‘In performance art, usually one or more people perform in front of an audience. Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways about theater and performing, break conventions of traditional performing arts, and break down conventional ideas about “what art is,” a preoccupation of modernist experimental theater and of postmodernism. Thus, even though in most cases the performance is in front of an audience, in some cases, notably in the later works of Allan Kaprow, the audience members become the performers.
‘The performance may be scripted, unscripted, or improvisational. It may incorporate music, dance, song, or complete silence. Art-world performance has often been an intimate set of gestures or actions, lasting from a few minutes to many hours, and may rely on props or avoid them completely. Performance may occur in transient spaces or in galleries, room, theaters or auditoriums.
‘Despite the fact that many performances are held within the circle of a small art-world group, RoseLee Goldberg notes, in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present that “performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture. Conversely, public interest in the medium, especially in the 1980s, stemmed from an apparent desire of that public to gain access to the art world, to be a spectator of its ritual and its distinct community, and to be surprised by the unexpected, always unorthodox presentations that the artists devise.”’ — John Stockwell
Fred Tomaselli, painter, multimedia artist: “Mark Pauline did a performance on one of the bridges going into East L.A. There was a lot going on down there. There was this performance artist Stelarc, he hung himself with fish hooks off of one of the bridges just long enough to get a photo. He started hanging out at Gorky’s Cafe [where I was the manager] and I remember I booked him to do a performance at Gorky’s. It was this thing with this robotic third hand. That was very alienating to the customers.”
Brett Goldstone, multimedia artist: “I remember we were all in the Cotton Exchange show organized by LACE in 1984. Fred Tomaselli did a great kinetic piece. It was these animatronic legs in a dark room. When you walked in there was a mat that had a switch built in and it made the legs jump. It was kinda funhouse — scary, too.
“Chico MacMurtrie did a huge performance up in the ceiling that you saw as you entered the building. It was a kind of this enormous spider web made out of masking tape, I think. It was growing all through the opening. There was so much stuff in the show. I did a kinetic piece of a guy sitting at a table stuffing himself with fast food, arms flailing. Kathy Norklun did a spread in Spectacle magazine about all of the kinetic stuff.
“I did another piece under my nom de guerre, Art Attack, which I used at the time for all of my guerrilla pieces. It was a big banner (30′ x 20′) that I hung on the building the night before by breaking into the upper floors that were locked. It was a rather emotional response to a scene I had witnessed walking home to Chinatown from my friend’s studio on Broadway and 5th Street.
“There was a drunk, homeless guy on the ground at a hot dog stand and there were three or four cops standing around laughing at him as they whacked him with their batons, goading him to stand up. It went on for a few minutes and I wanted I to say something but I had learned that this was a good way to get whacked myself. I was furious. So I went on home and painted this big scene of what I had seen in very simple cartoonish style so as to be read at a large distance.
“It was hanging on the building for a few days when I got a call from [LACE Director] Joy Silverman telling me I had better take it down as the police had come and closed down the show. They had claimed it was for a paperwork issue but it was understood that the banner was the problem. I removed it and the show opened again. I rehung it the night of the closing party just to show the LAPD that we were still on to their brutality toward the homeless in the downtown area.”
Stephen Seemayer, artist, filmmaker: “It was very bleak. There wasn’t crack yet. There wasn’t AIDS. But there was a sense of desolation. It was so desolate that even the cops didn’t really want to deal with you. I was 3 to 4 blocks away from the Newton Division and it’s famous in the LAPD. They were called the ‘Shootin’ Newton.’ I was like 22 at the time. I would be there at my studio and they’d see me out of my car and they’d roust me and said, ‘What are you doing in this neighborhood?’ And I’d say, ‘I live here.’ And they’d say, ‘Get out!'”
Marnie Weber, artist: “We decided we would have an art show in our building. It was just ourselves on Spring St. We invited everyone we knew to submit a piece. I was taking a class with Chris Burden and I said, ‘Do you want to show a piece?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ And he shot bottle rockets across the street from our roof. And the cops didn’t care. That was just the kind of thing that would happen.
“I remember our first gig [as the Party Boys]. We said, ‘Where is the least likely place you’d play?’ So we picked a gas station at midnight on a Wednesday. Then we had to change location. So we moved to a parking lot that had been painted turquoise. We rented generators and did play Wednesday at midnight. And there was quite a few people — like 25. In those days, you were happy if 25 people showed up.
“Then we played at a bar across the street called Jacaranda’s. We walked in and offered to play for free. We would play for beer. We got a fair amount of people coming to our shows, from downtown, from Hollywood, East L.A. We started inviting other bands like the Minutemen and punk bands from the period.
“Then Marc Kreisel bought the American Hotel [home to Al’s Bar] and we said, ‘Why don’t you have a show?’ He said, ‘If you build a stage I’ll do it.’ So we built a stage.”
The Lhasa Club Tapes – Hollywood 1985
A Hole in Space LA-NY, 1980
Historic Places in L.A.: The Woman’s Building
‘Johanna Went is a pioneering performance artist who began performing as part of a street theater troupe that travelled America and Europe in the 1970’s. Combining a wild, chaotic performing style packed with visual excitement, gallons of blood, streams of multicolored liquids, giant bloody tampons, enormous sewn fabric sculptures, wacky scary costumes and enough Styrofoam and found film stock to fill a room, Johanna packed the clubs in LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix and New York. For more than ten years she was known as an innovative performance artist, particularly for the visual richness of her on-stage characters. She was equally renowned for her use of live improvised music that crossed over from jazzy rock grooves and jungle beats to electronic soundscapes and industrial noise. And always, above all the wild, driving music: Johanna’s completely stream of conscience vocals.’
Johanna Went: Ablutions of a Nefarious Nature
‘Born in 1955 and raised in Mexico City, Guillermo Gómez-Peña came to the United States in 1978. His artistic production has centered around his life mission: to make experimental yet accessible art; to work in politically and emotionally charged sites for diverse audiences; and to collaborate across racial, gender, and age boundaries as a gesture of citizen-diplomacy. As founding member of the bi-national arts collective Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo (1985-1990), Gómez-Peña was featured in the 1990 Biennale di Venezia. He has participated in a vast number of exhibitions, biennials and festivals including the Sydney Biennial (1992) the Whitney Biennial (1993), Sonart (1999), and Made in California at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (2000). In 1991, he became the first Chicano/Mexicano artist to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. He has also won a number of awards including: the New York Bessie Award (1989), the Viva Los Artists Award (1993) and the Cineaste Lifetime Achievement Award at Taos Talking Pictures Film Festival (2000). Gómez-Peña’s performance and installation work has been presented at more than five hundred venues across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Australia, the former Soviet Union, Columbia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil and Argentina.’
BORDER INTEROGATION; LA POCHA NOSTRA (Excerpt)
‘Linda Mary Montano is a seminal figure in contemporary feminist performance art, Linda Montano’s work since the mid 1960s has been critical in the development of video by, for, and about women. Attempting to dissolve the boundaries between art and life, Montano continues to actively explore her art/life through shared experience, role adoption, and intricate life altering ceremonies, some of which last for seven or more years. Her artwork is starkly autobiographical and often concerned with personal and spiritual transformation. Montano’s influence is wide ranging. She has been featured at museums including The New Museum in New York, MOCA San Francisco, and the ICA in London. Montano has taught Performance Art, published five books, and has over fifty free videos on YouTube.’
You Look Marvelous!!! The Performance of Aging and Death
Bob & Bob
‘BOB & BOB is written like a long, meaty press release, which is in keeping with these two artists’ general tactics. I have never seen one of their live performances, but I like the way they tread the thin line between silly-smart and silly-stupid in this book. It tells the who (Francis Shishim and Paul Velick), what (music, performance, public action, drawing, self-advertising, film, photography and whatever else was at hand), and where (California) of the first five years of this team’s collaboration. Texts of songs, interviews and routines are included. Two of the worst art jokes ever put into print came from Bob & Bob’s early school days at the Art Center in Los Angeles: “I went to the dentist to get Matisse fixed”; and “Hey Bob, who’s your favorite Artist?” “Lautrec!” “Well, I think his work is Too-loose!” With a beginning like that, anything is possible.’
BOB & BOB – Who Are Bob and Bob? 8mm film
‘Though he was only 32 at the time of his passing, the Iranian-American theater director Reza Abdoh’s (1963–95) mark on the world of theater was unmistakable. Relentlessly inventive, he pushed his actors—and audiences—to their limits amid ambitious, unusual, disorienting stage sets. Abdoh’s aesthetic language borrowed from fairy tales, BDSM, talk shows, raves, video art, and the history of avant-garde theater. This exhibition, the first large-scale retrospective of Abdoh’s work, will highlight the diverse video works that Abdoh produced for his performances and an installation based on his 1991 production Bogeyman. The exhibition also includes contextual materials reflecting the club scenes in both Los Angeles and New York, the culture wars of the Reagan era, and the AIDS crisis. Abdoh died of AIDS in 1995.’
Reza Abdoh: Theater Visionary, Documentary Film (Trailer)
‘Davis got her start in L.A.’s predominately white punk scene as the front woman of an art-punk band called the Afro Sisters, where she referenced and drew inspiration from iconic black radicals like Angela Davis, after whom she named herself. Throughout the eighties, Vaginal Davis developed multiple personas and performed incongruous identities. She was a black revolutionary drag queen, a teen-age Chicana pop star, a white-supremacist militiaman. These characters often referred to one another: against her better judgment, Vaginal Davis pined for Clarence, a rabid white supremacist; Clarence, too, harbored secret affections. Their dynamic caricatured that illicit desire that exists despite—or, perhaps, because of—racism. This kind of political critique, simultaneously absurd and hyper-real, made Davis a muse to a generation of queer writers and critics, like the late José Esteban Muñoz, who died in 2013.’
Cholita! En No Controles
Bob Flanagan & Sheree Rose
‘Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan (1952-1996) are most known for their intensive bodily performances that explored love, sex, pleasure, sadism, masochism, and Flanagan’s long-term battle with cystic fibrosis. Rose and Flanagan’s history is worth knowing not for what they did to art, but for what they did to love and sex. This is where Rose’s relationship to her practice is quite different from that of the people mentioned above. It was an already-existing active engagement with sex politics as lived and felt that brought Rose and Flanagan into galleries and museums. They were together for years before that relationship morphed into an art practice, and their activism was, at first, an explicitly sexual activism localized to their personal lives and to their activism within and on behalf of the BDSM community.’
Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose video J Pompei
Linda J Albertano
‘Linda J. Albertano skeins surrealism and lyricism into eight pieces. The warped reality of David Lynch is an apt reference point, for Albertano’s university degree is in film making: vivid images splash colour into her tales. Lush language and carefully chosen aural bites cultivate texture in a world seeping with heat and saturated with history, a world unburdened by chronology. Sexual and political power relations form Albertano’s stomping ground. With satire and simile as her tools, she unravels scenarios, attempting to uncover their subtexts… A commentary that entertains and educates as it inquires.’
Linda J Albertano – Lhasa Club – Hollywood 1985
‘Starting out in the late 1970s with solo performances, image/text paintings, and gallery and site-specific installations, Kelley came to prominence in the 1980s with a series of sculptures composed of common craft materials. Featuring repurposed thrift store toys, blankets, and worn stuffed animals, the Half a Man series focused Kelley’s career-long investigation of memory, trauma, and repression, predicated on what the artist described as a “shared culture of abuse.”’
Pansy Metal Clovered Hoof – Mike Kelley and Anita Pace
‘Suzanne Lacy is an American social practice artist, who coined the term new genre public art. Her work spans from visual art, film and performance art to installation, public practice and writing. All her work is linked by its engagement with social themes and urban issues, through conversation within communities of people. She has addressed issues such as rape, violence, feminism, aging and incarceration. Lacy is concerned with bringing both social and aesthetic purpose to her work, making her, in many people’s eyes, both an artist and an activist.’
Between the Door and the Street: A Performance Initiated by Suzanne Lacy
‘It’s not easy to comprehend why someone would want to penetrate their scalp with a metal hook, infuse their scrotum with saline solution and invite a live audience to watch. But Ron Athey’s not a simple guy. Over the last 20 years the experimental body artist has been dubbed a masochist and a sensationalist for his extreme practice – a kind of queer performance art that deals with themes of trauma, ritual and resistance through the mutilation of the body. Always challenging, always underground, his work has been heavily influenced by his upbringing in a Pentecostal household and by living the past 28 years of his life as HIV positive.’
‘Donald Krieger passed away peacefully on May 3, 2010 after a short illness. Throughout his life and at the time of his passing, Donald was surrounded by love. He was 57 years old. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and raised in southern California, he called Los Angeles home. Donald began an eclectic career in art with seminal performance pieces known for their originality, innovative use of media and anthropological subject matter. “The Story of Aviation”, “All Electric”, “The Tesla Project” and “Boy’s Life”, to name a few, established Donald as an important voice in the Los Angeles performance art community. Also recognized for his installation pieces, paintings and drawings in his later career, Donald created a one-man show based on the work of Thomas Edison at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 1995. He continued to explore science and nature in his art and writings.’
‘Island’. Performance by Donald Krieger, featuring Kristian Hoffman and Lance Loud.
Los Angeles Poverty Department
‘The Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) is a Los Angeles-based performance group closely tied to the city’s Skid Row neighborhood. Founded in 1985 by director and activist John Malpede, LAPD members are mostly homeless or formerly homeless people who collaborate with advocates, social service professionals and community members to create performances and multimedia art that highlight connections between their lived experiences and external forces that impact their lives.’
4 excerpts from Los Angeles Poverty Department’s performances
‘Painter (1995) is a single-channel colour video with sound that is shown in a darkened room either as a projection or on a monitor. The video depicts the American artist Paul McCarthy performing as the eponymous painter inside a wooden set that is dressed as an artist’s studio, containing several large canvases as well as over-sized brushes and tubes of paint, along with an adjacent bedroom. Dressed in a blue smock, McCarthy wears a blonde wig and a number of prosthetics, including a bulbous nose, flapping ears and large rubber hands. During the fifty-minute video, he talks and acts in an exaggerated and comic fashion, sometimes behaving violently and at other times more childlike, as he struggles to paint. Midway through the work McCarthy sits at a table and repeatedly hits his rubber hand with a meat cleaver, eventually cutting off the index finger. Interspersed with the sequences in the studio and bedroom are four brief scenes featuring additional characters, all of whom also wear bulbous prosthetic noses. Two of these scenes are set in an office, where McCarthy visits a female gallery owner whom he claims owes him money, and the other two are based around a talk show, in which McCarthy appears alongside the host and an art collector couple. The video concludes with a scene in which a group of collectors line up to see McCarthy, with one sniffing the artist’s bare bottom as if assessing it as an artwork. Painter was shot on digital betacam and is displayed as standard definition video.’
Paul McCarthy: “Painter”
‘The fair-enough question might be “Who the hell are the Kipper Kids?”. But for those who know of them it’s more likely, “Do we really have to talk about the Kipper Kids?” This duo who came to attention in America in the late Seventies/early Eighties opened for the Rolling Stones and Public Image Ltd, performed at the Munich Olympics and got their first big break on US television in a CBS show No Holds Barred. And what did they do? Imagine the sadistic end of the Three Stooges coupled with anarchic French clowns, a more flatulent spin-off from the surrealism of Monty Python, plus silly voices, protracted skits which seem to have no end or even a point and . . .’
Kipper Kids Mondo Beyondo
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Harry Dodge is also one of the principal actors in ‘Cecil B. Demented’, John Waters’ most overlooked great (in my opinion) film. Yes, RIP Larry Cohen. He did some cool stuff. Films by him have been in several posts here. ** Scunnard, Hi, Jared! I’m pretty good, a bit too busy as I guess I keep saying. How great if you can come see ‘PGL’ and me in Glasgow! Here’s hoping. Ugh, sorry about the book’s legs’ external impairment. It always seems like there’s more of those falling through things than the good things, at least in my history too. The next thing: great that you’re onto it! Like I said, I’m good. Lots of stuff in the works, almost all of it promising and seemingly worth the current hassles. ** Bill, Hi. They’re great, together and also separately. I didn’t find Hong Kong so mysterious in my short visit there. Well, a little. Parts. That is nice: ‘The Trek’. Thank you. How was the Strickland, if you’ve seen it? ** Joshua Dalton, Well, well, well, Josh! How sweet to see you! Thank you about ‘Try’. Oh, you know, I think of them as constructions, but they’re filled with real feelings, and readers don’t have to see them as clinically as I do. Oh, great, new work by you! And work by you towards which you have pride! Excited to read it. Everyone, excellent writer and very long-time blog contributor Joshua Dalton has a new short fiction piece online, and new work by Josh is a rarity, so I advise using your eyes on it via this portal. Oh, yeah, Blake was here. That was cool. I’d be interested to visit Dallas, not having been there since I was a little kid. I have no memory of it whatsoever other than seeing it up ahead though the windshield of the car I was riding in. I hope you’re doing great too, pal. Take good care. ** tyler murphy, Hi, Tyler, welcome to here! Oh, me too, big time! As artists and — do you know them personally? — as people too. Thanks a lot! ** Misanthrope, Hey. Well, you know my non-belief in the ultimate value of generalising terms, and ‘conservative’ is one of those. The ‘refresh’: that sounds so nice. I flashed a ‘v’ for victory sign when I read the word ‘sooner’. ** Robert Siek, Hi, Robert. Awesome, thank you! I’ll be over there ASAP. Everyone, the superb poet Robert Siek has some new poetry in a new and very cool looking online journal called BAD DOG edited by the Canadian poet Joshua Chris Bouchard. Go fete yourselves by reading Robert’s poetry, first and foremost, and also checking out the journal’s debut issue. Start here. Wow, I forgot that Stanya had work in ‘Userlands’ until just now. Her videos are wonderful, I can promise you. Thank you again, and take care, buddy. ** Wolf, Wolfie, god of the wolves! Hi! Uh, yeah, the 16+ thing is a fucking drag, and I just hope we can get it overturned. It’s ridiculous. I mean, as I probably told you, we had to make a short version of ‘PGL’ to satisfy our grant giver even though it was never going to be seen, and that version, which has exactly the same ‘problem’ as the long one, didn’t get a 16+ when it was reviewed, so … Ugh. How very cool that you just did that big sweep of the West Coast! Crazy, that’s a lot! If you haven’t, next time you’re in Seattle and have time, take the boat out to the islands ‘cos there are a shitload of them, and they’re beautiful and, yeah, soul magnetising in many instances. So great to see you! Tell me more! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Fellow Dodge/Kahn fan, yes! Joy is a really good word for their stuff’s effect. Super exciting to read about ‘The Call’s’ building eruption! ** Steve Erickson, Well, if it gave you ideas for your work, that’s all it needed to do, cool. Yes, if we get stuck with the 16+ rating, that could happen, but it will seriously screw us vis-a-vis the release, which then affects its VOD and DVD release, so do light a conceptual candle re: its overturning. ** chris dankland, Hi, Chris! So many old, good pals here today! I’m so glad you like Kahn and Dodge’s stuff. Yeah, it’s such good work. When Zac and I did the ‘PGL’ event at Lincoln Center, showing one of their videos was in the serious running for the carte blanche part of the event. Oh, I don’t know … I guess there must be a particular draw in their work for me. The tone, the way Stanya speaks and writes/uses language, how languid yet tight the structures are, how hilarious but dark they are, … How are you? How is the Southwest treating you this many months in? So fantastic to see you! ** JM, Hi! I’m glad you got back in. I hope you’re doing as well as you can be doing. How are you? What’s going on in your head/world? ** Corey Heiferman, My pleasure. I’m so glad you think it’s a trove. Very nice about your weekend and aces if my wish filtered all the way over there. Busyness is now mostly oriented around the TV script, which is my least favorite of my busyness’s magnets, but its will be done, etc. Happy Monday! ** Okay. Some or even all of you will remember that I did a two-part post here recently about performance art in NYC in the 80s and early 90s, and here, finally, is a similar two-part post focused on LA in its first instalment. I hope it does something good for you. See you tomorrow.