Thursday, December 6, 2012

ANOTHER OP'NIN' | Curating America: How to manifest a cultural re-imaging of the U.S. for a world art event

NEW YORK CITY |  Tonight is the opening reception for a unique art-installation project...and a uniquely American one.

For me, this installation has been the culmination of five years of sustained work: an invigorating process of manifesting a cultural re-imaging of American theater for a world audience. Today we get to share the work to other Americans.

Our installation directly tackles with how U.S. artists responded to presidential transition in the White House (between 2007 and 2011) and the awful economic recession, from which we are still struggling to emerge. We hope to bridge the abyss between the white box (museums, galleries) and the black box (traditional theater spaces). We alert Americans of the profound significance of international cultural exchange to force the world to re-examine its hard-to-budge assumptions of what it means to be an American.

We call that this installation FROM THE EDGE: PERFORMANCE DESIGN IN THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA. Click here to read my curatorial essay.

Vibrating within a new discipline that is up for grabs, From the Edge proposes one approach toward an American version of performance design. Future curatorial teams will really have to find the courage to contend with the challenge of displaying the U.S. anew — of re-envisioning U.S. design creativity within a competitive international design environment. --rg



Bold, daring works from a United States national exposition of theatrical designs assembled for the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space will be exhibited in December at La MaMa La Galleria in New York City.  An opening reception is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, December 6, 2012, with many of the featured designers, theater artists and curators in attendance.

FROM THE EDGE: PERFORMANCE DESIGN IN THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA is a one-of-a-kind installation of photographs and work processes from 37 politically compelling productions from across the country.  Commissioned by USITT with additional support from Carnegie Mellon University and in association with LaMaMa E.T.C. and my media project theaterofOneWorld.org, From the Edge represented the United States at last year's Prague Quadrennial, the world celebration of performance design and theatre architecture held every four years in Prague since 1967.  This showing in New York introduces this exhibit to a new audience.

Tennessee Williams's THE DAY ON WHICH A MAN DIES

This exhibition is both a formal experiment and an expensive public commission. Because the U.S. plays such a dominant role in cultural globalization, we were intent on curating and creating a theatrical installation that would force the world to re-examine and revise its hard-to-budge assumption of the American theater. We have gathered works that are uniquely American yet largely new to the world stage. We also identified how performance artists and theatre companies grappled with sociopolitical issues that consume Americans today including war, ecology, political polarities, race, gender, and religion.

From the Edge spotlights the country's boldest performance works and edgiest design processes from performance-makers and young ensembles.  These innovative productions were selected from 360 submissions by artistic director Susan Tsu and curators Chris Barecca, Linda Cho, Don Tindall, and Allen Hahn.  I acted as curatorial adviser during the selection process.

Giant cock from THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY
From the Edge richly exemplifies the visceral blurring of performance and theater.  Rock musicals, live-art events, irreverent performance art, devised theater, digital theater, immersive environments, site-determined works and genre-defying works have stretched traditional definitions and pushed the limits of performance design as imagined in the U.S.  The period in consideration, 2007 to 2011, was a deeply politicized environment for U.S. artists.  They responded in complex ways to societal and political concerns. 'From the Edge' spotlights how U.S. theatremakers wrestled with core American values during the intense unraveling of the Aught Decade — a period that coincided with a painful economic recession and a dramatic presidential transition in the White House that brought about the rise of an African-American as our country’s 44th president.

Eugene O'Neill's DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS from Goodman Theatre of Chicago
Among the featured works are Tony-award winning designer Kevin Adams’ ground-breaking lighting and Chrstine Jones's arresting scenery for the Broadway show American Idiot, Paul Chan’s Waiting for Godot set in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, and scenes from Hell House, a New York take on the Evangelical Christian “haunted houses” that aim to scare teens with depictions of pregnant cheerleaders and gay men dying of AIDS.  Also on view are director/designer Nancy Keystone’s fantasia on rocket history Apollo and her arresting production of Suzan-Lori Parks's The America Play, Rob Roth’s Screen Test, Neil Patel's set for This Beautiful City by The Civilians, Brian Sidney Bembridge’s wrestling stage for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, and Basil Twist’s Arias with a Twist.
Joey Arias in ARIAS WITH A TWIST (Design by Basil Twist)

Special recognition is given to companies considered to be founders of innovative and political theatre.  Tribute is also given to American theater greats August Wilson and Ellen Stewart.

Originally displayed in an environmental design of a garage designed by William Bloodgood, the U.S. pavilion reflected the workspace of seminal performance groups such as the Wooster Group and La MaMa E.T.C.  The outer walls were defaced with graffiti, while the interior was furnished with sawhorses and makeshift furniture, and splashed with paint in the frenzy of creativity.  Jutting out on the roof's edge was a fanged dinosaur-type monster engorging the figure of Uncle Sam, a playful inflatable structure by performance artist Pat Oleszko entitled WarUSaurus.  A model will represent the exhibit structure.

Pat Oleszko's BETTY BOOP ON THE BEACH
The United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) has organized and sponsored the American participation in the PQ since the USA began participating in 1975. "From the Edge" is the 10th exhibit representing America in this singular world event dedicated to design for performance.

Founded in 1984, La MaMa La Galleria is a nonprofit gallery committed to nurturing artistic experimentation.  As an extension of the internationally acclaimed La Mama E.T.C., La Galleria encourages an active dialogue between the visual arts, new media, performance, curatorial, literary and educational projects.

The La Galleria exhibit, located at 6 East 1st Street, between Bowery and Second Avenue, will be on display Wednesday through Sunday between 1 and 7:30 p.m. from December 6 to December 16, 2012.

Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa E.T.C.

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