‘Experiment I’ turns a literary event into performance art – Los Angeles Times
Live, unabashed nudity is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rarity at public literary events. Dance, performance art, wigs, one-liners, keyboards, skateboards, popcorn, dental floss, video loops, audience participation, and even, quite frankly, unfettered joy, also make infrequent appearances on the reading circuit, but Sept. 29 at the newly opened Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, a free event called â€œExperiment Iâ€ managed to contain all this and more.
â€œPeople want a playful outlet,â€ said event curator Michelle Tea, author of cult favorite memoirs â€œValenciaâ€ and â€œRent Girl,â€ and most recently â€œModern Tarot.â€ As a founding member of the long-running Sister Spit poetry tour, she has curated literary happenings since 1994.
â€œI like to be surprised and entertained,â€ she said. â€œI like to challenge myself and challenge my writer friends to do something different.â€ Tea billed â€œExperiment Iâ€ as a compilation of â€œunexpected readings and performance â€¦ intended to inspire new thoughts, humor and daredevilry.â€
A game of truth or dare initiated by comic Lizzy Cooperman provided perhaps the most direct response to daredevilry, but a presentation from Pave the Way Skateboards, represented by Tara Jepson and Miriam Klein Stahl, author of â€œLike a Dogâ€ and illustrator of â€œRad Women Worldwide,â€ respectively, saw Jepson wheel across the museum floor to read a queer skateboarding manifesto in heels and tights. Wendy. C. Ortiz, who describes her latest book, â€œBruja,â€ as a â€œdreamoir,â€ dared the audience to reveal who among us had dreamed of alligators or matricide. The eveningâ€™s opener, the Brontez Purnell Dance Company, performing a partially unclad piece called â€œChronic: A Dance About Marijuana,â€ dared the audience of roughly 50 people to settle in for an experimental experience and open our minds.
â€œHold on to your hats and whatever other accessories you happen to be wearing,â€ Tea told the audience as the performance began, but for Brontez Purnell, author of â€œSince I Laid My Burden Down,â€ and the rest of the troupe, those clothing-on rules did not apply. The dancers began in witchy black wigs like the three weird sisters, and made excellent use of ICAâ€™s three connected rooms, beckoning the crowd to follow them around corners and back again.
The sound of popcorn kernels raining from the dancersâ€™ hands onto poured concrete was as dramatic as a broken string of pearls, and later, when they bathed themselves in a popped batch, the smell of buttery popcorn drove the message home: in â€œa dance about marijuana,â€ this was the munchies portion. (A loop of Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in â€œFridayâ€ playing behind them was an inspired touch.) Post-popcorn, in the large main gallery, the dancers unspooled a web of dental floss from their mouths, a giant catâ€™s cradle that connected them to one another, stretching farther and farther like the string of a kite. The performance was thrilling, and intentionally scented here, too. Mint floss â€” evoking green, like marijuana, Purnell later explained, â€œwas a stylistic choice.â€
Wendy C. Ortiz followed, reading from â€œBrujaâ€ â€” but with a twist. â€œIâ€™m a psychotherapist, so I use the word â€˜experimentâ€™ a lot,â€ she said of the eveningâ€™s theme. â€œIf it fails, itâ€™s still good. I love the word â€˜experiment.â€™â€ Ortiz encouraged audience members to raise their hands if they too had dreamed of the images described in her entries, at which point her daughter presented them with a wisteria pod collected from their backyard. â€œThey feel like velvet,â€ said Ortiz, introducing a tactile element to the event.
Dreams of cats, seals, sharks and even matricide all had multiple takers; befitting of current events, bombs were perhaps the most commonly shared dream. The ICA is white-walled and well-lit, which exposed the audience and made raising our hands feel vulnerable, but there was something touchingly intimate about looking around to discover which strangers had dreamed of tidal waves too.
During her set, stand-up comedian Lizzy Cooperman often stood behind a keyboard, which she used to punctuate her jokes with ominous organ notes â€” the discordance between her dire score and the audienceâ€™s laughter was funny in and of itself, stoking the audience more and more. â€œNothing elicits more rage in me than an invitation for an evening of crafting,â€ she said, slamming her hands down on the keys. â€œI get these emails, like, â€˜Hey lady, come over on Tuesday. Bring scissors and glitter and letâ€™s sit around and die!â€™â€ she yelled over a funereal note, adding, â€œand theyâ€™re not even spelling it right! Theyâ€™re spelling it DIY.â€
Cooperman clearly knew her audience, delivering jokes in a theatrical old crone voice, playing truth or dare with the crowd and giving us the opportunity to laugh at ourselves. â€œI just want to explore the boundaries!â€ she screamed, â€œâ€™Cause Iâ€™m so sex positive!â€ At times, laughter nearly drowned out her keyboard. No drink minimum necessary, Cooperman killed.
â€œAre we not punks? Do we not value energy over Juilliard training?â€ These were the questions posed by Jepson in Pave the Way Skateboardâ€™s queer skateboarding manifesto, the final performance of the night. â€œAs queer skateboarders we believe â€¦ that part of dismantling toxic hierarchies and undermining patriarchy is creating an even playing field for all skill sets and abilities, and learning to value the energy, or â€˜stoke,â€™ a person brings to their skateboarding,â€ read Jepson to snapping and affirmative applause. She looked up, remarking, â€œThis is what it feels like to run a superchurch.â€
The manifesto embodied the ambitions of not only Pave the Way, but of â€œExperiment I.â€ A skate video intercut with Miriam Klein Stahlâ€™s illustrations of writers such as Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde screened in the background, and Stahl invited a friend to read from Sophie Schollâ€™s entry in â€œRad Women Worldwide.â€ Audience members took the stage to pose for Instagrams with Pave the Way decks and poster-board signs bearing encouraging slogans like â€œgo fast, you might fall, but you might notâ€ and â€œbaditude 2 raditude,â€ whether or not they could skate. â€œAll interested parties belong on a skateboard,â€ Jepson said.
That sentiment was echoed by attendee Antonio Rodriguez after the event, who said, â€œevery citizen in this city should be comfortable walking into a museum.â€ He hadnâ€™t been to many traditional readings of late, but was intrigued by this one, explaining, â€œI love when media crashes into each other.â€
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