Encountering Déjà vu’ and the Performance Art Cliché: Shannon Cochrane and Márcio Carvalho’s “Untitled”

S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-12

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013

Encountering Déjà vu’ and the Performance Art Cliché:

Shannon Cochrane and Márcio Carvalho’s “Untitled”

by Sandrine Schaefer

Márcio Carvalho enters the space wearing a white t-shirt and white boxer shorts.  He stands on a plastic tarp that has been spread across the floor.  On top of the tarp is a collection of objects and materials familiar to the medium of performance art: a bucket of water, a roll of tape, a roll of string, a spool of ribbon, bread, raw meat, a bottle of syrup of some sort, a carton of eggs, and a bag of flour.

Carvalho engages in the following actions:

Action 1: Drink red syrup- allow it to pour out of mouth

Action 2: Gift Stones to the audience, one by one

Action 3: Connect audience physically using pink ribbon.

Action 4- Tape an X on floor

Action 5- Place Bucket on X

Action 6- Submerge head in bucket of water and emerge gasping for air

Action 7 – Wrap head with string

Action 8- Attach bread to head with the string

Action 9- Attach meat to head with the string

Action 10- Crack eggs on head

Action 11- Gaze at the audience

Action 12-Dump a bag of flour on body

Action 13- Leave performance space (designated by tarp)


Minutes later the objects are reset and Shannon Cochrane enters wearing a black t-shirt and black underwear.  As the red syrup trickles from her mouth and splatters on the floor, it becomes apparent that she will be engaging in the same series of actions with the same materials that we just witnessed.  This offers the opportunity to observe the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences between the artists’ execution of each action.  This structure also requires the audience to contemplate ways in which different actions are read on different bodies and all of the cultural baggage that comes along with this notion.


Performance Art is a medium that often plays with the boundaries between artist and spectator.  This can result in creating confusion around the act of witnessing.  Audiences who are unfamiliar with performance art often rely on behaviors presented and preserved by mainstream entertainment.  Although performance art may operate with strategies that are similar to those utilized in the entertainment industry, foundations of the medium are rooted in moving beyond holding the audience’s attention alone and creating opportunities to inspire a deeper level of critical thought.  This tension around the etiquette of witnessing is echoed through the strategic role of documentation in “Untitled”. One audience member diligently takes a photo every 5 seconds, even if the performer is out of frame.  Another positions themselves only inches away from the artists’ face to get the “Money Shot”.  The experience of watching the performance being documented becomes a spectacle in itself.  These planted photographers set off a chain reaction throughout the audience.  People begin to follow their behavior, using their own cameras and phones to document what they are flagging as “important”.  Of coarse, this becomes frustrating.  The shear quantity of photographers overpower the piece, altering the context so that it is difficult to witness the piece in the way performance art is intended to be experienced; unfolding in real time and space.


S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-26

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013


While the treatment of documentation in “Untitled” acknowledges the confusion around the relationship between entertainment and performance art, the structure of the piece creates an interesting solution to the act of witnessing.   Carvalho and Cochrane invite a unique level of focus and analysis through the presentation of the same series of actions consecutively enacted by two different bodies.   While engaging in a sort of memory game, the audience observes Cochrane more critically. Not only had Carvalho set the precedent for each action, his part in the piece exists in the realm of the absurd.  Many of his actions ignited laughter among the audience that vanished when Cochrane executed the same actions.  When the audience is asked to reconcile what they had previously seen and to look again, to look closer, this invites a fundamental shift of paradigm.


The structure of “Untitled” presents an exaggeration of binaries. The differences in the artists’ perceived gender and race is not only enhanced by their choice to wear black and white, but also highlights an element of competition.  The performance ventures into the territory of “who did it better”.  As albumen and yolk fly through the air each time Cochrane slams an egg on her head, she becomes the clear winner in the sport of egg cracking.  Meanwhile, Carvalho takes home the gold for submerging his head in a bucket of water, burping and pounding his ear to release the water that has seeped in.  This impulse to view the piece as if it were some kind of competition seems absurd, but not far off.  The format of the international performance art festival can be likened to a kind of performance art Olympics.  Artists from all over the world come together to share their best work that will inevitably be compared to the other work presented in the festival even if the work is incomparable.  Each artist wears an invisible badge of honor for the place where they come from and are transformed into a representative of their country.  When you are communicating across language barriers and geographical borders, this is a way to establish networks and relationships with like-minded individuals.  However, like all formats, the performance art festival has its own set of pros and cons.


S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-36

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013


“Untitled” critiques this format, simultaneously offering potential for a dialogue around the growing interest in performance art in the mainstream.  As institutions gain interest in including performance art in their collections, the subject of reiterations and re-performances have become frequent topic of conversation and consideration.  Coupled with a rise in delegated performance, questions around the necessity for the artist’s own body to be present in a piece of performance art is a frequent topic of inquiry.  Many practitioners of performance would argue that without the artist’s presence it is not even their work, while some argue that the concept of the piece is primary and that the actions can be implemented by anyone who is able.    These conversations lead into the murky territory around ideas about authorship, technical skill, and attempting to locate a collective intention within the medium.


Performance art is a medium that has been relegated to the corners of society, perceived as half joke, half avant-garde.  We are just now seeing the US learning to speak its language in the mainstream.   A large part of performance art’s history has been rooted in activism, providing an alternative to making “Art” deemed suitable for the art market. This concept is at the core of performance art history and still encourages artists to take responsibility for writing and archiving their own histories.  Cochrane and Carvalho are well versed in this language, even beyond their individual art practices.  They have contributed efforts to evolve the medium through their curatorial work and discourse.  Working with the notion of the performance art cliché, each action in “Untitled,” is an action that is frequently used in performance art.  If anyone is going to define the clichés in the medium, I feel most comfortable with it being individuals with their credentials.  Although at first glance, “Untitled” may appear to be a performance art roast, it is offering something different.   To assess, to judge these actions, to create a consciousness around actions that have history and to identify them as cliché, is ultimately useful.  They are offering an experience that directly desensitizes these actions.  After seeing someone wrap their head in meat twice, does it still hold the same weight as it did the first time? This usage of time is an interesting one.  “Untitled” asks how long does it take for an action to become cliché?  How long does it take for an action to become irrelevant, or perhaps, even gain relevance?  Does it require decades or can this happen over the duration of mere minutes?  By archiving these loaded actions into their own bodies, Cochrane and Carvalho open up territory that supports dynamic contemplation around the history, present state, and future of performance art practices.






Remembering Peter Grzybowski

The Present Tense is saddened for the recent passing of artist and curator, Peter Grzybowski. A long time friend of The Present Tense,  we are grateful we had the opportunity to show his work at the Contaminate 3 Festival in 2008.  The following is a collection of memories from those who were touched by his presence and his work.


Peter Gryzbowski “Press” 2008 photo by Ben Smart

In the 21st century, many have surrendered to the inevitability of the hyper-documented life, a result of current technologies, but nothing can replace the experience of witnessing a live-art piece unfolding in the present moment.   To performance artists, art lives in real time and often times is believed to live in the body.  Consequently, when a body deteriorates the art dies with it.  The death of an artist working in experiential media can be devastating because it eliminates the possibility of ever experiencing their work in its totality again.

On August 29, 2013, artist and curator, Peter Gryzbowski passed away.  Like many, I learned of Peter’s passing through social media.  Discovering the death of a friend in this way seems impersonal, but it offers a collective experience of mourning that is strangely comforting.  We can see the magnitude of the expansive territory that a life can touch.  In the days after news of Peter’s passing spread throughout The Present Tense’s networks, it was amazing to see how many people in so many places throughout the world had been impacted by his work.   This tribute is an attempt to capture a morsel of Peter Gryzbowski’s impact on The Present Tense and the communities of artists with whom we are connected.  No video, no photo, no written account can capture his work, however, it feels crucial to try to compile something to honor Gryzbowski’s creative contribution.  This is also an admittedly selfish attempt.  Peter was a friend and teacher of sorts.  He showed my work when few believed it was mature enough.  As my own curatorial practice evolved, I had the opportunity to show Peter’s work as well.  He was a constant fixture in my career for a decade and I am grateful that I had the chance to experience his work and his friendship.

The following footage is from “Press,” a piece that Peter created at The Present Tense and TEST’s Contaminate 3 Festival in Boston in 2008.  The piece was minimal, cyclical and repetitive.  The principal action of the piece was captured both in real time and in video that illuminated the space through projection.  Peter engaged in the action of crumpling pieces of newspaper and throwing them on the ground.  The video played in reverse, making it appear as if the crumpled paper was magically floating back into Peter’s hand.  There were three bodies in the piece, the present self, the past self (video) and Peter’s shadow, an acknowledgement of the future self.   If my memory serves me, I remember being most excited by the moment when the accumulated paper on the ground matched the volume of paper in the video.  This visual collision offered a brief time where all three Peter’s could exist within the same moment.

Rest well, Peter.  Thank you for gifting me experiences for contemplation through your work and teaching me how to be a better artist.  I am forever grateful.

– Sandrine Schaefer

Peter Grzybowski “Press” 2008 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

This past summer, I was invited to participate in the SUPERNOVA festival in Rosslyn, Virginia. The festival circuit is an exciting one, a wonderful networking experience with both new faces and old ones. When I first caught a glimpse of the roster,  a particular old face jumped off the screen: Peter Gryzbowski. I first met Peter at the 14th International Performance Art Congress in Sacramento, California in 2006. His piece at that festival haunts me to this day. Peters presence during his performances was very powerful, and having seen and met him at a very early stage of my own performance practice, I learned quite a bit about the medium from him. Over the years I’ve felt more and more grateful for the impact he had on the genesis of my work. 

 Once I arrived in Rosslyn, I learned that Peter was unable to make it to the festival. Sad that I would not see him, I made a mental note to contact him and let him know I’ve been thinking of him. Later that day, I saw obsolete computer monitors, a favorite performance object for Peter, being loaded off a van and into the space I’d be performing in later in the festival. Once I learned that they were originally indented for Peter’s performance, I immediately felt connected to them. Eames Armstrong, the festivals curator, was kind enough to let me take one of them for my own performance. I wondered, what was Peter going to use these for? They were going to end up smashed up, weren’t they? 

I was excited to have an addition to my performance, but I was more excited to pay homage to an artist that I’ve always respected and looked up to. In the end, I chose both actions that are pertinent to my work as well as actions that were inspired by Peters work. I feel very grateful that I had this unique opportunity to connect with Peter and his practice, even if he wasn’t present for it. Peter will be greatly missed.

– Philip Fryer

Still from "WHAT NOW", Photo by Sandrine Schaefer

Still from “WHAT NOW”, Photo by Sandrine Schaefer


I met Peter in 2011 at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn.  His interest in my work as so genuine that we spent several hours talking about performance and art in general.  His passion for live action art was clear and enthusiastic especially when he described the projects he had been involved.  We kept connected even though many times we were in different continents doing separate things.  It was until last year that I had the opportunity to witness the strength of his performances and the details of their sociopolitical content.  The last time I saw him, and I believe it was the last time he performed, was in June this year at the same place where we met, Grace Exhibition Space.  He was in full command of his performance, and enjoying every minute of his delivery.  While buildings of the former Soviet era collapsed on the screen, he walked lively through light bulbs that rested on the floor, and much later while we crushed old television sets that had been covered with different flags.  That is the last image I have of a friend who knew how to listen and how to appreciate the liveness of art.

R.I.P. Peter, you are remembered.

– Hector Canonge



Hi Alien! where did you disappear … sounds like your last words to me? an’ of our anachronistic turn – the promise of a next round – a one again happy fight coming s…  ?I miss THE LAST MAN headlined on the seafront / a no sense postcard without you in “your meta final. touch” I picture out of the frame where to keep on hanging(…) la vie est un rêve et… then I say fucking hell* (en français dans le texte*) I could not imagine how much you are here, where only your laugh, your tenderness, and your strength, remain. My. Indian  September  summer  passenger / hush .  ???Hey! Peter “excuse my french” Hey, Peter, I am telling you good bye… and hey. Peter, I am telling you hey for very long

– Stefanie Seguin



Peter Grzybowski, 06.16.1954-08.29.2013

Peter Grzybowski was born in Krakow, Poland. Peter was a performance artist, multimedia artist and a painter. Since the eighties he completed a number of performances, individual and group shows, installations and multimedia works ?presented worldwide. In his latest work, he created performances and installations using video, audio, light and live action, synchronized by computer. His paintings are in USA, Canada, France, Germany and Poland. 


This Generation’s Population of Ghosts: Near Death Performance Art Experience







This Generation’s Population of Ghosts*

Near Death Performance Art Experience BOSTON 2013

Sandrine Schaefer

As performance art moves into a phase where it faces the same commodification, professionalization, and institutionalism that other art mediums have endured, artists and organizers are challenged with how to maintain the authenticity of the medium and it’s history.  Within this medium, where artists call upon their physical, mental, emotional, and intellectual endurance to challenge the parameters of real time, it is impossible to remove mortality from performance-based work.  As artists connected by this medium watch one another’s practices evolve and mature, they are simultaneously watching each other age.  They witness their bodies change, ideas develop, and they can see their impact on each-other and the future generations of performance artists with whom they are connected.

Working with the concept of Life and Death, Vela Phelan conceived of Near Death Performance Art Experience(NDPAE), a performance art event that offered an opportunity for multiple generations of artists to create live works around this theme. In a simple stroke of irony, NDPAE had its own experience with death. Originally scheduled to unfold over 2 days at Fourth Wall Project in Boston and after months of planning, Fourth Wall was temporarily shut down due to permitting issues, a historic plague among Boston alternative art spaces.  NDPAE was postponed until further notice.  The event fortunately found shelter at the Boston Center for the Art’s Cyclorama, a stunning space with a history of being used as a war memorial.  NDPAE was rescheduled for April 21, 2013, coincidentally the birthday of the late Bob Raymond, and less than 1 week after the Boston Marathon Bombings.

For 7 hours, audiences were given time and space to contemplate how we make sense of the cycle of life and death through the lens of action-based art.

Marilyn Arsem "Edge" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

The work began at 4 pm (3:55 to be exact) when Marilyn Arsem sat down at a square wooden table in the center of the Cyclorama. 2 glasses of water, filled almost to the brim, were placed side by side at one end of the table.  The natural light that streamed in through the Cyclorama’s dome silhouetted her form.  A spectator excitedly whispered that she was holding the room in the glasses.  Taking a closer look, I saw that she was, indeed the keeper of the room, as passersby’s reflections danced across the water.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed small bubbles lining the insides of the glasses. A reminder that the water itself had already stood still for a period of time, or a foreshadowing of Marilyn’s prolonged presence within Near Death.

The beginning moments of Marilyn’s piece, titled “Edge,” were perfect. The Cyclorama was almost silent except for the sound of a clock ticking, emanating from Marilyn.  I was grateful for these beginning moments with her.  The materials present in the other artists’ installations set around the room suggested that chaos would soon ensue.  I meditated on the methodical opening and closing of her eyes.  She looked spent, but her presence filled the entire space with a level of intensity that I had never before experienced in a performance art piece.


Faith Johnson "We Are What We Dream" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

FAITH JOHNSON “We Are What We Dream”

Tucked away in a corner of the Cyclorama, The question, “If we could dream a new world, what would it be like?” was subtly scrawled across the threshold of Faith Johnson’s interactive installation, “We Are What We Dream”.   A woman approached with a map of the installation.

On one side of the space, people sat on pillows wrapped in silver heat blankets, reminiscent of images of the marathon runners after reaching the finish line.  The map invited me to choose a crystal from a carefully arranged circle on the ground.  After selecting my crystal, I was instructed to travel to the “Silver Mountains” to choose a place to sit and meditate on the question: “If we could dream a new world what would it be like?”

As I wrapped the heat blanket around me, I noticed the color of my skin reflected in the material.  It transformed into a second skin and made me think about all of the people who had worn it before and would wear it after I left. I was able to forget that there are people watching, focusing on the warmth of my “mountain” and the sounds it produced.  The crinkling of the Mylar reminded me of the sound of animals rummaging through piles of trash I experienced during my recent travels in India.

Faith Johnson "We Are What We Dream" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

When I climbed out of my “mountain”, a wall displaying a growing “waking dream map” confronted me.  Sitters were invited to write their thoughts directly on the wall.  Faith nailed their crystal next to what they had written.  With delicate silver thread, she integrated each crystal, each thought, into the map. I felt thankful for Faith’s choice to directly engage her audience in a way that was instantly gratifying.  It was fulfilling to see my direct influence on the piece.  Exercising this control offered a much-needed respite from the intensity of Marilyn’s individual focus.

After I made my contribution to the piece, I stood back and watched the sunlight from nearby windows dance across the crystals and the “silver mountains.”  Before leaving India, I spent several days in Varanasi, where I observed the Ghats where bodies of the wealthy are cremated in open air.  I watched bodies covered in golden blankets (much like the heat blankets used in Faith’s piece) burn a steady stream of smoke as roaming cattle and goats ate fallen marigolds from the garlands that decorated the corpses.  Watching participants interact with “We Are What We Dream” was a similar experience.  As people emerged from their “silver mountains,” there was an air that they had been transformed, perhaps even transcended their understanding of time and space.



Travis McCoy Fuller 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca


Back in the main space, the glasses on Marilyn’s table appeared to have moved, making clear that she was pushing the glasses across the table with a tedious pace.  Using the ticking of Marilyn’s clock as a sonic foundation for his piece, Travis McCoy Fuller was first to activate the outer edge of the circle of the Cyclorama.

Travis employed subtle variations to ask for participation in his piece.  He asked out loud, gestured, and spoke softly to offer a more intimate experience of the performance.  One of the beginning actions in the piece included two volunteers transporting a pile of rocks on the table to small piles on the floor around the space.  Simultaneously, Travis pulled a bag of sand with a hole in it around and through the audience, an arbitrary line of sand marking his path.  This was the first in a series of actions that broke the traditional performance space, clarifying that this piece required the audience to witness actively.

Travis asked the audience if there was anyone who would like to sit at the table.  A man sat on top of the table.  Travis adjusted his semantics and asked if anyone else would like to sit at the chair that was next to the table.  A woman sat in the chair.  Travis joined them and the three engaged in the act of eating basil plants in silence.  The man and the woman negotiated sharing the plant, the woman taking delight in nibbling the stems.  Sometimes when I witness delegated tasks in performance, it feels like an attempt to control the audience’s experience or nothing more than a practical choice.  As I watched the woman (who chose to stay at the table for the majority of the piece) it became apparent that Travis’ choice to solicit help was an invitation for participants to explore their own performativity.  He cultivated a community within the piece, giving the audience the choice to directly contribute to its creation, if they wished.

The performance space was broken again when Travis sat with the audience, took a swig of vodka and passed the bottle around the room.  This offering was a gesture that leveled the playing field between the performer and audience.  He proceeded to cut his arms and rubbed curry into the fresh wounds.  The bloodletting directly referenced the corporeal self, while establishing empathy between the audience and the artist.  This empathy was ignited again when Travis “challenged” several people in the audience to hold ice cubes until they “turned to water”.  This immediately induced the same visceral response that I felt watching Travis cut himself.  Although I was not holding an ice cube, I could feel my own fingertips growing numb as I watched and waited with the people in the audience who were given ice.

Travis McCoy Fuller 2013 photo by Philip Fryer


Travis seemed to be moving between meditative and aggressive states.  I interpret this as another technique for breaking the performance space.  There was time for quiet contemplation (eating plants, balancing stones, watching sand fall) but there were also moments that demanded the audience to be alert (pushing stones, hammering, using a staple gun).  While these aggressive actions could be misinterpreted as angst, the destruction served a function to the cycle of the piece.  After smashing holes in the center of 2 square tables, Travis balanced one table on top of the other.  He stapled the neck of a pair of coveralls around the hole in the bottom table.  With the help of the audience, he lifted another pair of coveralls filled with sand onto the table on the top. The sand from one body poured into another, a symbol of reincarnation that took on the form of an hourglass.

Travis McCoy Fuller 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

The piece evoked infinite notions of how humans structure, understand, and attempt to control and change time.  Melting ice, the image of the reincarnation hourglass, a loop of John Cage’s saying, “But when we don’t measure time…” fusing with the ticking of Marilyn’s clock all culminated into an experience that questioned perceptions of time.

The piece ended with the action of Travis nailing himself to a wall holding nails in his mouth.  He ripped himself from the wall as if he were shedding his skin.  He spit out the nails, a letting go of sorts, another suggestion of a transformative process.  After Travis nailed himself to the wall and tore himself free a second time, he stopped, releasing the entirety of the space back to Marilyn.


Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Philip Fryer



The wall and floor of Jamie McMurry’s space was covered in faux-wood paneling.  A white suit and various tools hung on the wall, while a dusty colored recliner awaited action in the middle of the space.  The installation placed the audience somewhere reminiscent of a basement, a trailer, or a houseboat.  A microphone on a stand was presented, making the space feel a bit like a makeshift nightclub.   Wherever Jamie had taken us, it was steeped in nostalgia and felt a bit creepy.  To add to this aesthetic, he used an over-head projector to share an article written on the 1953 murder of Mable Monahan.  The article claimed that the only clues in the murder were 2 shoe prints and a bloody handprint smudged on the wall of the victim’s Burbank home (Jamie explicitly referenced this by leaving his own imprints on the wall of his installation). He lunged in front of the article, one hand extended towards the projection, the other, jiggling a ring of keys attached to his belt loop.  This action, like so many in the piece, oscillated between feeling antagonistic, ritualistic, and humorous.

He moved throughout the space, shifting between aggressive movements, ceremonial-like gestures, and childlike explorations of the body. He engaged in actions like gargling, gagging, and attempting to piss in a bucket.  Many of his actions forced the audience to make quick decisions about proximity.  He threw things around, created aggressive sounds, jumped rope with a long chain, and created slingshots that catapulted glass jars full of paint-covered wooden beads against the wall. Some may consider this irresponsible behavior, but I appreciated this tension as a strategy for breaking the traditional performance space.

Within the piece, Jamie engaged in a cycle of activating, referencing, and reframing images.  We saw this first with an image of a palm tree.  He wore the image on a T-shirt, projected it and proceeded to paint it on the wall in white.  Jamie then spit the same white paint out of his mouth, referencing the tree through symbolic action.

Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

The most dynamic icon he used was an image of two hands in a gesture that is commonly read as “OK”.  Between the hands was an oversized image of an open mouth.  Jamie created this image with his own body in real time, referenced it on a t-shirt, and later recreated it on the wall.  In one of the final actions of the piece, Jamie used a makeshift slingshot to throw one of his glass jars into a large vinyl print of the mouth.  This action and the remnant of this action offered space to contemplate the notion of consuming experience.

Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

Much of “Flawed” made use of actions that explored the complexities of consumption/excretion paired with the dichotomy of power/vulnerability.  He addressed colonization, referencing the ghosts of the displaced.  He wore an army blanket over his head and turned it into a poncho as he pushed his head through.  When he emerged, a pair of pantyhose he wore over face had erased his identity.  He ritualistically shook the glass jars he later fed to the mouth on the wall.  He explored colonization again when he changed into a white suit that was embroidered with the words “GOOD PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS SURE THEY’RE RIGHT”.  He literally buried himself in the recliner, covering his body in soil and mud.  After raising himself from the dead, he attempted to destroy a wooden birdhouse with his bare hands.  Watching Jamie expend so much effort, trying to destroy a home belonging to someone else, transformed him into the devil incarnate.  Yet, the struggle of battling with his physical limitations illuminated his vulnerability, made him human, and somehow relatable.  I couldn’t help but internalize this, becoming aware of my own arbitrary attachments.  At what point does the struggle outweigh the perceived gain of a situation?  Much of the piece existed in this area of grey.


Jamie McMurry "Flawed" 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

In addition to creating actions that demanded an upheaval of the audience, “Flawed” required multiple shifts in how the audience listened.  Sometimes the audience was strained to decipher soft or muffled sounds.  At other points in the piece, Jamie produced more abrasive sounds that resulted in the audience covering their ears.  This varied sonic experience was a subtle call to action that foreshadowed the final action of “Flawed”.

After playing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Jamie picked up a woman from the audience, offered a private sonic experience by giving her a pair of headphones, and carried her outside.  When he walked through the Cyclorama’s doors, he was handed a bouquet of black balloons.  As he walked down the sidewalk, the audience giggled and hustled to catch up. The lyrics “I’d trade my soul for a wish, Pennies and dimes for a kiss, I wasn’t looking for this, But now you’re in my way…Where you think you’re going, baby?…Hey, I just met you, And this is crazy, But here’s my number, So call me, maybe?” still fresh in our minds.

A few blocks from the Cyclorama, Jamie stopped and released the balloons.  Together, we all watched them drift through the night sky until they were out of sight.


VestAndPage "Thou Twin of Slumber" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

VestAndPage “Thou Twin of Slumber”

The installation of VestAndPage (Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes) included a pile of broken glass with wine glasses hanging above, suspended in a moment of free fall.  Two large bricks of ice melted throughout the day, requiring an occasional mopping around the space where they rested on the floor.  The melting of the ice and the glasses frozen in time set the pacing of the performance before it even began.

When the time came for the installation to be activated by the artists’ bodies, the piece began in darkness.  A flame methodically illuminated a pair of legs hidden inside of a square shaped hole in the wall.  I don’t remember the moment or how the lighting situation changed, but I remember Verena repeating the action of falling onto a mattress as Andrea built a road from golden bricks to walk across the space. The inability to fully register the actions through memory or documents due to the constant variances of low light situations was something I wrestled with throughout the piece.  After learning that VestAndPage source content for their performances from their own dreams, I realized that these were intentional choices made in an effort to induce dream-like states in the audience.

The collaborative duo spent much of the performance on opposite sides of their space, traveling towards one another.  This resulted in the audience having to manage a tension between where to look.  When giving attention to one artist’s actions, the viewer was forced to experience the other through their periphery.  We had to use our other senses and call upon our intuition to gain an understanding of the totality of the performance.  I had to make peace with the fact that I was going to miss much of the piece and that the action of forgetting and late remembering, much like a dream, was built into the nature of the occurrence.

Andrea stood on a brick and carefully cut his face and chest in a mirror that was suspended in a similar fashion as the wine glasses.  He followed this action by walking across the pile of glass.  After seeing the blood from his body trickle from his carefully placed incisions, I prepared myself for the worst.  The inner dialogue began and I anxiously tried to decide at what point I would intervene.  At what point would it be negligent to watch another being put themselves in this kind of danger.  As I looked closer, Andrea did not appear to be getting cut as he walked across the glass.  This seemed impossible and I felt as though I had been tricked.  Once I surrendered to the illusion, I was able to enjoy the beauty of the image and the sounds it produced.

VestAndPage "Thou Twin of Slumber" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

Meanwhile, Verena held a large glass jar containing a light, a piece of molding bread and larvae on her bare stomach.  She sat close to the audience so that we could see the larvae’s movements.  This was hypnotic.  Andrea wore a contact microphone that amplified his breathing.  Certain actions produced heavy and erratic breathing that broke my focus on Verena. I turned and saw his face in a container of sand, his breath captured in a dust cloud as he exhaled.  When the two artists finally, physically met, Andrea was standing on one of the ice blocks.  He invited Verena to stand on top of the ice with him using an arm gesture.  Placing the jar aside, she curled up into his arms and into what appeared to be raw wool that was wrapped around his form.  The two tried to balance and hold one another as they slipped off of the ice.

VestAndPage "Thou Twin of Slumber" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

In the action that followed, Andrea laid on the ice as Verena, randomly placed her foot into the hands of people in the audience.  Similar to Travis’ use of ice, this action induced an empathetic response to the action that Andrea was enduring.

Andrea sat up and Verena randomly chose people in the audience, leading them one by one to Andrea.  She placed their hand on Andrea’s back.  She continued this act of choosing and transferring until Andrea’s back was covered in hands.  She illuminated this image with a small and cool-colored light.

Our bodies are our vehicles for experiencing waking life, but like the decomposing bread consumed by the larvae, it does break down.  It bleeds when cut.  It is subject to extreme environmental conditions.  It is vulnerable. Through the use of highly visceral actions, some that even appeared to defy physical reality (walking on glass without harm), VestAndPage challenged ideas about what it means to be in a body and conjured romantic notions of what can be experienced beyond the physical realm.

When the lights lifted, Marilyn was still sitting, gently pushing her glasses across the table. I watched tears travel down her cheeks, as she maintained her uncompromising focus.  Watching her travel through the subtleties of the grieving process imparted her strength as an individual and the honesty behind her artistic practice.  It reminded me of the first time I saw Bas Jan Ader’s “I’m Too Sad to Tell You” but without the buffer of an interface.  I felt a deep gratitude for being witness to such candor unfolding in real time and space.


Jeff Huckleberry 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

Jeff Huckleberry

Near the end of the evening, Jeff Huckleberry engaged in a series of struggles.   His installation was perhaps the most tactile, consisting of raw wood; some premade boxes that still had the bar codes stapled on them, balloons, buckets and various other tools.  Jeff paced around the space, before engaging in a series of cleansing actions.  First, he poured a bucket of water and oblong balloons over his head.  He followed this by drenching himself in rubbing alcohol, disguised in 2 Super Super Super Big Gulp travel mugs.  In this quantity, the fumes were dizzying.  Two clown noses dangled around his neck.  He played the harmonica through a microphone and placed a hand held electric sander into a pile of coffee inside one of the premade boxes.  It danced in circles as it droned, producing an intoxicating aroma of burning coffee and sawdust.  He wrapped a long black cord, soaked with the rubbing alcohol, around his neck.  He looked like he was wearing a contemporary ruff.  He then wrestled with a pile of wood in an effort to transfer it from a pile on the floor, into one of the wooden boxes.  We watched him make one bad decision after another.  I thought about the consequence of action.  As he stood, hugging the pile of wood while being asphyxiated by the rope around his neck, I felt conflicted between the desire to unwrap him and the desire to laugh at the absurdity of what he was doing.  I’d like to believe that my desire to intervene had been outweighed by my appreciation of the creative process, but in hindsight, I am not so sure.  I ask myself if I chose to passively observe these actions because this was a “performance” or because I have the advantage of knowing Jeff’s work well enough to believe that he was “in control”.  I also wonder if this choice was at all informed by Jeff’s physique.  Maybe his strong-man-esque stature was fooling me into believing that he was somehow invincible.  The fumes from the alcohol couldn’t hurt him.  He couldn’t possibly slip and fall on the spilled liquids on the floor.  This shifted my thinking to contemplate the shared human experience of struggling with the confines/potential of one’s own physicality and the inherent identities it takes on.

Jeff Huckleberry 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

Many of the actions Jeff engaged in either illuminated or exaggerated how cumbersome the body can be.  His physical transformation through the rainbow, however, was something his body was well suited for.  He stood, nude, inside the box fitting his legs in between the fallen wood he had previously wrestled with.  He dumped white paint over his on his head.  He repeats this action: red, blue, orange, purple…He turns for a moment.  The purple paint has trickled down his back in such a way that splits him in two.  He is half orange, half purple. He continues with green paint, then blue.  The watery paint moved over his form gracefully, pausing only as it gathered in his body hair.  This action referenced art history, both the disciplines of painting and sculpture.  The clown noses referenced ‘entertainment’.  Although Jeff wore the signature of a clown, the ultimate entertainer, used colors that were exciting to the eye, and cultivated an air of absurdity, the performance was far from entertainment.  After he finished this action with yellow, he turned on a pump inside of the box.   We watched as the brightly colored run-off paint turned into painter’s mud as it glided over the chaotic wooden structure.

He moved onto his next action that entailed filling a coffin shaped box with bottles of Miller High Life.  He filled another coffin shaped box (slightly shorter) with the oblong balloons.   He changed into a white shirt and pants that the residual paint left on his body seeped through.  This involuntary remnant left me to ponder our inability to fully control the imprints we make throughout our lives.  He raised the boxes, mildly reminiscent of the twin towers (an image difficult not to conjure in our post 911 society).   He broke the beer-filled box on the ground to release the beer.  He performed a cycle of libation, pouring 1 beer on the box and 1 beer over his own head.

Jeff Huckleberry 2013 photo by Phil Fryer

Nude once again, Jeff traveled the space hitting sticks, a ritual believed by the Ancient Filipinos to guide the departed to heaven.  He left his installation to hit sticks in front of the photo of Bob Raymond displayed on a wall across the room.  At this point, I had also left Jeff’s designated space, noticing that Marilyn was nearing the end of her action.  I did my best to situate myself between them, an attempt to fully experience both pieces simultaneously.  This action of mourning paid homage to Bob, and also established a physical space for Marilyn within Jeff’s piece.

Jeff proceeded to turn off his sound, Marilyn’s clock echoing throughout the room.   He transformed into a ghost while sitting inside of another box that faced the fountain he had previously made.  Black liquid seeped through the white fabric that covered his form and poured down from a point on his head.  He pulled the fabric off, revealing a tube inside of a bucket that continued to pump black water over his body. As the paint accumulated in the box beneath him he wore a black clown nose.  This image evoked decay, leading me to contemplate embalming rituals and notions around preservation of the body.  His clown nose suggested that this had all been a joke.  The performance ended with 2 fountains made from matter, Jeff’s body no different than the pile of wood positioned in front of him.

Like much of the work that unfolded earlier in the evening, Jeff’s actions created a dynamic tension around spectatorship and the importance of surrendering to process and allowing it to run its full course.



Marilyn ends.  One glass fell.  The other glass followed several short minutes after the first.  The crashing of the glasses on the floor was quick, less sonically jarring than expected, and seemingly anticlimactic.  It was the moment when Marilyn left the table and disappeared into the shadows that my eyes started to burn, preparing to release tears.  Several moments later, Phelan made an announcement and Bathaus began to sound.  My experience of processing what had just happened felt rushed.  I wanted for more time, more silence.

Marilyn Arsem "Edge" 2013 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

Before the water that spilled from Marilyn’s glasses even had time to begin the process of evaporation, 3 figures wearing Gene Simmons masks swarmed Marilyn’s remnants.  They played Ring-Around-the-Rosie around her table.  When they stopped, they each revealed a roll of small black plastic bags that had been concealed in their hoodies.  They pulled the bags one by one, littering the ground.  I was put off (to say the least) by what appeared to be a lack of regard for the space created by the previous artist.  It felt like I was watching someone dance on a grave.  The action felt incomplete since they didn’t finish pulling through the entire rolls of bags.  To inhabit a space where someone else had committed to a task with their full intention and presence just moments before, only to short-change their own action, was frustrating to witness.  This oversight is a reminder of the importance of a site-sensitive practice and the power that can come from mindful considerations of the totality of a context and duration, as demonstrated by Marilyn’s piece.

GJYD 2013

In its best light, GJYD’s action pointed towards the varying understandings of death. The impact of death is selective and there are great variances between grieving processes.   I faulted these performers for their insensitivity to Marilyn’s space, for their inability to acknowledge it as still being occupied, but perhaps they believed enough time had passed for the space to be activated by someone else.  I, like so many, had been with Marilyn from the beginning of the day, thoroughly invested in “Edge”.  GJYD’s action forced me to confront my own personal connections to Marilyn’s piece and the knowledge that NDPAE was dedicated to her late husband.  GJYD reminded me of the importance of practicing non-attachment even in the light of personal adversity.


In Hindsite…

Performance artists have been organizing their own opportunities to share work for years. In the late 90’s and early part of the 2000’s, performance art was a medium that seemed to require gentle introduction to audiences across the U.S.  It’s not theatre, not dance, not music, and though it is related to visual art, what is called “art” is a process, rather than the product of a creative process.  It is conceptual and often strange for new audiences.  What is the etiquette for witness engagement?  How do you know when a performance is over?  Should you applaud?  Answers to these questions vary greatly depending on individual pieces and different artists’ philosophies.  Historically, the responsibility of inventing structures for presenting this work has fallen on artists and performance art organizers.  Many of the early events and festivals that The Present Tense has organized employed strategies that were used at NDPAE.  Music was played between performances, other time-based media such as ephemeral installation and video were programmed alongside action-based pieces, and announcements were made to alert the audience when these action-based pieces had ended.

Within the context of NDPAE these strategies felt unnecessary, and at times, inappropriate.  The music often felt overwhelming and distracting.  The video program and announcements were in competition with the physical conditions of the space (announcements were difficult to hear and the videos were washed out by the natural light).  These details were initially frustrating, but have made me acknowledge how many changes the performance art scene in Boston has cycled through.  There has always been a practice of patience among Boston audiences, but I believe that there has been an even deeper shift in how we collectively experience performance art in this city. Tools and strategies once used to calm the audience, to “loosen them up” are not needed in the way they once were.  NDPAE illuminated the fact that audiences are more willing, equipped and wanting to engage in the dialogues that artists are putting forth without mediation.  Audiences are prepared to invest in works that take on longer durations.  This opens up potential to develop new experimental collaborations between creative minds connected through experiential practice.  Instead of educating audiences on what performance art “is” and how it can be viewed, artists and organizers can instead focus our energies on developing multifaceted content that inspires deeper thought through the work we present.


Marilyn Arsem @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Faith Johnson @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Travis McCoy Fuller @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Jamie McMurry @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

VestAndPage @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

Jeff Huckleberry @ NDPAE 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

* a reference to Travis McCoy Fuller’s piece created for Contaminate I in 2006. 

Performing the Impossible Homemade Revolutionary Acts | Julia Handschuh

*an excerpt*

Performing the Impossible

Homemade Revolutionary Acts

By Julia Handschuh

I think it began when I tried something impossible. It happened in the context of a durational performance class: the proposition was to commit wholly to doing an impossible task for one hour.  I chose to connect with Andrew.  We’d known each other for some time already but were not romantically involved.  Andrew was backpacking somewhere in Europe while I was in a studio in Boston.  For one hour I tried to get his attention.  By immersing myself in that ridiculous act I was playing with the possibility of believing that I could shake some bit of the world so much it would send ripples out and run through him.  In a marketplace?  On a green hill?  Turning his head to the right?   Hoisting his backpack up onto his hips?  Sitting and reading a book?  Kissing a girl?  Hitchiking and beatboxing in the pouring rain?  Exhausted, content, full of wonder?  Later he told me if it were any day that perhaps it made sense that it would have been that day, sitting on a boat and thinking of home:


"home" photo by Andrew Hukins

In moments like these, with pause and brilliance, home seems just below the rocking hull and I find myself afflicted with another illness just as the previous one lifts: homesickness.  Home, even though conceived of geographically is more the longing for comfort, not in an espresso maker and morning paper sort of way, but in the rooms and fields I intimately know, and in the people who I carry with me.  It was with this last thing that I found myself absorbed by, sitting with Mateo, drinking some cheap beer or another, witnessing the burning harbor and goodnight sun[1]


As I moved in that studio and Andrew sat on that boat perhaps I was also experimenting with the capacity of my body to have impact and the capacity of my body to let go and transition into something else.  As I jumped around, whispered, danced, screamed, meditated, reminisced, and generally created a ruckus projected in the direction of his existence, something happened; if not in either of us specifically certainly in the space between.  I was giving into something.  I was allowing myself to be swept up in it.  I was falling in love.  Not just with him but with the things made possible in the space between us.  Sharing space with him in the following years I’ve grown to learn and lean into the deep satisfaction and radical change present in a willingness to unabashedly dive in.  

There seems to be great potential in the space of committing yourself to something you previously thought was impossible, just to see what happens, or to force yourself into believing the previously impossible.  Durational performance is a form that is concerned with the effect that time has on the performer, it anticipates that a given action will impress itself on the experience of the performer and evolve with repetition.  Endurance is oftentimes associated with durational performance; the labor or hardship that the body exerts overtime, the commitment to the act, the ability to transcend difficulty, pain and exhaustion, the belief in process and change.  A rhythm is found in repetition over time that passes with minute variations; evolving difference[2]

Learning about and engaging in durational performance art has shifted the way I think about performing life.  I’ve begun to think in terms of creating scores, or sets of rules through which a lived experience can morph and evolve while maintaining commitments to a basic rhythm: to a repetition of actions and habits that establish and uphold a performance for the duration of my life.  Some years after that initial durational performance, after more evolving structures were built between and around Andrew and I, he proposed a different structure.  He proposed a house.

Water. Mold. Moss. Lichen. Fermentation. Growth. Film. Leaves. Steel. Sweat. Finger nails. Flesh. Kerosene. Crust. Thread. Eye lash. Wood. Latex. Nerves. Tendons. Kiss.

in this tiny space we navigate each other

mapping. communicating. maneuvering. negotiating

dreams. troubles. desires.

compromise. extend. enact.

practicing boarders and measures

that hold each other accountable

to hold each other accountable

to house our hearts

to house our body of hearts

to take risks

to be courageous

to imagine the impossible

with love

We’re piling on the bricks and the habits

fortifying a sense (logic)

for a haptic relation

where we can touch our space (dreams) and this dream space touches us.

Meeting and making our world

co-constituting this moment

standing with the trees.

I like to think of Andrew carrying me with him on those days he traveled before we were together.  A talisman of home.  The physical and emotional gap between us somehow made smaller in the ways we’d begun to carry each other around in our minds.  Shared dreams beginning to well up between us.


The house was designed and built with people, seasons and sun in mind.  I was feverish the day we swiveled the house slightly to the right.  We had designed it to face south and built the first rendition slightly to the east.  I swung and slept in the brightly colored hammock as Andrew and Brian nudged and pulled the house to face the sun.  Now the light filters into our bedroom so perfectly: six am a geometric stream enters the room, seven: smooth along the wall, eight it crawls along the pillow, nine gathering in the corner and by ten accumulates and diffuses to a glow that misses the corners of the room and lays evenly over the bed.

Striking out together and building a home made something happen that continues to resonate today.  It made what was felt in that first durational performance take on the solid materiality of wood, glass and sweat.  It became a living object.  A dwelling to contain our bodies and the space between us.  A frame to ponder and dream and love.  We were ridiculous enough to let go and dive in.  Believing that this was possible meant that we believed in each other.  We love each other for this.

These eight by eight foot units held together with bolts rather than nails, were designed with the intention of impermanence, that we might dismantle it some day and move it to a bit of land that is legitimately our own.  With the addition of roof, shingles and a sink the space becomes solidified in my mind as something unmovable­ and I wonder if this processes of making habitat leads towards a cementing that can produce comfort without stasis.   As our house sinks into the land and finds its volume in the overlapping layers of wood insulation and paint, my hope is that it does not grow to be sedentary but rather evolves with the landscape of our lives.  I wonder how long we will stay here and if there will come a time when moving is no longer the lens through which we adjust our beings.  Is this no longer a structure that is collapsible and movable?  Is there still a possibility of dismantling, reassembling and aligning toward the sun?


What is the gathering force that propels our actions? Perhaps it is necessary to create a crisis or disjuncture, to trick ourselves into immediate and urgent response.  Does it need to be an issue of life and death? [3]  The war is so far away and the bodies are so neatly stacked.  How can we carry the weight of these things?  Embed them in our skin?  Perhaps they are already there, and we forget.

"the smoke" photo by Julia Handschuh

We’re seeking a space where actions have implications that you can feel.  We can no longer trust the eyes.  Searching for a haptic feed-back loop that empowers us to maintain presence, persistence, perseverance.  Where citizen participation is not redirected through votes and consumerism.  In the United States the implications of our actions are muted by governance, those systems held so tightly so as to restrict movement, whose gloved hands withdraw the bloody wounds of activists, soldiers, immigrants, prisoners.  The implications of our actions are effectively hidden to ensure a glossy finish, a gleaming surface that reflects and refracts, deflecting responsibility, deflecting guilt. I am looking for systems that I can feel a part of, that I have impact on and impact me.  So can I feel pressure push and push back.  That we might seep into one another.  A citizenry of dissent[4].

What spaces are here yet go undiscovered for fear, arrogance or exclusion?  What is truly possible in this moment?  In this life?  What impact do our bodies and actions have on others?  Does it make a difference if I don’t buy coca-cola products or pay taxes?  Two people living in one little house in the woods writing love sonnets to anti-capitalism.


There are books: shelter from 1963, feminist theory read and unread, Carlos Castneta, obsessed over and contested, Edward Westin’s images of Charis’ sincere body, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte’s Web, Mathematics For Builders.  There are windows, some in, some out, leaning precariously in their unfinished sills between two pieces of plastic, trying to keep the winter air out.  There is a small woodstove with the inscription A & J HEAT welded to its side, the pipe leaks the distinct smell of creosote into the air which mingles with linseed oil, wood and incense.  Wax drips in pools of chard plywood amongst toothbrushes, bobby pins and nails.  It’s just the right size, if a little too small.  Eight by eight foot units, seems to be people size.  Built in a ratio proportionate to our adult bodies.  I feel as if I’m playing house.  Playing hippie, playing childhood, playing radical, playing make believe.  Make belief.  To make belief.

This was an action we could take that felt in keeping with our bodies, with our beliefs.  A reflection of the way we want to be (a way we are).  Allured by the logic of glossy capitalism and plastic bodies that pervade so much of the 21st century it seems necessary to remodel the connection between how we identify and how we are; to make stronger links between what we believe and how we act.  To realign and reorient the hows and whys of what matters, what forms this existence; negotiating the gap between polymer constructions and organic growth.  Between our place, our bodies, our selves.  To transfer these beliefs into our lives, into our bodies, there is a translation that must be made from ideas to actions, or actions to ideas, looping the abstract and the practical back onto itself, folding everyday reality into the weave of theoretical and ideological dreams[5].

Maybe we can make ourselves believe in this.  Make-believe.  Make-belief.  If I act as if, if I perform fear, perform preparedness, perform sustainability, play radical, play creative, practice hope, if I make actions that reflect the way I want to be (the way I am) at what moment would my actions shift to belief?[6]  The world is racing far ahead of us as we sit by and buy[7].  In our cushy debt and fear filled lives there is an impossibility to “be prepared”.  What if we sink into an unknown that is pregnant with possibility?  At what moment will something break, or open?




"ours" photo by Julia Handschuh

To Score.  To cut through —making impressions and incisions, opening up the world.  To keep tally, accumulating and measuring up, weighing one against another.  Scores: a large amount of something: amassing numbers and volume.  A score: a set of rules or guidelines that provide structure for an improvisation.  A written composition, a map for something to be performed, to be enacted.

In this space there is a score, one that is upheld, revisited and revised.  We share in each other’s bodies, in our selves, in our body selves.  We’re charting a course, delineated with intention, a trajectory propelled by attunement, choice, permissions, breaking and making habits, a self-reflexive performance.  A flexible performance.  Flex, reflex, respond.  Building up strength and muscle memory, a flexibility that is determined by use.  Finding enjoyment in the duration, the passing and the process.  These charts map moving, orientation points shift, renewing origins remapping arrivals, re-visioning success.

The volume of the score, a medium through which the score makes manifest takes on its weight from what is perceived; made hidden and revealed: governance, systems, legitimacy, anarchy, freedom, capitalism, consumerism, cash flow.  Living alternatives to domesticity, between two bodies in a straight framed home, intimately questioning the queer possibilities within this place. Where home extends beyond comfort and familiarity to a challenge and support.  To count on one another.  To hold each other accountable.  An intimate challenge to dissect the lines of power and oppression that tie knots around our limbs.  Countering, escalating and grabbing hold.  Making careful choices for what binds us.  To have and to hold.  To hold. Using our bodies as bridges to the world, enacting the possibility of dissolving dichotomies: individual and collective, rural and urban, worker and intellectual, outsider and insider, citizen and dissent. Performed by to people within a home.  Performed by two people within the woods.  Performed by two people within the world.

And where is this performance seen?  How is it seen and by who?  Do our everyday actions dissolve just as citizens blend into the capitalist regime?  Is this a way to show up for oneself?  For the world?  I am told past generations have ruined this world for us, have failed and made things worse.  I’ve encountered some liberals who say they’ve done their part and it’s time for our generation to stand up to the task, others express regret at the failures of their generation to revolutionize, to tare down and reimagine the world.

I do not know that my actions towards sustainability and environmental rights and wellbeing are meant to incite actions in others so much as satisfy my desire to feel a connection between what I believe and what I do.  I would not say this is an existential, transcendental, religious or even spiritual desire, but one that is aligned with an ecological ethics which recognizes the materiality of our existence and the inextricable ties between human systems (be they governmental or cellular) and the ecological networks of life[8].  Networks that we are told again and again are rapidly changing, indeed failing, to detriment of life as we know it[9].  After all, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism”. [10]

Bookended between the failures of the 60’s and the imminent collapse[11] of the future, perhaps it takes the world to dismantle itself before we can begin to imagine something new, something outside this world order.  Are there actions that lead to believing?  Or believing that incites action?  What if we sincerely believed in this collapse?  Wouldn’t we act?  Are we just playing with this belief?  Toying with the possibility of collapse?  So capitalism totes it around on a brightly colored string, some wooden duck on wheels bobbing its head to the tune of derivatives and debt.  Derivatives and debt. Debt. Debt. Debt. Dent.  Making small dents on impact.  And we all fall down.

Failure rears its head

like some systematic nervous tick.


machines answer with

fall falling failure

political, economic, climate


and we all fall down.

What reliance and resilience?

What neatly leaning lines?

Deciduous leaves drop to the floor


announcements written in digital paper trails

scribbling and scratching

marking witness to the


American Dream.

Increasingly I am questioning the possibility of systematic change.  What could possibly change the performance of our daily lives if not global climate change or a global war on terror?  At what point and how must we feel these experiences in our bodies in a way that would instigate a response other than consumerism and fear?  Must we always do as we’re told?  Here I am caught between past failures and the presence of a left leaning toward the center pulled by an evermore-radical right.

All space is legitimized through contract and currency.  The space of land, the space of love, the space of creativity, are consistently co-opted by capital and governance[12].  The existence of private property ensures an inequity propagated by the initiation of arbitrary lines of ownership predicated on stolen goods and labor.  If this is true it may not be legitimacy that we must seek but rather an adherence to systems that we can believe in and a radical rejection of those forms of legitimacy that are upheld by systems of inequity and oppression.  Maybe we do not want to own some land after all[13].  If we already reject marriage as a form of private possession, a sequestering and tracking of bodies by the state, what other forms of property can be disentangled from our lives?

The magnitude of these knots are revealed in so many histories[14] whose contemporary manifestations further the foundational weave of this American life[15]; so much so that a radical disavowal of these systems requires an intricate interrogation of our daily lives.  These historical and contemporary atrocities deserve nothing less.  It is time that Americans not only reflect on but also enact strategies of radical equality, participation and self-governance and at the very least cease to be complicit with projects that ensure the United States as a dominating world power.   I refuse to participate and so I am attempting to disentangle myself from this mess.  Perhaps the spaces of action must be smaller, radically localized to touch the intricacies of how capitalism saturates our daily lives[16]. Perhaps there is an answer in condensation, like so many water droplets, fusing against the grain, blurring the panoptic view[17].  It will be a shared space: made small enough so we can feel each other in it.  We are not running away.  This retreat is not an escape.  It is a reconfiguring of the rules for our existence.


When I was young my family edited out television then meat then town then school.  Living without these things our lives were not defined by their lack but rather the worlds opened up onto in their absence: countless hours spent outdoors, vegetarian cooking classes; the nightly gathering of family dinners; long evenings in the company of friends and family without the pre-occupation of screens.  Before the Internet and personal computers took hold of our worlds, there was more silence, more singing, more conversation.  As pressures weighed on daily life this idealism lost its luster, or revisions were made to the score that had choreographed our lives.  Television, then meat, then school, were added back in for convenience sake.  Television became a respite to the troubles of economically sustaining a family, the ease of cooking meat afforded time at the end of a long day, school served to ensure oversight that working parents or a wider community could no longer provide.  With the addition of exhaustion from upholding ideals within a fading partnership, our collective familial dreams sunk into a picture of working American life.  And what American family would not be complete without divorce?  After nineteen years of participating in the play of a picture perfect family I witnessed my parents relationship dissolve into the folds of typical marital statistics.

Reflecting on this now it seems pertinent to the unfolding of a life with Andrew, in this little house in the woods.  It is fitting that I would surround myself with a structural integrity that lifts up and supports the childhood ideals that have sunken into my skin.  There are a good many things I could blame for the deterioration, or perhaps I should say, transformation, of my family.  Of many families.  It would be these things that create the lines drawn in the sand between acceptance and rejection of scores for ways of being in the world.  They form a basis for my lack of faith in American Governance and American Dreams.


"gone" photo by Julia Handschuh

I have spent the past year apart from Andrew, living in a city, pursuing another dream, always with the intention to return.  We’ve been apart now just enough that we can come together, a defining of self, skin and boundaries that opens pores; the sweating out of the other to let in a sigh of return and relief.  Brushing against the space of self-sufficiency and resistance, to know ourselves as individuals so that we might join snugly at the hip.  In this way space becomes a catalyst, a medium for transference of our dreams into the world.  The space of our house accumulates a history, like our bodies whose layers of memories and imaginings show up on our skin.

Sex, dirt, honey, olive oil, milk power and marijuana, ash and wax, salt and glue.  In the absence of sterilization the residue of life builds up the surface on our things, ingrained in the wood through substance and memory.  Bus schedule.  Ladder.  Staple gun.  Legos.  Forming some assemblage of childhood and becoming.  Our pasts are with us in these moments and spaces: the heartache, the bug bites, the smoothies and drug trips, hoola hoops and hitchhiking, truckers, fresh tomatoes, Mexican beaches, washing in the pond with peppermint soap, the tingle the rush of air the prickly grass.

We’re attempting to hold onto this thing that people see as fleeting, this idealism of the twenty’s that I’m told will soon slip from my 28-year-old body as it passes into jaded adulthood.  Disentangling illusions and reality.  We feel close enough to our childhoods that the dreams of them are still living.  That time is tangible; made within reach through our present actions, resonating in our daily lives.  Scrapping away the screens of surface tension on familial skin.  My father’s freckles my mother’s eyes.  What remains in this body, in this house, is the stuff of dreams.  This house, this home, this dream space moves, it moves us to enact the previously impossible, the stuff of dreams.  A score of durational acts that build space to ensure that we are living the life we want to lead.



Works Cited


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Pictures, Subjects, and the New Spirit of Capitalism, (eds) D. Birnbaum & I. Graw,


Sternberg Press, Berlin, 52-71.


Bourdieu, Pierre. The logic of Practice. Stanford University Press; 1 edition. 1992


Gibson-Graham, J.K. The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It). Published by the University of


Minnesota Press. 2006.


Guatarri, Felix. The Three Ecologies. The Athlone Press, 2000.


Harmon, Graham. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. re.press. 2009.


Jackson, Michael. Things As They Are: New Directions in Phenomenological Anthropology. Indiana University Press. 1996.


Lefebvre, Henri. Rythmanalysis: Space Time and Everyday Life. Continuum. 2004.


Massumi, Brian. Parables of the Virtual Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Duke University Press Books. 2002

 A Shock to Thought: Expression after Delueze and Guattari. Routledge. 2002


McKibbin, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition edition. 2011


Ruppert, Michael. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2009.


Thoreau, Henry David. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. Arc Manor. 2007.


Utopia in Four Movements. Dir. Sam Green, Co-Dir. Dave Cerf. 2011


Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Dlx


Rep edition. 2002.


Collapse. Dir. Chris Smith, Star. Michael Ruppert. 2010.


[1] Written by Andrew shared with me through an email.


[2] Lefebvre. 6.


[3] In the absence of any understandable response in a moment of extreme distress we act according to a body logic that makes it’s own sense, “generating words or actions that are both senseless and sense-full.” (Bourdieu, 95-96) Is it only in these moments of extreme distress that we will act? At what point will we feel the ramifications of United States foreign policy in such a way that would make us act in appropriately senseless and a sense-full ways? I am not so sure that the calculated compromising moves of the Left are the best ways to counter the impassioned senseless distress calls of the Right.


[4] Here I am thinking of Henry David Thoreau’s classic text On the Duty of Civil Disobedience as well as Bruno Latour’s notion of the Dissenter, as explained in Graham Harmon’s Prince of Networks. Harmon describes the Dissenter as a person who serves to question a process at every turn. (39) Both of these authors recognize the importance of oppositional characters to the process of innovation be it scientific, social or political.


[5] Here I am thinking of Michael Jackson’s introduction to Things As They Are in which he speaks about the production of knowledge; that which is lived and that which is disembodied. He calls attention to the paradox of theorization and practical knowledge and suggests that ethnography is one way to straddle the division between lived experience and linguistic articulation. Forming political critiques from lived experience and infusing political theory into daily life is an act of translation between the abstract and the embodied, making theory that is embedded in the world.


[6]Resonating with Jackson’s sentiments of embodied theory, Pierre Bourdieu’s theorizes in The Logic of Practice that beliefs (those things that are theoretically real) are materialized in our bodies; that they become real through the ways they are enacted. 69.


[7] In The Present Left and the Longing for Revolution Luc Boltanski sites various ways that the left has turned it’s politics away from capitalism and towards issues of bio-politics. Despite the ways that capitalism is tied to the furthering of bio-political oppression political action has been directed away from critiques of labor, market and capital and towards identity politics. 66. In the face of American culture, which encourages consumerism as every turn, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping targets the complacent consumer reflex by making performances that aid consumers in breaking their addictive buying habits.


[8] Felix Guatarri makes a similar proposition in The Three Ecologies in which he outlines what he calls an “ecosophy”: an articulation of the ethico-political arenas of “environment, social relations and human subjectivity”[8] through the lens of ecology. His call to recognize the depth and breadth with which all things are interconnected (not as a singular unity but as a system that consists of a multiplicity of interacting forces) demands a deep interrogation and response to political and environmental issues, both individually and collectively. It is with this same sense of material interconnection that I reference ecological networks.


[9] In Eaarth, Bill McKibbin outlines the ways in which global climate change has reached a tipping point that erases the possibility of recuperating the destruction wrought to planet earth. He argues we must continue to develop sustainably solutions not based on an ideal of turning back the clock but rather facing how life might be able to continue given the continued climate shifts that are already underway.


[10] Jameson, 76.


[11] See Michael Ruppert’s Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World and the related documentary Collapse.


[12] See The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) by J.K. Gibson-Graham


[13]The Invisible Committee echoes this sentiment in their manifesto: “For us it’s not about possessing territory. Rather, it’s a matter of increasing the density of the communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory.”108.


[14] Such as is illuminated in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States


[15] The continued war in Iraq and human rights violations in prisons like Abu Ghraib are indicative of United States foreign policy, which functions on a blatant disregard for human rights both at home and abroad.


[16] In The End of Capitalism (as we knew it) Gibson-Graham note that “…on the left, we get up in the morning opposing capitalism, not imagining practical alternatives. In this sense, it is partly our own subjection—successful or failed, accommodating or oppositional—that constructs a “capitalist society.”xv.


[17] In April 2010 Alexander R. Galloway presented a lecture at the New School titled “Black Box, Black Bloc” wherein he speaks about the French collective Tiqqun who speak about “invisible revolt” in terms of fog, a veil through which subversive actions cannot be seen by the imperial state. 9.


Julia Handschuh writes, moves, and makes objects; oftentimes in relation to issues of improvisation, ecology and the politics of space.  This past year she and Andrew were forced to dismantle their cabin, and they now reside in Turners Falls, Mass where they are working to secure a cooperatively-owned building.  Julia intends to include these experiences into a further edition Performing the Impossible.  Please contact her if you are interested in reading or publishing this work: juliashoe@gmail.com

“i wish you no ill will” EL Putnam / “I Wish You New” Kurt Cole Eidsvig

El Putnam "i wish you no ill will" 2012

In August and September of 2012, artist and philosopher, El Putnam handed out 200 postcards with the following instructions:

“write an anonymous note to someone you have loved and lost. you can write whatever you wish, but you are required to end your note with the sentence: ‘i wish you no ill will.'”

The cards were returned to her via USPS and used to build an installation at Mobius’ space in Cambridge, MA. In the final performance, the cards were read by Putnam and audience members, and then placed one by one into a shredder.

Part of The Present Tense’s Mission is to include a myriad of ways that individuals archive and document experiential art pieces.  Artist and poet,  Kurt Cole Eidsvig wrote a poem documenting his experience with this transformative piece.  We are happy to share it on The Present Tense!

El Putnam "i wish you no ill will" 2012


Kurt Cole Eidsvig

After EL Putnam’s “I wish you no ill will” at Mobius, Cambridge, MA USA  Sept 8, 2012


1. Woven scripts, as in a chain of words reassembled from tangles. This line, this line is now your bracelet, these memories record to handcuffs. Of course you feel the grit of glitter under foot. The road to crystal suffering is a version of America obese hearts with hardened arteries suffer for. I’m kidding, of course, as the delay of dish sounds regurgitates flickering glass chewed through to sewing needle skin. Your alterations to the breezy wind behave so necessary, just as exhales only matter if something plans on following.

2. Behold the thorns on flesh hung upside-down in effigy. Behold ligament and joint, gasp. Behold the breaking sound of items getting crushed to bits and shards and molecules, the smallest parts of each of us that disfigure but won’t go away.

Hold the remnants of what you were, of what I was when we were we, and consider:

The tangled ends won’t render, the tangled ends begin.

3. Because of shadows the font of words can be confusing. Nib and pencil tip chew against bright pulp. In the background— do you hear it—these echoes of hollow wind through the structures. Bridges pull against two things here, rather than connect and allow mercy in catastrophe. When I say “I wish,” I mean “I don’t wish.” Just as when I said “I don’t know,” I was certain. Now look at us: You, and that shadow of yourself behind you, the layers of our time-bomb gasps—the way fingertips can be squares, strings, chains, flowers, legs and light collections in the course of just one night. I am sure you realized at the end of every curve of words, sinewy across the page, was another
lesson in infinity. The two of us repeating; the two of you, so sad.

4. Remember when we danced, the way your voice collapsed?

5. Cave entrances with beads of glass for windows, as if your eyes were premonitions.
Like, lay in bed next to me and create a story with your pillows. As anonymous confessionals
of our hand-me-down linens become a metaphor for the landscape spots we mailed pieces of ourselves
from, no longer blurred by the dishonesty of atmosphere. As the necklace of doubt
is certainty, a noose of stories even your handwriting can’t believe anymore. As when I say, “I wish,”
I mean, “I’m leaving.” As when you command things of me, you command the sun to disappear behind the hills
without the benefit of time passing. And did I ever tell you about the whispers in the dark, my house at half-past martini?
This is my equation: Vodka plus footfalls equals promises on pillows, the lipstick stain of glasses
breathed at hopeful earlobes. Regret is shaped like a nightlight.

6. When I said, “I hope I never see you again,” I meant, “I hope when I see you again, I look different to you.” I meant: “Every time I try to break the mirror that you were to me—that you are—your power only multiplies.” There are countless memories of you cutting me from the floor. There are multiplying versions of you, seeing me, reflecting me, from the floor, from the whispers,

from the filament of your near-invisible fishing line words and promises; the curve and hook of C’s, of J’s, of S’s, of kisses, of denials. In every crunch and break and broken collapsing piece of us, I am chewing silver- glazed glass in teeth and gums. You have caught me. I’m on the land. I bleed.

7. All of us eventually disrupt the air so much, rose petals hit the ground.

8. Behind the girl with the single lens reflex camera there is always a fire alarm.
When you raise your hands, this sculpture you are, roses implode in their lack of water.
On my way back from the shredder I realized you had booby-trapped the safety pins. What else could I expect from all this merciless opening?  Tell me, tell me, my feet dismaying my swaying torso, tell me, what you hope to impose here. The edges of this room are the centers of multi-dimensional omniverses, the bent-out gravity of forgotten strands catching souvenirs of words turned into light.

9. Before we met I couldn’t read my own handwriting.
Now I know each defogged windshield glass I pass
allows your eyes to see me.

10. This census of disregard creates paper stand-ins for humanity. This consensus of disregard is a series of balled-up tissues mispronounced as grief before dislocated into wastebaskets.
On Saturdays, wherever you are, I still take out the trash for you.
On Sundays I’m still angry you forgot to buy more trash bags.

11. Depending on the angle you deposit these messages into mailbox, our frames become uneven. Our squares and rectangles, gulped and digested, are mishandled into rhombuses. From where I stand our shadows have elongated. From where you stand there is light—bright, exotic light—shining against your face. Both of us stand still as the lies we hung from unevenly wobble and dance around our figures. In this, both of us are paint. In this, both of us are lines.

12. Pretend there is a word for truth and pretend you understand it. This is the definition of wishing, of course. But isn’t it irresponsible to suppose your unclasping buttons, zippers, safety pins, snaps, won’t lead to heaps of regretful clothes on the canvas of regretful floors?
There is, of course, the brutal honesty of two people having sex in a lightning storm,
a power outage, and then the emergency generator rumbles and the back-up lights blast on.
When we meet again, let’s travel to red glitter beaches, so the two of us can look down and then agree—these footprints in the ground, these are the places
we dropped our spectacles. This is the spot where our lenses cracked, where landscape disappeared.

The Present Tense Top 12 of 2012

As we begin 2013, The Present Tense shares its reflections on 2012.  2012 offered countless moments for performance art that The Present Tense found inspirational.  Here are 12 of them:

Mari Novotny-Jones at "100 Years" photo by Sandrine Schaefer

12. We probably don’t have to explain why its awesome that “100 Years of Performance Art” came to Boston University in 2012.  This traveling exhibition consists of documents that capture a comprehensive history of performance art.  In this installment, the 4th version of the exhibition, many important Boston-based artists and groups were included and made live works throughout the duration of the exhibit.


Dirk Adam's lecture on "Green" at the ICA photo by Philip Fryer

11.  2012 saw a number of performances and exhibitions tackling the theme “color”. The Present Tense was lucky enough to catch Dirk Adams “lecture” on “Green” created in conjunction with the Figuring Color exhibition at the ICA. Adams stood in front of the audience and used a reel to reel player to play for us a recording of himself giving a lecture on green as it relates to the green movement. The lecture suggests that the green movement may not be so green. Perhaps it is a different color. Perhaps it is Brown. Adams awkwardly watches the audience watching him. It was a hilariously poignant performance!


10.  The Occupy Movement in conjunction with 2012 being an election year, inspired dialogues around the synergetic relationship between art and activism.  Activists and the creatively-minded gathered in NYC during the Fall to attend the 2012 Creative Time Summit that focused on the theme of Confronting Inequality.  The first day of the Summit was comprised of nearly 30 presentations on this theme.  Artists, Activists, writers, and even a passionate Doctor shared the stage to talk about strategies to navigate the interstices between art and social practice.  Highlights included Leónidas Martín’s talk on his Barcelona-based artist collective, “Enmedio” and how they have used actions that induce humor and compassion to create interventions with successful results.  Michael Rakowitz shared insights into his process creating conceptual art pieces that investigate the relationship between the US and the Middle East.

The second day of the Summit consisted of workshops that included an opportunity to learn how to map out Utopian Ideas with Steve Lambert, and to engage in a discussion led by the group Tidal Journal around Occupy Wall Street’s history, present and future.  The day ended with a Debt March throughout the streets of Manhattan.  Throughout the multitude of perspectives offered at the Summit, the theme of art action as a powerful tool to communicate and inspire change was consistent.


9.   For those in Massachusetts who couldn’t make it to the Creative Time Summit to get a healthy dose of activist adrenalin, Montserrat College of Art hosted an Academic Symposium, Agents of Change: Art and Activism around the Guerrilla Girls exhibition, Not Ready to Make Nice.  If you were brave enough to take a Salem bound Commuter Rail to Beverly during Halloween weekend, you would be rewarded with presentations from a myriad of artists, curators, art historians, and a keynote from the Guerilla Girls.  Highlights include presentations by Eve Biddle and Joshua Frankel, Joshua Seidner, and Randi Hopkins’ panel, Participation is Personal:

Artists Indulge in the Messy Task of Understanding the World.  The following day included a series of workshops on various artistic strategies between art and activism used across media.


8.  With all of the discourse on Activism and Art, “Feminism” and what it means today, also seemed to be a topic of interest in 2012.  Of course it was a hot topic around the Guerrilla Girls exhibition and at the Creative Time Summit, but it also came up in the form of New Maternalisms, a performance art happening curated by Natalie Loveless. Loveless eloquently writes about how the work in New Maternalisms offers perspectives from the daughters who are now mothers from the era of feminist art’s intervention.  New Maternalisms offered opportunites for artist-mothers to make pieces and participate in round table discussions about the experience of motherhood today and investigate how this informs their artistic practices.

Chicago about to drive home from Boston!

7.  The Present Tense returned to its roots in 2012, organizing our first live event since 2009’s Thus Far. The second edition of the Rough Trade artist exchange took place in September at Defibrillator Gallery in Chicago and at MassArts Pozen Center in Boston. There are too many amazing moments and aspects of this experience to name here and you can see the work for yourself on the last round of Present Tense interviews and videos. The strength of our communities were apparent in the work shown and put into making the exchange happen, including a grueling overnight 16 hour drive made by the Chicago artists to Boston!


6.  A new friend The Present Tense made this year is Brazilian artist and organizer Fernando Ribeiro Ribeiro traveled to Boston and showed work at Mobius in April.  Ribeiro performed a beautiful, quiet piece titled “I Promise”. Ribeiro was the first artist to travel the US circuit between Chicago, Boston and New York.  We feel lucky to live in a time that has multiple cities, organizers and venues that support this medium.  We hope that 2013 will bring strength to these ties and that more artists will travel this circuit!

Rob Andrews "Vampire Dance" at TBSO 2 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

5.  Boston’s thirst for marathon performance art pieces and shows showed no signs of slowing down in 2012, especially with the second installment of Time Body Space Objects. 12 artists, 12 hours, 12 performances. Highlights included Martine Viale’s house made out of sugar cubes, Daniel DeLuca’s subversive presentation, and Jeff Huckleberry’s refrain “This is stupid, this is not stupid.”


installation view of INSIDER/OUTSIDER photo by Sandrine Schaefer

4.  Documentation of performance is one of the most common ongoing conversations that occurs within our community. We already mentioned “100 Years” as an example of how performance art can be experienced within a traditional art context. But when it comes down to it, it’s up to us, the artists, to document our history as it goes. Sandrine’s INSIDER/OUTSIDER is an example of the connections that are being drawn between a wide-range of artists work, worldwide, that are current and poignant. The focus of INSIDER/OUTSIDER was on live works that took place outside of an art setting, an advantage that performance has over many other mediums. Simple, understated pieces like Jeffery Byrd’s “Public Art”, which has been witnessed by almost no one else beside the artist himself, had the chance to be seen by many viewers within a context highlighting current performative approaches.


3. Another interpretation of documentation was present at Alice Vogler‘s solo exhibition “Time On View” at the Proof Gallery. At a first glance, this exhibition read as a sculpture show, and can initially be approached in that way. However, each object you are seeing is an actual relic from Vogler’s past performances, which is explained in the literature next to each piece. The artists own interpretation of documentation is present in the show. Alice also re-performed several of her past pieces, some of which were chosen at random.

Jeff and Sandy Huckleberry "Green"

2. As stated previously, “color” was a theme that came out in 2012.  Mobius artists, Jeff and Sandy Huckleberry used color as a starting point for a series of improvisational performances they created over the duration of several months. Each week, the husband and wife team painted Mobius’ space a different color, going through the spectrum of the rainbow!


1. The performance art community suffered a tremendous loss when Mobius artist and Photographer, Bob Raymond passed away this past Spring.  This was devastating to all who knew and loved Bob and his physical absence continues to be felt within the Boston Performance Art Community.  The Huckleberry’s Rainbow Series concluded with the color blue  on March 1st, which also coincided with Bob’s passing.  In honor of Bob, the Huckleberry’s ended their series by painting the Mobius space black.  This loss inspired many other artists to create tributes to Bob’s life, generosity, and inspirational spirit.  We leave you with traces from pieces made in 2012, in Bob Raymond’s honor.


Catherine Tutter’s “Wrapped Intention”



Philip Fryer "For Bob" 2012



Sandrine Schaefer "Resting Place" 2012 photo by Daniel S. DeLuca




Alice Vogler and Vela Phelan photo by Philip Fryer

Present Tense Interview: Wilder Huckleberry

There aren’t many 16 year olds out there that could school the Present Tense on performance art. Wilder Huckleberry is one of the few exemptions. Having grown up with two parents that make performance and regularly attend events, he’s probably seen more performance in his life than most working performance artists have. Below, we pick his brain in an interview on his take of performance if Boston.

Present Tense: What is the first performance you remember seeing?

Wilder Huckleberry: first performance… the one that stands out is one that Mari did in one of the earlier Mobius spaces. Definitely wasn’t the first i saw, but the one that was pretty early on. She was doing some crazy things under a red light with tall tree  pillars and meat and gods and a sliced up napkin toga thing.

PT: Is performance art cool?

WH: Yes, performance is cool, but its really more that the artists themselves are cool. Audience and artist together make the performance, that’s how I’m thinking about it right now.

PT: Can you name a few artists or pieces that you really liked?

WH: I’ve really liked every piece of art that I have ever seen from Julie Andre Tremblay and Jamie McMurray, to name two.

Julie Andree T

My parents’ stuff I always have a different mood about, probably because they’re my parents, and you always have changing feelings about your parents. The collaborations between my father and Vela Phelan are almost always badass.

Jeff Huckleberry and Vela Phelan

PT: Have you ever made your own performance?

WH: I have taken part in many performances, but never made my own.

PT: Are there any objects that you can’t look at with thinking of a performance you’ve seen?

WH: Yes, there are so many. My room contains a few. There are a bunch in our basement. I can’t even look at a plywood sheet without thinking of my dad.


PT: Would you say that having parents that are artists has impacted you in any way?

WH: Well if my parents hadn’t been artists, well, I don’t even know what that would be like.