much ambiguity, the poet asserts “given the choice, my new choice shall be reflection.”
This artwork was originally titled “Signification & Change of State”, shortened then to “Change of State”. SoPhd* conceived the piece about four months ago, upon return to Ventura from China where she had been curating performance and live artworks since 2010. Finally in the land of the free, she wanted to enjoy the freedoms her predecessors have won for her. She did on stage what she could not have done in China, where censorship pervades. She perpetrated a political piece involving semi-nudity. So, after wrapping up her head in white gauze, she stepped behind a semi-opaque black cloth, pulled down her trousers and clipped a bit of pubic hair, letting it fall onto the ground. Fully clothed, she then stepped back in front of the cloth to build a small pyre, helping the flame along with her feminine fur. Lastly, she took a picture of Donald Trump as his most ‘authoritarian’ self, an almost good picture of an almost human president; and burned it on the pyre. She says she has since received favorable comment from some audience members and icy avoidance of the subject from others.
Gwendolyn Alley, Art City artist since the very early 1990’s, performed her poem, Water. Gwendolyn has always been a strong supporter of both Ventura’s art and poetry communities, even running her own venue at Zoey’s cafe in downtown Ventura, from Nov 2001 through Dec 2006. These days she invests community building efforts into her students at Ventura College where she teaches English composition. Sometimes Alley even brings her own students down to Art City for events, taking them on a tour of the grounds and introducing them to key artists. Originally performed in a park in Pasadena, CA, the poem was one that popped out of a cement poem-dispensing ottoman chair.
Alley begins by uttering the word for ‘water’ in various languages. Om. After quoting French spatial theorist, Gaston Bachalard, Alley proclaims that “Water dissolves all barriers,” “water weeps with everyone”, ‘water in the air, the ground, within us, in every breath, feel water in every heartbeat, from body to body from sky to stream, from body to body from stream to sea. We’re all made of recycled water.” She points out water’s immanent role in all of the body’s processes, “without water we cannot smell”, “our tongues must be wet to work”, and “air carries sound through water.” “Blink, blink, blink; keep our brains constantly rinsed.” We learn that ‘water is both mirror and window’. The poet’s pantheon reigns throughout her region as she talks of Zeus, Hades, Pasadena, Poseidon, Dionysus, and the San Gabriel Mountains. She discusses topography of the region, history of its vineyards making wine since the 1880’s, thanks to irrigation. She turns then to the plastic bottling of water, expressing rage at this. ‘Time to walk in water’, ‘time to know the intelligent living force that is living in us all’. Indeed it is time to go back to the water, in each and every language. Om.
Shyanne Happens, ‘alter-ego activist’, is perhaps the single most important live act in Ventura right now, which is perhaps not saying much if you’re new to the scene. However, if you’re aware of the trajectory of performance art in Ventura, its development since the early 1990’s through now, then you’d realize Shyanne Happens’ importance and relevance. The artist for whom Shyanne Happens serves as altar ego chooses to remain anonymous, and in this vein, Shyanne is one of the legion we know as Anonymous. Most know her as a quick blip in musician/videographer Steve Aguilar’s recent video art, or as the bizarre masked woman who speaks to us through her Facebook account, or more recently as a live performer in Santa Barbara as well as Ventura. Though her following is still small at this point, this hopefully long-term exercise in alterity will undoubtedly gain in momentum.
Shyanne Happens Summer Solstice performance happened last in the line-up of gallery performances. Conceptually, this performance was based on two things: interaction with the audience and invocation/observation of a collectively dark will. This first karaoke component consisted in the artist enjoining the audience to sing two songs with her. “Things’ve been pretty serious tonight. I’ll try to uplift a little tiny bit. Not take it all the way up, but take it up a tiny notch. And for that…I’m going to need some participation.” Ironically, Shyanne’s light-hearted performative karaoke commenced with the words, “Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again…” These words from Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence popped up on the screen, and as we take it all in, the song, her, the blob; we forget to sing along. So a minute into the darkened performance, she turns on all the lights, holds up a yellow ball to the words on the screen, and shows us how it would bounce from word to word, guiding us through the song. Then she goes to her projecting laptop and presses buttons to start it all over again, “So this is the participatory part of the evening, thank you. And, we’ll start again. Well, we’re always starting again.
By the fifth line of the song, we were filling the room with our voices, just as Shyanne wished we would. Then she starts to move her body. Which is what I was waiting for. Because my alter ego is in love with her alter ego. The superman t-shirt cinched against Shyanne’s large breasts worn together with a cut-off denim skirt. This is a new outfit for Shyanne, who usually appears in a full-body golden leotard. Those of us who know what we are looking for espy the golden leotard protruding from beneath the skirt and extending beyond the short-sleeves of her superman. But as usual, there is the big-hair wig of dark orange-crimson and that horrific mask of normative beauty’s penultimate emasculation.
The second component of this performance is something I have never seen before in this form; as a simultaneous mirroring and invocation of the collective unconscious. We had espied Jason Brock, aka Spinning Merkaba, slip underneath a large black cloth. Relatively sedate during Sounds of Silence, this amorphous black blob grows enervated to the tune of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, growing in one direction after the next, bunching up and flattening out, never really rolling, but slowly writhing and re-writhing. This component of the act is an incongruous elephant in the room; huge, taking up half the area of the stage, but barely noticeable for the first half of the performance. It is as if the human eye is trained to overlook that which in a scene is incongruous to it. The blob could have gone un-noticed throughout the second half of Shyanne’s ten minute performance, if it hadn’t been for Shyanne stepping seductively back and forth over the blob…or repositioning the light behind the blob to create a haze of dust being kicked up onstage.
Aside from interacting with this darkness, Shyanne blows bubbles, walks seductively to the microphone and from it, across the stage and back again…as if transacting a parallel universe in which our cultural messages are replayed over and over while our desires control space, leeching our will in an amorphous campaign against clarity.
Q & A
This is what I’m famous for, already. After flim screening or gallery performance, I open up the floor to discussion between artist and audience. Every time. This night was no exception. While not every artist was asked a question, we did get to hear Robert Catalusci and Paul Lindhard discuss the founding moments of Art City, both in Santa Barbara and Ventura in the early to mid-80’s, amongst other discussion.
After the gallery performances, audience members took a chance to grab some second-life potluck, then wander around Art City in the darkened hours, visiting various side-parties taking place throughout.
It grew clear to me that the best thing to do would give an entire evening to these musical acts exclusively. They were too important to be placed post-gallery performance entertainment. Also, I had not realized how performantive the Red Grass Show is. Next time, Oliver will be in the Gallery Performance line-up, if he’ll give us another chance.
Red Grass Show
After only a 15 minute break for set-up, David Oliver’s Red Grass Show began, a macabre and heart-felt pining for an alt-world in which we find our red and yellow striped imagination alone amidst horned protuberances, clinging to the sound of a lone musician uttering code we need…
Meaghan Thalia Lawrence
This singer/songwriter made me cry, so moving was her voice. Moody, all-consuming, her children and husband in the audience, I wondered where she found time to feel all this. Lawrence’s set included three songs played on acoustic guitar and sung by this bombshell of sweet melancholia.
Steve Aguilar & Pat Miskel
Aguilar has been performing his music in Ventura for over 25 years now, and yet never seeks to do so outside of the artist community, say in many of the live music venues at commercial establishments. Pat Miskel had a long stint in the ’90’s with Liquid Warrior, and has since been nearly as under-the-radar as Mr. Aguilar, himself. Listening to these two s ing together brings one back to the moment in the morning where we actually feel woke.
live dj set
DownNgoinG is a good friend to have. Spinning everywhere seemingly simultaneously, he goes for hours, and would have continued if only the Art Citizens weren’t mulling around the stage, taking over the drum set and letting us know they wanted the gallery to jam in past 1 am. Always positive, heavily into networking Summer Solstice before and after the event, this artist brings a great deal to the Art City community.
The Art Monsters, these freelance freejam musicians who sculpt, paint, perform and write by day. They started jamming around 1:30 in the morning, and I’m told went until 4:30. Art sound transcribed into the uber Akashic.
Art City the next morning…
daylight shortens into Winter Solstice…