Callas, Streisand, and now Kwan

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Tout le art monde who had made their reservation at 15-minute intervals turned out for Gabriel Martinez’ one-night “Confidence and Faith” installation/performance Saturday night at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

As far as style goes, this was a swell event–the champagne flutes, the mystery of what was behind the closed doors, the waiting for your turn.

But once inside, the event had its ups and downs.

The high points included the high-brow music performance produced by modern music ensemble Relache, with its trio of black-clad musicians providing live music as ice skater Michelle Kwan performed a perfect program on video, recorded, from what I understood, at the National Figure Skating Championships in Philadelphia two years ago. A reading of Brian Boitano’s advice to Kwan of how to overcome her Olympics jinx provided a hint of why the piece was named Confidence and Faith.

The upstairs highlights were the two white rooms. In the first one, the white walls were sliced like skated-on ice, the reference to razors and sharp ice-skate blades offering a frisson of danger. The second white room included a white floor covered with a crunchy mix of glitter and sand–and a row of wall-mounted pedestals holding cast wax saints (cast by Cate Midgett of the Project Room)–votive candles that seemed too beautiful to burn, inspiring people to speak in hushed tones. Awesome.

But I didn’t quite get some of it. The first room remained mysterious, faux blood dripping down luxurious, white brocade patterned with crosses, a white dove precariously perched on the side of a block of resin on a pedestal. All I got here was Catholicism and danger and maybe spending too much time on one’s knees.

I liked the St. Theresa medals hanging off the upside-down holly bush. And the last room was “I Will Survive” made concrete. Its darkness contrasted the white room of saints and hope that preceded it. A disgusting, cement-coated pile of stuffed animals cascaded down from the ceiling while the play-by-play commentary on Kwan’s less than perfect Olympic performance blared from an old-fashioned record player in a credenza.

All in all, the piece offered style and mystery. Its one-night stand was a fine reflection of the evanescence of Kwan’s one-night performance and one awkward moment that ultimately deprived her of the gold medal. But so much drama over what was merely a performance seemed disproportionate to me. Perhaps it’s the perfect piece for Philadelphia, land of the crazy sports fans.

–photos by jj tiziou

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