Dear friends…

Dear friends of The Present Tense,

2015 marks ten years since our first event, Activate: an evening of occurrence. Back then, we had a simple goal to support a movement of experiential art that we felt was underrepresented and had few options for exhibition. The event was modest but well attended, and confirmed our belief that it was our responsibility to support this movement that we were a part of. From 2005 through 2009 we continued to organize a series of events ranging in size from intimate happenings to large scale international performance art festivals.  Our goal was always to show the work of artists at varied stages in their career from all over the world, to create thriving bridges between Boston and other places connected by experiential art practices.  The outcome of these efforts was intense discourse, countless moving performances, many new friends, and of course shoeboxes full of documentation.

In 2009 we both lost our space and launched The Present Tense Archive online, which was an effort to take the traces of the works hiding in shoeboxes and make them available to anyone. It was a daunting task, but with the help of many friends including the Berwick Research Institute, Vela Phelan, and Coco Segaller, we were able to create an archive in the form of a blog. Since then, the archive has accumulated more content than we ever imagined. Interviews, guest posts, and curated thematic posts populated the archive alongside the images and video we had captured ourselves. It became more than an archive, it became a community platform for the art and movement we had set out to support.

A lot has changed since 2009, especially ways for individuals to navigate the internet and strategies for archiving experiential-based works.  It is time for TPT to change, too. This will be the last post on this platform, and the rest of 2015 will be spent reconfiguring the way TPT exists. The form will change, but the function will not. Priority will be given to finding a way to make this accumulated content easier to navigate and more accessible.  We are also contemplating other, more experimental forms of archiving.

This does not mean that The Present Tense will not be active!  We will still be maintaining our TumblrFacebook pageTwitter, and of course our Vimeo page which hosts a large number of works by many artists including our own work.  We will still send out seasonal email updates about our activities.  The Present Tense was born out of our collaboration and has always been an extension of our own artistic practices.  You can also keep up with what we are working on through our personal websites. The blog, however, will remain untouched, enshrined as a relic much like the work it hosts.

Looking forward,

Phil & Sandrine | 

Present Tense, 9 years

Each time July 29th rolls around the Present Tense gets a year older. Next year we will celebrate 10 years of the Present Tense, I can’t believe that nearly a decade has already passed. Late summer always brings a time of reflection on where Present Tense has been and where its going, this year I found myself thinking a lot about gallery SoToDo and the Performance Art Congress. While the Congress and SoToDo (which was a floating gallery) never officially worked with the Present Tense in an organizational capacity, it was the source of many of the artists we’ve connect with and shown over the years. While I was thinking about it a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find that SoToDo’s website was still up, despite it being inactive since 2009. On it, I found a wonderfully written statement from Theordor Di Ricco, the organizer of SoToDo.

Past, Present, Future; What is Performance Art
by Theodor di Ricco

11. Sept. 2009
project space LAB39 in Mullae Artist’s Village, Seoul, South Korea

Walking into a room, removing a rubber ball from a pocket and bouncing it on the floor is performance art if the performance artist declares it to be such. Sitting in a lecture hall and watching someone dressed in yellow maneuver themselves to a seat can be considered performance art if the observer declares it to be such. Performance Art does not have a beginning or an end. It happens. Whether it is takes place as spoken word, as a manifestation, an individual action, or even as a foolish activity, it has always occurred because of the need to communicate information on how to live. Art is a vehicle of communication.
Human beings have learned to be creative and social in order to survive. At the dawn of civilization, the first art works were sculptured from stone and painted on cave walls to communicate lessons learned or deeds accomplished. As societies developed, those who controlled the access of information were the ones favored. In order to preserve their power, they subsequently developed a Machiavellian power structure to organize and control the community.

In every society there are fools, shamans, sages and artists who are set apart from the society in general. They are either crazy, have super-human abilities, are wise or creative. To deal with them, the society creates a micro system which mirrors the general Machiavellian structure. Within this tightly controlled micro-system, they are placed at the center and the rest of the community occasionally surrounds.
Within this group it is the artist sets an example how to live (make art). The artist is at the center and is able to see everyone.  This advantage allows the artist to act as a pressure valve within the society, expressing concepts and ideas together with actions and deeds that balance the spectrum of society’s common consciousness,

The alternative life style represented by the artist is tolerated and respected to a certain degree. Because if the quality of life within the society at whole diminishes, some within the community seek alternatives. The artist acts as a catalyst for change. However, for this privilege, the artist is trapped by the community’s focus and must manipulate each side in order to remain in the center (or alive).

The role of the community is to be shown how to live (make art).  The community is content to follow the example of the artist, and is freed from the responsibility of having to live (make art) for themselves. Their role is simply to experience.
The micro-Machiavellian structure is in place for the preservation of society and demonstrates a collective discipline on the part of the artist and the community in order to prevent a state in which everyone is living (making art) for themselves, or in short, a state of anarchy.

Once again, in order to survive humans are creative and social, Art is a means of communication As societies developed, those who have access of information found themselves in control. This lead to a Machiavellian power structure. Mirroring this structure, a micro-version is set-up within where the artists is placed.

Remaining in the center and acting as a pressure valve within the society an example of this is in the beginning of the 20th century. The Futurist and Dadaist, caught in the middle of economic and political extremes created by rapid Industrialization and the First World War, responded by creating time based environments mirroring the chaos of everyday life.

Many art historians define this two groups as the origin of performance art. I could continue mentioning groups or names of artists throughout the last century however people have always been using time as a media of commutation. It is therefore irrelevant to speak of a history of performance art, to drop names as to who was the first to do it and where it first appeared. What is important is to find the thread that links one’s cultural history to time-based events in contemporary life.

Even though Performance Art has always existed, it is only recently been named. The word Performance Art originated from the visual as well as the sound artists’ mouths when asked in the Seventies what they were doing. Later the word was used by art historians when labeling a generation of artists that was moving away from expressing their world in stagnate medium in sculpture, painting and music and consciously used the element of time as a media of artistic expression.

Since the end of the Second World War, virtual consciousness has evolved tremendously. The telephone and television had moved humans much closer to experiencing events simultaneously. Today, the internet is increasingly the vehicle of communication incorporating the two as well as being global and instantaneous.

During the last decades, artists have strengthened their international network respective to the developments of information technology. They also have moved closer to creating art simultaneously. Perhaps performance art is one of the first art forms that appeared in various cities around the world at the same time some forty years ago.

In the sixties, there were Happenings, Sit-Ins, group demonstrations where people came together to manifested a collective statement or common consciousness,

The seventies, Fluxus, in which an object or act is used and manipulated, thus giving it a new meaning. It developed from the concept debated during the period that everyone is an artist in the infrastructure of society; from the gardener, to the craftsmen, the dentist to the politician. It is particular to note, that it is at this time the word Performance Art was deemed proper to use when describing this new and controversial art form.

In the Eighties, artists continued expanding their networks locally as well as globally. The Performance Art began to incorporate the elements of dance, theater, video and music. New genres within performance art were created. An awareness of the body within time and space became Body Art Also, Endurance performance art where the artist explores the limits of the human body and Survival in which the body is physically mutilated became relevant statements with the context of performance art.

In the Nineties, Ritual based performance happened, in which the artist instigates a process, however abstract to impress the experience. Ultimate Mass demonstrations took place where people congregated at a site for a brief period and collectively performed one act. Thus the act of mobilizing had become the statement in itself. Theater, dance and music were increasingly incorporating some of the elements of Performance art and Live Art was created.

In the Naughts or the last decade, artists, having being taught by those who are relevant to the art of performance, have mastered the technique of video and sound and readily included others people in their performance.

Taking a closer look at the history of performance art, similarities in european history, can be drawn to predict it’s future in the upcoming decades. Between circa. 1835 and 1865 the secret police of Austria, Russian and Germany worked together to control the threat of revolution, which that had already occurred in France fifty years earlier. This period is referred to as Biedermeier.

A parallel has recently occurred during the thirty year neo-liberalism period between 1980 and 2010. This economic strategy where the market will control itself and therefore did not need government regulation was in response to the totalitarian communism of the Soviet Union and China.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the neo-liberalism which had already been exported to South America, ruled over the conversion of the former communist countries and China. The shock of political change disorientated many and allowed for a rapid installation of this laissez-faire economic plan. Dissent was labeled as acts against the state and dealt with accordingly. Then came 9-11 and terrorism.

This threat was not limited to the borders of any particular country. Though terrorist acts are site specific, security is global. This provided the impetus within developed countries to install their own neo-liberalism policies. As with the Cold War and now the threat of terrorism, fear is firmly installed and governments implement laws that erode civil rights.

As with the Biedermeier period, in the last thirty years people retreated into our their own four walls due to shock of a neo-liberalism and the threat of terror. When the artists band together to express an alternative consciousness, they are romantic not knowing how or whether there actions might someday justify their means.

Many understand that in order to change society one must also work from within. The current outlet for free speech is through the internet. With the dawn of Web 2.0, there are not three, nine or thirty-six television channels and a separate telephone line, there is only one cable. Both are replaced by the computer monitor, whether it is on a desk or hanging on the wall. Our social networks have become, in part, virtual. We are free to choose what we experience. Art via the monitor will develop within this parameter and performance art is it’s artistic media. Because the ephemeral quality of performance art is it’s means and has been turned into a commodity by those who create it. The future of performance art lies in the action of marketing this commodity via the internet.

There is much debate about what are the elements of performance art. What is most essential is that the method of communicating a message be honest and authentic. Repetition of another person’s work for entertainment purposes is not performance art. There is also much debate about the public’s response to performance art. Performance art does not warrent approval. The public is not required to applaud to show respect. They role is to experience.

A singular performance art action where there is no public and no documentation thereof betrays the necessity to communicate a message. Others can debate differently. However, this debate can be compared to the sound of one had clapping. It is endless and only relevant to those who try to answer it.

It seems nowadays to question the artist’s message and purpose is to betray common sense. As with every action, it has a political, spiritual and an eastectic statement. The can of dog food one buys at the market or the clothes one choses to put on in the morning is a message about oneself and how one interprets the society in which one lives. It seems to reason that if an artist uses the action and calls it art, that their message should be relevant and the concept clear. The need to communicate information to people on how to live (make art) is the purpose of the performance artist.


The winds of a silent revolution are taking place, the political and economic structures of the last three decades are changing. The world is moving away from neo-liberalism capitalism towards a socialist democracy. Currently there are more socialist countries than before the Cold War. The last Keynesian period of social democracy between ca. 1930 to 1960 brought the world modern art. This upcoming period will unleash a flurry of contemporary art and performance art is well positioned to be the art form of the 21st century.
Therefore, it is also extremely important that festivals and congresses centered around performance art happen. They bring together artists who differ in their distinct geographical and cultural temperaments, thus ensuring a constant influx of new ideas. They also provide an time based environment where the artists and the public can explore current contemporary means of artistic expression, communicate, pool ideas together and strengthening the bridges that link them further. The benefit of this exchange, whether artistic or personal, is a highly motivating factor for all those who participate. In the case of life following art, this collective artistic happening of performance artists is a service to themselves and to the society at whole.
The concept of performance art has been debated and has continued to evolve. It is the pinnacle of contemporary art simply because it is time based. It is the performance artist who first defines the moment, which is later interpreted in other artistic medium of sculpture, painting, theater, film, dance or music. Performance art is the act of making art on site at the moment. Yet, even though everyone is allowed to make art, only a few dare to do so.

So, To Do.


As I began working on this blog post, I noticed that the SoToDo website had disappeared. I can only hope this is temporary, as it houses a wonderful archive including an epic list of every artist that’s performed at the Congress dating back to 1987. For now, we’ll just have to view the site via the Wayback Machine.


If a tree falls, does it make a sound? – E.Aaron Ross and Samuel Glidden

E.Aaron Ross
“204 Hits Illuminating, Exhausting”

This piece follows a previous piece of a similar format where I find a tool that seems out of place in its environment and use it to make a performance and sculpture in the environment it was found in.

While the last piece was an urban tool in a rural setting, for this new piece, “204 Hits Illuminating, Exhausting”, I wanted the reverse. I purchased an ax from the Swap-O-Rama on Chicago’s South Side, and located a group of cement pillars only a few blocks away at an abandoned factory. In the pitch black and silent night, I swung the ax into the pillar until I was too physically exhausted to continue. The sound of the ax hitting the pillar created a sharp and metallic echo, triggering a pair of audio sensitive flashes to fire, illuminating the scene for a brief moment for two video cameras and one still camera.

With each swing, dust and cement filled the air before audibly sprinkling the ground. Towards the end of my performance (approximately 8 minutes), the battery life of the flashes also became exhausted, firing less frequently (sometimes only every few hits or out of sync with the hit, allowing sparks from the ax to be visible). Eventually, the flashes stopped firing all together, and I myself stopped soon after from physical exhaustion.

This work produced a 2 channel video installation, 23 photos from the still camera connected to flash (when the two fired in succession to create a lit image), and a 3 piece photo installation using 1 photo of the performance, 1 photo of the pillar after the performance, and the ax itself mounted in a light box.

“204 Hits Illuminating, Exhausting” seeks to embody a fruitless anger and masculinity that I find repulsive, but intrinsic in myself. This work is an exercise in futility and aggression and its necessary expression.
204 Hits - 1C6A9527

204 Hits - freeze_frames

204 Hits - IMG_8357

E. Aaron Ross is a 29 year old single white man living in Chicago. He grew up in the Western Suburbs,skateboarding and playing music in punk and hardcore bands, before attending the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he graduate with one B.F.A. in Moving Image (video/ film/ studio art), and a second B.F.A. in Graphic Design. He is the product of a blue-collar conservative father from the South-ern United States, and a workaholic single mother from Indiana.

Samuel Glidden
“Digging Graves/Buried Dreams”

It is snowing and I walk for a while down side streets until I reach a dead end and climb over some clusters of rocks and end up on a beach next to a wooded area I have never seen before. I blindfold myself and walk down the beach, recording whatever was in front of me. I reach the woods and wander into it, cutting my hands and face on branches and thorns. As time passes it begins to snow harder and I am overwhelmed with fear of the cold and the fact that I couldn’t see anything around me. I could feel the snow and wind hitting my right side so I walked against it, figuring it was coming from the ocean. I eventually feel nothing around me so I take my blindfold off and am on the same beach I began on and walked home. I was lost in the woods, blindfolded, for about an hour.
digging graves

” I am a native of Massachusetts and spent most of my formative years in Springfield, MA. When I was 18 years old I moved east and have been residing in Beverly, MA for the past two years, studying at Montserrat College of Art with a concentration in Book Arts.” -Sam Glidden

Accumulation and the precious object

I feel lucky and grateful to have participated in Accumulation a second time. During the first phase, which happened in 2009 at the MEME space, my participation was less than frequent. As I began rummaging through my studio for possible object participants in phase two, I reflected on my actions from Phase 1.  I quickly realized that I relied heavily (almost entirely) on interacting and performing with objects brought to the space by the other artists. As someone who uses mostly objects that have some sort of sentimental value or emotional connection, Accumulation had given me an ultimatum: risk having your important objects destroyed or use objects that have little or no emotional connection to your work. During Phase 1, I did not have the courage to accept that kind of challenge.

ACCUMULATION (Phase 2) Philip Fryer 02.07.14 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

What I didn’t realize was happening, was a parallel between my hesitance to bring meaningful objects to the table and the very reason many galleries had declined to show Accumulation over the years. The uncertainty of the performances, the preciousness of the physical materials caused hesitation. I simultaneously felt frustration and understanding about these things. Five years after the first phase, Accumulation found a home for Phase 2 in the 808 gallery at BU, thanks to Lynne Cooney. Lynne’s willingness to bring unpredictability into her space allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone and choose to bring objects to Phase 2 that I wouldn’t have brought to the first.


This is a single I came across in my dad’s record collection. It has the name “Hughes” written in messy black letters and has smudges of white paint on both sides. To anyone else, it might just look like a ruined Mary Hopkin single, but to me it holds the hallmark of my uncle Richard (Hughes). I grew up with Richard being around almost all the time, he was a house painter through the 80’s and 90’s and frequently came home covered with white primer paint which subsequently, covered many things within my home. This is the only thing I have left with that signature, a bittersweet momento of my favorite uncle who was more fun than anyone in the world, who is now legally blind and resides in a Quincy homeless shelter. I have few things in my possession that hold this much emotional value.

Shannon Cochrane during Phase 2

Needless to say, I felt neurotic about what would happen to it after my performance. My heart jumped when Shannon picked it up during her and Marcios second performance. A green apple, similar to the one pictured on the record, is cut in half and taped to it. I felt instant relief, but more than anything, instant gratude. Gratitude to Shannon and Marcio, who acknowledged and honored this object and brought it into a new light for me. And gratitude for a community that pushes its members into new territory. I can only hope that other artists included in Phase 2 shared similar experiences, and that Phase 3 won’t take another 5 years to come to light.

Allison Wyper- One-to-One Fictional First Person Accounts Part III



The following performative text is an excerpt from a paper called “Always wanting you, but never having you: intimacy and desire in one-to-one performances by women,” in which I adopt an imaginary time traveling avatar self in order to virtually and fictionally “experience” three participatory performances that I have never seen.  Though fiction, this account is based on a detailed written account by Susan Kozel, a Canadian dancer, choreographer, and writer who works primarily in London and Vancouver (“Spacemaking: Experiences of a Virtual Body,” 1994).  Kozel has a Ph. D. in philosophy and specializes in dance and media.  As performer of Telematic Dreaming, a live performance that used ISDN teleconference technology as an interface between individual visitors and her remote body, Kozel explored physical intimacy through (then new) media.  The concept and technology behind Telematic Dreaming was conceived by a U.K. media artist named Paul Sermon, and the piece toured extensively in the early 1990s.
The intensely intimate proximity between bodies in Telematic Dreaming–one of flesh and muscle and the other of light and shadow–amplifies the emotional and ethical stakes of the participatory performance. This viewer-participant is given no instructions on how to behave; it is up to them to decide how to interact with Kozel’s virtual presence.  Kozel, on the other hand, is obligated to make her body available, and to figure out how to make virtual contact with the “user.” In her essay, Kozel’s account of the performance focuses on the “relation between my ‘cyber-body’ and my fleshly body” and the “sexual and political implications of the technology.”  She writes: “It was not a substitute for sex, it was a mimetic version with strong physical and emotional qualities… it was undeniably real, not a compromise…”


II. Paul Sermon/Susan Kozel, Telematic Dreaming (Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam, 1994)


The gallery is dark.  In its center is a full-size bed illuminated by a projection cast from the ceiling.  A two-dimensional projection of a woman with dark hair curls around the left side of the bed, the folds in the white bedding slightly warping and twisting her body.  She lies still, on her side, a profile on the linen.  She seems to be resting.  She reminds me of a Gustav Klimt painting—golden Danae curling across the canvas like a giant goldfish.


I stand, arms crossed, a couple feet from the bed, watching her, letting this live painting (literally) breathe for a few moments before I join her.  I’ve been invited to lie on the bed “with her” if I desire, and while I’m there, within the frame of the bed, she will be able to see me, remotely, through a live video camera on the gallery ceiling, in a kind of horizontal “teleconference.”  (I giggled when I thought of that joke, out in the lobby, but now it seems slightly disrespectful.)  In the darkness of the periphery I am invisible to her.  She displays herself for me.  I consume her, giving nothing in return.  I collect her beauty and store it up in my memory for later.  I could write a song about the way she looks, another courtly lover wooing from afar, impotent and selfish.  But that is not the invitation.


I tentatively, carefully, reach my hand into the light, holding it an inch or two off the mattress.  She sees me.  She smiles and reaches her hand toward mine.  Her fingers slide over mine, a collage of fingers and fingernails suspended inches above the sheets.  I expect to feel something, though logically I know her hand is just projection, not a real hand.  I nonetheless expect some warmth of contact, just for a moment.


We line up the tips of our index fingers, a feminine re-enactment of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, she the goddess on the cloud reaching me through the miracle of ISDN teleconference technology.  After a few minutes of acclimating to one another through this finger and hand foreplay, I am ready put my whole body on the bed, to lay into the light, as it were.  I take a breath and hoist myself up onto the mattress, a little awkward and panting ever so slightly from the exertion.  I lie on my side, still, shy, completing the frame of the bed with my body, facing her.  And so we lie, facing one another, eyes downcast, every now and then flitting over each other.  I giggle nervously and she smiles back.  We begin playfully shifting in small increments, describing complimentary arcs and curves with our torsos and limbs.  She nudges me with her head—or rather, I imagine the feeling of being nudged, and respond in kind.


We are, more or less, spooning or cuddling, getting to know one another within a prescribed “couple in bed” movement vocabulary.  I blush, suddenly physically aware of the intimacy of the moment—and that we are sharing this private moment in public.  A few gallery visitors stand in the doorway, at a respectful distance, watching us.  Aware of their probing gaze, I briefly stiffen, and shift a little away from my electric friend, wondering, what is a respectful distance in a public bed with a virtual partner?


She notices me withdrawing and retreats several inches.  She cannot see the others in the doorway, and so does not understand my sudden self-consciousness.  Perhaps she thinks she has been too forward.  She withdraws into the shadows beyond the bed, leaving only a disembodied right hand behind.  This saddens me, and I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed.  I’ve betrayed her trust already.  I reach for her hand.  Nudge it playfully with mine in apology, until at last she returns in tenuous forgiveness.


This first bump in our relationship mutually negotiated, we continue our game of overlapping, filling one another’s negative space, in small, incremental shifts.  At times our bodies overlap, and it occurs to me that I could line myself up under her, making us one composite body.  I could try her on, if she was willing.  But what would that do to her identity, her autonomy?  Would she be absorbed by me?  Would she disappear, cease to be her?  But no, of course, “she” exists safely ensconced away from me.  She is protected there.  This electric body is only a projection of her.  I can’t touch her here.  Not actually.  No one can.


And yet…


I am anxious about her telepresence, as if she has projected her soul into another dimension, like some hi-tech shamanic out-of-body ritual.  In that respect, this is an extremely vulnerable space for her to be in.  If she is damaged or hurt in this place, will she feel pain in her physical body?  Is she psychically vulnerable?  Her projected body must feel, because already I’ve hurt her with my carelessness.  It’s not that she is “out-of-body” with me on the bed; here she is a “virtual body” enjoying goddess-like access and power her physical body cannot experience.  Here she is liquid and electric at once.


The doorway voyeurs have multiplied by now, and I’m aware that I should give others a chance.  But I linger.   I don’t want her to be alone, vulnerable, isolated, and I’m not sure I trust others to care for her properly.  Those people might take advantage of her, distort her, make her ugly.  They could make fun of her, ridicule her.  They don’t have the relationship we have.  Hell, we’ve already had our first fight and made up!  She notices me growing introspective again and strokes my shoulder.  I shiver and gasp, amazed because I felt her touch.  I really did.


Okay, reality check: there were others before me, and there will be others after me.  Our brief tryst is ours to keep.  Now it’s time to go.  Reluctantly I move my hand to her face, my fingers melting through the edges of her cheekbone, the edges of her face bleeding into my fingertips.  This is the best way I can think of to say goodbye.   She nuzzles my hand as I roll off the bed into darkness as quickly as I came.


For more information on this piece see


About the Author

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist who creates intimate and one-on-one performances that challenge viewer-performer dynamics and the ethics of participation. Allison has been an Associate Artist of La Pocha Nostra since 2004, and a collaborator with Western Australia’s Hydra Poesis since 2011. Her work has been seen in museums, galleries, theaters, universities, and streets in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany. Her writing has been published by Itch Dance Journal, Platform (U.K), Emergency Index, Whore Magazine and the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. More info at

Allison Wyper- One-to-One Fictional First Person Accounts Part II

The following performative text is an excerpt from a paper called “Always wanting you, but never having you: intimacy and desire in one-to-one performances by women,” in which I adopt an imaginary time traveling avatar self in order to witness the “intimacies” that I imagine generated in participatory performances that I have never seen.  Though fictional, this account is based on extensive research, and includes quotes taken from a paper by the artist, Helen Paris, called “Crossing wires/shifting boundaries in Vena Amoris” (Women & Performance12:2, 2002), as well as a review for Live Art U.K. The fiction is further informed by my personal praxis as a performance artist working in the one on one genre. Wendy the bartender is completely made up.
The performer’s instructions to the participant that I’ve quoted and indented in this passage are copied directly from Paris. Spelling and punctuation are original.  




Helen Paris, Vena Amoris (Toynbee Studios, London, 1999)


I’m sitting at the bar, nursing a beer and waiting.  I check my phone again, to be sure it’s on.  I dial my voicemail, to be sure I have service.  Again.  If I miss this call it’s all over, since they haven’t told me where this performance is supposed to take place.  They just said they’d call me at 17:40 and to be waiting in the bar in the lobby of the Toynbee Studios arts complex.  When I arrived and checked in at the front desk, they took my cell phone number and told me I’d get a call with instructions when the performance was about to begin.  Wendy, the bartender, glances toward me periodically, both to check to see if I need another beer, and to see if I’ve gotten the call yet.  People like me come and go, there’s a different single audience member every 20 minutes, but Wendy is always there.  In a way, I figure, she’s the real audience, and I’m part of a rotating cast of performers, performing for her.  Scene 1, waiting by the phone…



The phone rings.  I jump, startled, and nearly spill my beer.  Wendy chuckles softly and takes another order.  I pick up the phone and answer.  A woman’s voice, soft in my ear:


 “Hello.  The performance is about to begin if you’d just like to make your way to the theater…”


I enter an empty theater.  Red velvet seats and not a soul in them.  Onstage an empty spotlight.  Through the phone She tells me this is my light.  I climb a short flight of stairs and step into the pool.  I see a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches.  She invites me to smoke, if I wish.  I do.   I strike the match with pleasure, feeling like a character in an old movie.  Just as the thought occurs to me, the house lights fade, two side lights come on, and familiar music swells.  Doris Day, “Make Someone Happy.”  How very grand.  I smoke, searching beyond the bright stage lights to the shadowy seats beyond.  Is someone out there, watching me?  Even just a technician in the light booth…


The sound of applause is delicious,

It’s a thrill to have the world at your feet.

The praise of the crowd, it’s exciting,

But I’ve learned that’s not what makes a life complete…


Fame if you win it, comes and goes in a minute.

Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?

Love is the answer.  Someone to love is the answer…


Make someone happy.

Make just one someone happy,

And you will be happy, too.



As the last strains of music fade, the house lights come up, and bright fluorescent work lights in the wings, exposing the grimy, messy reality of the theater.  Old set pieces, half-painted lumber, dust, the imperfections normally hidden by velvet and limelight.  My cell phone is still cradled next to my ear.  She instructs me to go through an offstage door marked Fire Room.



I step into a small, oak-paneled room, empty but for a white platform in the center of the space, on which sits a metal cylinder topped with a bulbous top.  It reminds me of a model of the Space Needle.  She tells me that this is a Van Der Graff generator.


“After I’ve finished speaking please could you turn off your phone.  I’d like you to approach the Van Der Graff and extend one of your hands toward the metal ball on the top very slowly, until your fingers are an inch or two from the surface.  As you move close enough, you will experience a spark of contact with your body’s own electrical current.  If you look closely you will be able to see this as well as feel it.  I have to go now; I’ll see you soon.”



I turn off my phone and reach for the metal.  I feel a gentle shock and see a faint blue spark reaching for me.  I saw one of these as a kid, I think.  At a science museum or fair. I remember reaching for it with fingers sticky from candy, Mom telling me not to touch or I’d get it dirty.  I hover my fingers just off the surface, a blue string of electricity dancing between me and the apparatus.  My hair stands on end.  On the platform there is note:

Egyptians believed that the third finger of the left hand follows the vena amoris, the vein of love that runs directly to the heart.  A direct “digital” blood flow.



I imagine this blue flame swimming up my inner arm and through my coronary arteries.  I shiver and pull my hand away. The note then instructs me to exit the room through a different door than the one I came in.  I step into a small, cold, fluorescent hallway.  A beautiful blonde woman in a black velvet gown greets me with a smile.  She punches a code into a door lock, and pushes the door open a crack. On the other side, I’m surprised and delighted to meet an exact twin of the blonde woman, in identical black velvet.  The first woman reaches toward me, places a crimson-tipped hand on the middle of my back, and gently I am pushed into a larger, more dimly lit space beyond.  As I cross the threshold, the twins lean in to one another, until their identical blonde heads rest together.  I catch the first whispering softly to the second:

“I’ve missed you.  I’ve been thinking of you.  I’ve so wanted to see you again. I wanted to say something to you.  I have to go now.  I’ll be thinking of you.  I’ll be waiting until we can be together again.  Goodbye.  Goodbye.”


They kiss on the lips and the door closes, separating them once again.  I giggle under my breath self-consciously, and examine this new space.  It’s some kind of dance studio, dim, heavily curtained with thick velvet.  At the far end of the studio there’s a tall mirror surrounded by naked light bulbs like an oversized dressing room vanity.  The blonde twin gestures for me to sit in a chair before the mirror.  Just then, a familiar voice, close, gentle, loving… from where I can’t tell…  It isn’t the blonde woman.  I look around for a speaker, electronic or human…

“I’m glad you came.

I didn’t know if I would recognize you.

I had a picture of you in my head.

Did you miss me?  I mean

Did you ever think of me?

Did you want to see me again?  I mean

Did I make any difference?”



I realize that She’s somewhere behind the mirror.  Is She watching me?  I squint, trying to see past the glare of the bright bulbs.  Then I give up and relax, staring at myself in the mirror.

“Did you want to say something to me?

Did you want to catch hold of something that you

thought you might have seen or at least thought you’d

caught a glimpse of and, at least, for a little while not

want to let it go?



She grows more and more breathless, urgent, desperate, her words piling on top of one another, a torrent of emotion…

Was I too late?

Did I say the right thing but at the wrong time?

And what I’m really asking, is do I get another chance

while everything is changing skin, legs, flesh, hair, head,

heart, chest?

Did I lose part of myself–the part where I recognize

myself but never had a chance to say goodbye?

…And did you need that tiny jolt of electricity just to

know you were alive?”


Silence.  Then a metallic click and my face, staring back at me through the surface of the mirror, becomes transparent, an orange glow behind it and another face—incredibly, another face!—melts out of the darkness, morphing with mine into a chimera.  She lights a cigarette, I smell the first puff.

“I’m glad you came

When will I see you again?

I’ll miss you

I miss you already





Then as quickly as she appears, the flame goes out and I’m left alone again with my reflection.  The blonde woman escorts me out of the studio and directs me back to the lobby.  Wendy is waiting at the bar.  I order a bourbon.

For more on this work, see the artist’s website at


About the Author

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist who creates intimate and one-on-one performances that challenge viewer-performer dynamics and the ethics of participation. Allison has been an Associate Artist of La Pocha Nostra since 2004, and a collaborator with Western Australia’s Hydra Poesis since 2011. Her work has been seen in museums, galleries, theaters, universities, and streets in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany. Her writing has been published by Itch Dance Journal, Platform (U.K), Emergency Index, Whore Magazine and the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. More info at

Allison Wyper- One-to-One Fictional First Person Accounts Part I

The way that a performance piece is archived in the memory offers a piece to evolve long after it has been released by the artist.  What about pieces that one has never experienced first hand?  What happens when one allows a piece to culminate through their imagination?  Artist, Allison Wyper does just that in her  fictional first-person accounts in response to 3 one-to-one performances by women. Over the next 3 weeks, The Present Tense will be featuring these writing on our archive in 3 parts.  Enjoy!



The following first-person, performative text is an excerpt from a paper called “Always wanting you, but never having you: intimacy and desire in one-to-one performances by women,” in which I adopt an anxious, self-conscious dream body that can travel through time to experience, through a leap of imagination, the intimacy that I imagine in participatory performances that I have never, and will never, see. These accounts are fictional, but based in rigorous research, including (in this case) personal interviews with artist Julie Tolentino, and with choreographer David Roussève, who attended the performance I describe.
In addition to the performers’ accounts I rely on the accounts of viewer-participants, including critics who reviewed the works, and visitor accounts that the performers included in their own writings. In order to perform a close reading that teases out the precise natures of the diverse kinds of intimacies created by each piece, I rely on my imagination, and my own subjectivity as a theatre, dance, and performance artist, experienced in the one-to-one genre, who is grappling with her own desire for a moment of connection. My ephemerally bodied witness, reporting back through time and space, is a passionate, eager young performance artist, tired of sitting and watching. So when she heard about Julie Tolentino’s performance For You, she was the first to call for an appointment…



I. Julie Tolentino, For You (Participant, Inc., New York, NY, 2003)

The street is icy, with that acrid Lower East Side bite as I rush to make my 4:40 appointment. I called three weeks ago, leaving my name and number with a young gallery assistant. I never received a confirmation—hope she didn’t lose my reservation. I spot Participant, Inc., the site of Julie Tolentino’s For You, and rush inside out of the New York cold. A gallery attendant greets me and asks for my name. I give it to him, a little anxious. He nods–like a restaurant host but without the strained fake cheerfulness—and asks me to wait in the lobby area. I’m a few minutes early. The telephone rings and he leaves the room to retrieve it. Alone, I wait.


Glancing upward I see a plastic slitted curtain, the kind you see in butchers’ refrigerators, loosely lining the entry to an open gallery space. I can barely make out the people inside. Softly, I hear a song I think I know. A woman’s voice trills like a bird. Joni Mitchell, I think. It’s comforting, familiar. I hum along.


I turn toward the sunken “lobby,” a small gallery space to my right. At my feet is a projection of the performance in progress. Every now and again I see a dancer’s body in a loose, white jumpsuit or pajamas drift slightly into and out of the frame, shot, it seems, from above her head. I never see the audience. These glimpses of the performance taking place at this moment are tiny bits of information, meager as the appetizer I had at that trendy Soho restaurant last night. They whet my appetite, not that I wasn’t already excited to see this performance (just for me!) for the past three weeks, but I have no idea exactly how I’m going to be incorporated into the performance.


As I start to imagine myself in that white room, the attendant returns. He hands me a menu of song titles. My first act as a participant in this performance, he explains, is to choose a song for my piece. “Something special to you.” I scan the menu. I know about half of the offerings, and the others I’ve at least heard of. They’re mostly pop songs. Feeling very “New York” today, I select a personal sentimental favorite, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” A cliché, maybe, but I’m curious how Tolentino will use it. Right after selecting it, I momentarily panic—was that a good choice? Will she be disappointed in me? What will it tell her about me that I didn’t choose something more obscure…?


I hear the murmur of voices and glance up again to the gallery. Tolentino and a middle-aged woman are saying good-bye. The woman pushes her way through the curtain, a private smile on her lips, eyes downcast. As she descends the short staircase, she notices me watching her, and quickly transforms, business-like, into her brusque public self. She nods to me (cat that ate the canary, I think, its as if she’s done something forbidden…), thanks the attendant, and looks at him expectantly. Is there something else to do? Is the performance over? Does she have another role to play? He invites her to leave a comment in the guestbook. The woman, a little disappointed, declines, puts on her wrap and leaves.


I look at the attendant. My turn? He asks me to wait a few minutes more, while they re-set the space. I take a seat and watch the video projection on the floor, where not much happens. I feel as though I’m waiting for a massage or something. It’s as if I’ve made an appointment for some luxurious treatment at a spa—a treat just for me. At the same time, though, I am still a little anxious, not knowing exactly what the artist expects of me.


At last I get the go-ahead. The attendant instructs me to enter and sit in the chair by the bed. There will be further instructions projected on the wall. “Those are for you.” I take the stairs quick and light, and pause just outside the plastic curtain. I draw a breath and push through the clear plastic strips that rattle gently back into place behind me, loosely sealing me in. The room is semi-private, permeable; all white, but not terribly bright; beautiful and spare. A projection on one wall (vague moving lights… headlights?) casts a thin, cool illumination. “THIS IS FOR YOU,” I read on the wall.


As I enter the room, Tolentino lies on a bed, swathed in white sheeting. A small lamp casts a pool of pinkish light her feet. Next to the bed, a plastic chair. I flash momentarily to a hospital scene, a sick ward, a maternity ward. I smell the plastic of the curtain, the chair. Quietly, respectfully, I take the seat next to the bed. The seat of care, I think.


She lies with her back to me. She does not speak. She lies still, breathes, occasionally shifts or moves a bit, never leaving the bed, subtle adjustments, as if she’s listening to me, for several minutes. Eventually…


She performs. And it is for me.


The sheets rustle softly. I sit back in my chair, hands in my lap. I imagine, absurdly, that if I sit back I am giving her more space, though she makes no move to approach me, or even look at me. I sit. I witness. I am quiet by her side. She rolls, shifts, reaches and retracts. Her movement is gentle.


She gets up out of bed, crosses the room, brushing her hair from her face. I let out a kept breath as she moves away, in a mixture of relief and disappointment. She gives her body a loose shake—to wake herself? To warm her muscles? To reacquaint herself with verticality? Her movement is gentle, loose, organic.


A new projection: “VIEWER: SOON, TIME TO MAKE A MOVE.” I sit up. Maybe I get to choose where to sit—how to view the dance. But not now; “SOON.” I relax, wait, watch.


She finds a spot in the corner, left of the projection, and slows down, releases her head so she gazes at the floor, arms loose at her sides, hidden in the very long sleeves of a white lab-coat-style pantsuit. She turns slowly, looking like a naughty child dressed in her mother’s shirt. But she is not a child. She is quiet. Waiting.




I do. Now I am seated on the side of the open floor, nothing between me and her but a few feet of space. She walks toward me, pauses, and begins a new dance. She dances hard. Head relaxed on her spine, her arms swoop and swoosh in big, long arcs, dipping into the floor, then whirling up and around. The kinetic force builds as she sinks and energizes into her movement, opening the room in front of me, charging the large white walls with her long, white-shrouded limbs. I’ve rarely been this close to these large movements when I wasn’t dancing as well. She smells of sweat and Ben Gay. I wonder how sore she is. I wonder how tired she is.


From a soft focus gaze, indirect mostly, but with flashes of directness, she reads me. She takes my temperature with her nearness. She listens for my breath, the squeaks of the chair as I shift, she sees me look for her eyes, she sees me smile, seeking her smile. She dances for me. She dances off me. She gifts me a dance. (Me, a total stranger.) She takes my hand.




She chooses a new place for me, on a different chair. Or perhaps we choose it together, but I admit I am following her lead. The dance is for me, but I still feel like a guest in her home. I sit along the opposite wall, next to a pinkish red theater light. She dances to music—my song, “Walk on the Wild Side.” She lowers her eyes. She dances a memory, I think, a private memory to a shared experience. We share the song, but she has her memories associated with it, and I have mine. We are two different people with different histories, but our histories are linked by this common referent.


She dances in the red light. I hesitate to describe the dance to you now, because, well, it’s private, between her and me. I am overwhelmed with emotion, watching her. My heart catches in my throat. I notice I’ve stopped breathing and gulp in air with a mixture of gasp and sob.


The song ends. We are quiet. I hear her breath, heavy, but steadying. The dance relaxes into an end as she releases it and meets my eyes. She takes me by the hand. We thank one another, and she escorts me to the plastic curtain. I seek her eyes, and we exchange brief, shy smiles. I slip, slowly, regretfully, through the plastic slits, back into that other world, where I will again be no one special. No one out there will dance just For Me.


(For more on this work, see Julie Tolentino’s website at



About the Author

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist who creates intimate and one-on-one performances that challenge viewer-performer dynamics and the ethics of participation. Allison has been an Associate Artist of La Pocha Nostra since 2004, and a collaborator with Western Australia’s Hydra Poesis since 2011. Her work has been seen in museums, galleries, theaters, universities, and streets in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany. Her writing has been published by Itch Dance Journal, Platform (U.K), Emergency Index, Whore Magazine and the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. More info at