John White’s 5 x 5 x 5 series has been an institution in Ventura County’s performance art scene since the late twains.These events are held usually at 8 pm sharp at Namba Arts, downtown Ventura, on first Fridays. 5 artists perform 5 minute artworks.
Let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of poetry reading at a performance art event. Spoken word is one thing, and reading off a page or a smartphone screen is entirely another. However, given the curiously integral role of the poet in Ventura’s art scene throughout the past three decades, with poets at most visual and performance art venues and events; and with poets as a major demographic for collecting art in this town; and given the fact that de la O is the mother of Ventura’s poetry culture…as in a vital element, spurning and propagating other poetry cultures throughout Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles Counties; and given De La O was off page, seated like a bird of prey on her stool at the microphone, speaking her words from heart…given all these factors; de la O’s piece was a right start to the evening. Sometimes I felt unnerved by pauses in unexpected places, with syncopation and intonation somewhat different than I’ve heard in her before. Her story was compelling, and she is, hands down, one of the best poets I’ve ever heard, with incredibly sneaky phrasing, and immaculate articulation.
A huge fan of regional, even locally relevant, artwork; I appreciate artists being present enough in the moment to address issues we’re all dealing with. It’s risky as an artist, in this global endgame resulting from decades of formalism in the American arts. However, choosing to respond to Ventura and Santa Barbara county Thomas Fires was a welcomed decision. Harley got up and explained his Christmas had been a bust, he wanted a do-over. He had prepared large cue cards for us, and lighting was sufficient for us all to read clearly. We sang song after song to the tune of very familiar Christmas tunes; but with words that directly referred to terror, running like hell, smoke, flames and so on. Many of us joined in, maybe more so in the first few minutes, and there was plenty of laughter; but there was never a roaring solidarity amongst audience members, as if some of us were still nursing our personal wounds, unable to sing or laugh about the loss of our homes, belongings, and peaceful holiday season.
I am incredibly lucky as researcher of performance art to be positioned where I am, in Ventura, protected from the L.A. hustle; but still able to see Josh Berkowitz come up for the evening and perform. Of course, he’s only coming up because John White is a center of gravity for performance art in Southern California. Berkowitz has performed before in Ventura, such as last September, in Jason Poston and Mathew Godfrey’s Was Ist Das? Art City Mural Benefit.
Berkowitz’s performance artwork is important energetically. He does something with his wiry body to turn his whole physical presence into something very sharp, heavy and dangerous. Working as Co-Artistic Director for the Electric Lodge in Venice Beach, collaborating with hundreds of artists a year, I get the sense watching him that Josh is internalizing many styles right now, while following the directive of an integral driving impulse.
The artwork was about taking risks, speaking notes to self into a digital voice recorder, notes that we could all hear about how to deal with the audience, ‘look them in the eyes’; or later on, ‘note to self, do not look in the eyes of anyone who may give you a slight boner’. Working with a small chair and table, he worked a mysterious algorithm of movement around the furniture, making it ever more difficult to move between sliding them closer together. The audience caught on. It’s amazing how the mind will watch and find coherence within what it sees, if it is unable to compare something to anything outside of itself.
The style of Ippel’s was my favorite of the evening. It’s most akin to what the Chinese will call xingwei 行为art. Usually translated as ‘performance art’, but literally translated as ‘behavior’ art; there is no performative element beyond the blunt fact that this is a performance. The performer acts as if there is no audience at all, and attempts to remove all traces of ‘self-consciousness’. It’s an attempt to erase the viscous film between art and life; and I do agree that it is healthiest for the human psyche to not be encouraged unto the spectacle, but to embrace what is scene/seen as not wholly ‘Other’, performative and merely meant to be consumed.
Pete’s artwork involved sitting on a high stool, back to the audience, facing the mirror which lines the back wall of Namba dance studio, recent venue for 5 x 5 x 5. The artist sat wearing only underwear while he tried on two full bags of hats. He strove to be un-self-conscious; and while there were no performative flourishes (almost), the artist’s movements were constrained, jerky and quick; not at all the being-in-the-present movements one would actually have in solitude while trying on hats. However, the manner of Pete’s movements make more sense in light of the artist’s ongoing battle with a physical deformation on his skull caused by a recent car accident. While the artist is on a profound track with his performance practice, he has yet to rest into what he is doing and reap the rewards of his artistic destiny.
And speaking of destiny, this brings me to the capstone performance of the evening. Kevin Carman, on his home turf, brought his performance practice to the 5 x 5 x 5 stage once again. This was a tour de force of mytho-poetic television fucking slash oracle adulation. It was raining blue Christmas as Kevin appeared on stage buck naked, a rack of regal reindeer antlers on his head of wizened long hair. Painted in intricate ritual patterns of white concentric circles, with some archaic runes indicating the soul’s journey through some very involved hell; Kevin’s physical presence was not so much transformed as enhanced.
A television set was placed center stage, a set I had seen hacked out and disemboweled earlier in the day across the street from Art City, Under the Bed. Inside the set sat a white head tilted backwards at slight and arrogant tilt. The artist emerged and took a power stance, arms reaching high and spread towards the heavens as he recited his spoken word piece. Kevin is essentially a spoken word artist who has evolved a performative language over the past ten years in the Ventura and L.A. performance scenes. This evolution, however, has reached a visual perfection in this particular artwork, Sleep Drifter. While blue may not have been the best lighting choice for this piece, drowning out the blue of the artist’s body, it did pop the white concentric lines and white oracle head in the TV, while also forming a dreamy seamlessness between the artist’s skin and space he wove and ritualistically danced within.
Sleep-drifter…as if our dreaming body feeds off the narratives told by TV. and all its million actors.
Sophia Kidd, 1.6.18, Ventura, California