The Mischievous Guide – 2016 New Art Writing Challenge Finalist

Dear readers, we are publishing the essays of the 12 finalists from the Artblog + The St. Claire's 2016 New Art Writing Challenge Contest! Thanks to all those who participated, and thanks to our jurors–Cara Ober, Meredith Sellers, and Paddy Johnson–who picked the winners. We are energized by all the wonderful writing that was submitted, and know you will enjoy reading it!


The Mischievous Guide
by Alex Conner & Eric Preisendanz

A review of
The Quiet Circus: River Charrette #1 by Eiko Otake
for Philadelphia Contemporary

Philadelphia Contemporary hosted its inaugural performance, River Charette #1 by Eiko Otake, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late September at Bartram’s Gardens. Otake’s work was the first in a series of four performances Philadelphia Contemporary has organized under the title, “The Quiet Circus,” which will attempt to engage with the metaphorical and physical relationships of the Schuylkill River to Philadelphia. The experience of arriving and participating in this performance was a feat of fits and starts.

Parking in the circle. Asking for directions in the gift shop. Walking with other attendees to the space of the performance and discussing the landscape in relation to the skyline, rising in front of us. Flattening of the ground leading to an open area and an active dock. Folks renting and returning kayaks and canoes. Making small talk and new acquaintances. Watching the crowd build. Walking alone to the fence by the tree, by the rock, by the shade, by the water. Appearing suddenly down the same path from which we entered: Otake swaddled in layers of fabric of differing weight–silk charmeuse with bamboo print and purple duvet majesty.

Otake commenced her performance slowly, trembling within herself and laying the foundation for the audience to allow themselves an intensely delicate and intuitive experience. At the first of several stations, she slowly unfurled a cloth she produced from within her garment, going to great pains to keep it just so–only reveling in her own motions long enough for interest to peak–before breaking and leading the group of roughly 70 through the small river path. Our ‘mischievous guide’ Otake moved speechlessly, only occasionally moaning or crying as though her experience of her performance was an uncomfortable exposing. Her frailty and meager internal movements through subsequent stations were thematic of the experience as a whole, the landscape playing a supporting role for the majority of the audience that had never visited Bartram’s. At the Schuylkill, her movements in and around the water were emblematic of her own awareness of the negative changes observable in the local ecosystem.

While Otake may have been the locus of her performance, she was never in the lead. It was obvious that to journey alongside her was our choice. The event concluded with Harry Philbrick, Founding Director of Philadelphia Contemporary, moderating a discussion between Otake, David Brick, who is Co-Director of Headlong Dance Theater and Performance Institute, and Alan Greenberger, former Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. What developed was a spirited shared examination of the power of place in relation to actions performed to activate certain aspects of it. This fine day was certainly made the most of.

Alex Conner is an artist and writer living and working in Philadelphia.  His work investigates human relationships with histories and objecthood. 

Eric Preisendanz is an artist, curator and consultant and living and working in Philadelphia. His goal is to build and retain creativity and artists by developing innovative exhibitions and collaborative opportunities.