March 31, 2009 · 1 Comments
Some art happenings at Haverford College this past week generated some fun, some love and a little discomfort. Here’s a quick example of what went on:
I myself just returned from a field trip through exotic Suburban Square with [artist] Harrell Fletcher! Lots of fun–went to a ColdStone ice cream store when the staff has to sing to you if you tip them; we ended up singing to them for a change (“This Land is Your Land”)–from email from James Weissinger, Associate Director, John B. Hurford ’60 Humanities Center, Haverford College, who by night is sometimes seen hanging around at PIFAS
Fletcher was one of four artists invited to Haverford College for “Among Friends,” a project to involve the entire Haverford College community in the experience of art-making.
The others artists are William Pope.L, Nao Bustamante and artist Jennifer Delos Reyes. Each of the four created some sort of performance happening with help from the Haverford students and even sometimes staff.
At a talk before all the final happenings happened, the four invited artists spoke about their work–and a couple of them turned even their talks into happenings.
Nao Bustamante got the audience to participate in a sham hypnosis session, transforming them to be her, so the auditorium was full of lots of Nao Bustamantes. The audience mock obliged. Bustamante is a performance and video artist, and although she is the main focus (along with her dog Fufu), she really is about the larger society, its tastes, obsessions, politics and foolishness.
In a clip from her video Untitled #1 (from the series Earth People 2507), Fufu dons buffalo horns and becomes a whole herd, inserted into a photo of a genuine buffalo herd. (I don’t know one dog from another, but Fufu is small and dark grey, with lots of curls–think Peek-a-Poo or miniature poodle scale). Ultimately the dog turns pirouettes and so do ballerinas while the prairie turns into an aurora borealis. I don’t know why I loved this, but I was completely enchanted.
For her project at Haverford, Bustamante and the students opened a “comfort station” on campus–a healing kiosk modeled on a Red Cross Comfort Station, to help students with their worries and desires.
Harrell Fletcher‘s work is community-driven and collaborative. Fletcher described a number of his projects, like making multiples of a couple’s lawn ornament figures after one of them was vandalized. He displayed them in a gallery and also placed them like a family reunion on the couple’s lawn. Some of his work reminds me of Pepon Osorio’s, especially in his understanding of the emotional weight of objects that people hold dear and in his commitment to communities.
Fletcher, for his project with the Haverford students, had them running around the Main Line playing laser tag, and other activities to integrate them into the community beyond the campus.
I was especially excited about seeing William Pope.L in person (he’s an imposing figure, tall and good-looking and reserved). He showed a recent video of himself covered head-to-toe in a white hazardous-clean-up jump suit and wearing an aging white-guy full-head rubber mask, making people people uncomfortable with his outlandish outfit and his anti-social acts on the streets of a former Eastern Bloc city.
Pope.L told an anecdote about a collector commissioning him to do a work about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American who was murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. Pope.L didn’t know whether to accept. His mother, however, urged him to take take it. He wasn’t sure he would get the story right, but she told him it was a gift, a chance to speak out.
At Haverford Pope.L’s performance was shooting a video called E.T., which stands for both Emmett Till and Spielberg’s Extra-Terrestrial–both of them outsiders, strangers in a strange land. John Muse, a humanities fellow at the college who invited the four artists, gave me this description of Pope.L’s ET shoot:
My own take: the piece more or less recapitulates the final journey of Till from his Uncle Moses Wright’s house to the river where Bryant and Milam dump Till’s body–it was quite literally a journey as we moved through many buildings and hallways. It was a journey through a crime scene, but one where the crime is still going on and on; Emmett Till dies over and over, and his ghost haunts victims and perpetrators alike: Till is a wound, historical and personal, that remains open.I’m most drawn to and affected by the masks that Pope.L gives all of his actors: each wore the face of a smiling 14 year old Till. But because the eyes are cut out and the mouth cut out too, the mask is also a postmortem face. …And because the actors wearing the masks perform all the actions, there’s no clear division between perpetrators of the murder and the murdered boy. The penultimate scene: the audience stands on an elevated track looking down as two ET’s dunk a cd player into a tub of water, the cd player plays a …track of a boy’s voice describing his own murder and stipulating that those who harmed him must have been harmed themselves and kill him as a means to repair themselves. The ET’s finally weight the player with a cinderblock that holds it down. We can still hear the voice coming from beneath the water.
The fourth speaker and artist in mini-residence, Jennifer Delos Reyes, who organizes group hug kinds of projects, also staged a mini-event at the talk. She got the audience to sing the one song that she didn’t get enough students to perform for her project: She had invited students and staff to record covers of the tracks from Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 Rumours album. The covers could be anything from a capella performances to dj mixes to rap. The cover album was scheduled for release last week, and Delos Reyes was hoping the enthusiasm of the campus community, in creating the cover album, would somehow overcome the personal drama that plagued the band at the time of the original release.
I can assure you my own college experience was nothing like this. More info on Among Friends is located here.