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Tell the truth, Body! …Truthteller… and HERSTORY at AUX Performance Space


[We’re pleased to feature this post by local artist Thomas Choinacky, who participated in several performance art pieces recently and offers a review as a performance artist himself. — the artblog editors]

By Thomas Choinacky

HERSTORY: How truth is mocked

Enter an odd retrospective framed as a humorous sideshow. Lighthearted clowns Christina Zani and partner Scott McPheeters guide us with tongue in cheek, commenting on and briskly recreating several parodies of famous performance works and artists. Zani immediately names the piece as appropriation within HERSTORY. (Note: She speaks with a performed “Southern” accent.) This immediacy places a negative connotation on each of the vignettes that the duo performs. This is like a Mummer’s Day Parade, a mimicry done without giving us a deep understanding of the culture being adopted.

This spoof escorts us through an armful of self-identified dancers/choreographers or performance artists, including Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, and Miguel Gutierrez. Zani and McPheeters change from one ridiculous costume to the next without digging far into the world of each of these artists, and leave me wondering “Why this set of artists?” It is difficult to treat each scene as belonging to any of the mentioned artists, as the performers are merely skipping stones over the content.

HERSTORY seems incomplete. The misappropriation is glazed over without acknowledging the weight that these cultural icons have offered the art world. This murkiness makes it difficult to laugh at its casual attitude, and requires a familiarity with the famed artists parodied. Thus, we lose sight of why these works and artists are important artistic landmarks at all.

When it’s all poking fun, you start to wonder what is underneath.

I still want “her” story: how these choreographic works have influenced Zani’s performance career and/or life.  Zani’s “Southern” accent and conversational vibe lack any personal backstory. Without a personal touch, the jest, truth, and appropriation don’t mix together. 


Eroca Nichol’s “…Truthteller…”

…Truthteller… is a mystic channeling. The audience dons green sheets with two eyeholes (imagine an ordinary ghost costume) and we are invited to wander around the AUX Performance Space. Blasted into anonymity, we are unified by our similar attire, and attention gathers on our diverging heights, the speed of our gait, and each of our struggles to keep this green, ghostly sheet on our bodies. Yes, look at our bodies. We are now jointless, floating, grassy blobs wandering aimlessly through this venue. How ridiculous and yet one-of-a-kind.

This is a sensory, participatory encounter performed in episodes. Nichols keeps her eyes closed through its entirety. Once the conjuring begins, we complete a variety of tasks on this “truthteller,” who quickly removes her green cloak. She lightheartedly offers her body as water is thrust at her or gently poured down her back. This open permission to the audience reminds me of Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece,” which was also referenced in HERSTORY. The audience is situationally granted control of the work.

My empathy rises to the spiritualist she is becoming through this journey.  

This is less for us. Nichols deliberately uses us within a variety of exercises. As tools, we assist in completing the various tasks with and for her. Each episode, even though we participate, does not transform us; we are the eyes and gatekeepers of her spiritual awakening.

Next, Nichols dances with crystals in her hands, battling an understanding of where she is in the space with a craving for mystic, sensorial power. When she finally settles–after some difficulty–I wonder if she has actually reached someplace profound. She offers herself up to questions, which she promises to answer truthfully. One audience member asks Nichols: what is she getting out of this performance, right now? Nichols simply notes her attention to her sensations at that given moment. What she must be experiencing is quite different from our experience. Our eyes are more demanding of her oratory, telepathic experience. Our senses are tricky things.

Black Lives Matter

Clearing the air

The evening ended with a brief Black Lives Matter performance. Performers of Dancing for Change charged us away from anonymity and appropriation, and into solidarity with a chant. We passed around Ball jars naming numerous unarmed black lives lost in this nation. As a group, we repeated “Your life matters” in response to each human mentioned. This was its own purification. We became unified, placing our attention again on the here and now: the truth and justice we strive for and have not obtained.

Thomas Choinacky is a performance artist making obscure, often site-specific work. He is a company member of Applied Mechanics and works at Headlong Performance Institute.


...truthteller..., arts & culture, aux performance space, christina zani, eroca nicols, herstory, philadelphia, vox populi gallery