[Leah reviews a performance art piece with applications to social issues here in Philadelphia, and beyond. –the artblog editors]
After attending the newest event at New Boon(e) gallery, “The Off White Beast: A Story Telling Performance,” I was left pleasantly perplexed and moved. New Boon(e) is an artist collective that explores the need for an artistic community. The space transforms from a working studio space for a group of member-artists into a gallery/exhibition room, and is unified by the need for critical conversation, collaboration, and exposure that extends to the broader art community in Philadelphia.
Setting the scene, and the New Boon(e) space
“The Off White Beast” was a collaborative effort. It seamlessly involved many media, including performance, sculpture, music, installation, sound, lighting, and dance. I was very impressed with the entire shebang. New Boon(e) has come up with a beautiful way to work together, combining the wide range of skills shared among the members of the gallery. The space seems to be sustained by these members, who are by and large graduates of local art colleges. New Boon(e) allows them to discover an unlimited creative vision together.
I found the performance to be very accessible while maintaining a level of depth. Josh Beaver, the storyteller, captivated the audience with his stage presence and authenticity. The performance truly embodied contemporary art and the post-medium condition. The well-composed set featured an elevated, enclosed cage where musicians from Philadelphia’s Space Whale Orchestra played during the show. Beaver stood in the center and told his story. Behind him sat a classic, big, old, decrepit West Philadelphia house made from cardboard. What I perceived to be the interior of the house could be seen behind Beaver, where another musician sat and played during the performance. Beaver told his story and the space around him illuminated imagery that acted as a visual companion for his words. The story was simple yet complex, difficult to hear, but easy to listen to, and quite seductive.
Meeting the Beast
Beaver spoke about a monster. It was an ambiguous monster, who seemed to exist as both man and creature. “The Off White Beast” took place in Sweetheart City in a bad neighborhood called Snakebelly. This neighborhood was filled with addicts and evil people who acted in the most horrible of ways. I found the Off White Beast to be a metaphor for the human condition. This led me to think about the negative actions human beings take, as well as the causes and effects of these actions. Beaver possessed a great insight into the complexities of humanity.
This piece spoke to me about poverty nationwide, and especially here in Philadelphia. Snakebelly reminded me of local neighborhoods that are often home to artists and young professionals, as well as locals who have lived there for years, and suffering families.
The Beast eventually appeared, wearing a beautiful and elaborate costume. This was very exciting–however, this moment was slightly anti-climatic. The Beast “writhed” and “crawled” out on stage and eventually reached its hind legs. At this moment, the performance ended, and someone in the back said, “That’s it.” While this abrupt ending was very funny, I do not feel that it was fully resolved.
The Beast faces off with God
Beaver spoke about the beast tricking God. “God” was played by three brass musicians, who remained in the back cage wearing black veils. During the story, the monster experiences a drug overdose; because of this, it eventually enters into a prolonged dialogue with God.
I would have preferred that the Beast stay in character throughout the remainder of the overdose. The story indicated that the Beast would spend the rest of his existence in this torturous limbo state, and I was interested in experiencing this visually while reconciling how I felt about it.
I was able to read into Beaver’s story, but I also felt content and entertained with the performance at face value. I was thrilled to see that the members of New Boon(e) had decided to take on a serious and relevant topic. As artists, we are constantly participating in gentrification. It is important to address this in an engaged way while not being preachy. “The Off White Beast” successfully brought up gentrification without chastising or admonishing the audience. The piece’s heavy topics were handled with sensitivity and a dark sense of humor, which helped the audience digest the difficult subject matter.
While I came away wanting more of an ending, this was an experimental performance that was exciting to see and included great content to think about. I look forward to my next event at New Boon(e).