Autobiography and a healthy skepticism of organized institutions are two ingredients found in performance art going as far back as the beginning of the 20th century. In Paris circa 1909, the Italy-based Futurists presented plays, manifestos and confrontational performances in a city that, much like Houston, was enjoying a reputation for innovation and cultural capital. Houston similarly has such a long rich tradition of performance art which I personally find fascinating, as so much history of the form is focused on Paris and New York City.
The Houston-based collective Continuum carries on the tradition with iPerform, an exhibition and series of participatory events opening Friday at Spacetaker’s Artist Resource Center Gallery. Photos, video and live performances requiring audience participation, including guided visualization, ritualistic sweeping, and confessing sins in return for alcoholic beverages, are included in this ambitious survey of Continuum’s collective works.
The group’s participating members, some of whom may be familiar to Houston art lovers, include Meghan Carey, Bryce Galbraith, Koomah, Jonatan Lopez, Raindawg, Hilary Scullane, Christine Cook, Emily Sloan, Julia Wallace, and Sway Youngston. Continuum’s blog is a lively and detailed source for information about the group’s activities, with plenty of photos and videos that, of course, only serve to document an art form that, like opera or theater, is best experienced live and sometimes quite literally in the flesh.
Not all religions are horrible just like not all politicians are liars. Through performance art you can freely express your opinion on many issues of debate, condemn certain practices and condone others, just like a preachers and politicians do.
I asked Continuum members Jonatan Lopez and Julia Wallace about the institutionalized and collective belief systems that inform much of their work. In this Q&A, we barely touch on the scope of the work this relatively new group, formed in the spring of 2011, has managed to create in its relatively short existence. Come on out Friday, or attend one of their free performance art workshops, and experience the hyrda-like variety of perspectives that make up Continuum.
CultureMap: Without religious iconography and practice, wouldn’t you be stuck for material for your work?
Julia Wallace: Ha. No. We have explored many different subjects and used many different materials in the few months that we have been a group and as individuals. But, we are definitely exploring religion and spirituality now. I think we are sincerely searching for transcendence at the same time as making a few constructive criticisms about our rocky religious backgrounds. But there are plenty of pieces that we have done and will do that do not use religious iconography and practice.
CM: Isn’t Continuum’s mission similar that of organized religious groups or a cult? If yes or no, what are the differences?
JW: We are similar to some religions in that we have the desire to help each other and we are currently seeking a kind of catharsis or transcendence through our work. We are similar to cults because we are a group of people that do some cool stuff together that lots of other people don't understand and may look a bit creepy sometimes.
But we don't hold all the answers, we don't think we have the right answer for everyone; we don't use manipulative hypnotic techniques, encourage mass suicide, or encourage separation from loved ones or relocation to rural areas. There are quite a lot of differences. We most certainly aren't very organized.
Jonatan Lopez: Without the spectrum of religion to draw inspiration from it would not be the end of the world. Of course, we would choose to address other topics and through performance art, you can never run out of things to say, you are always learning to address different issues and not be stuck on the same theme.
We often choose to portray ourselves as a religion in order to make fun of it, yet at times we romanticize its self-destructive nature. It seems that we as a society always find a way to afflict our own selves, and perhaps that's ok. After all, without pain there would be no pleasure, without darkness there would be no light, there has to be a balance. And not all religions are horrible just like not all politicians are liars. Through performance art you can freely express your opinion on many issues of debate, condemn certain practices and condone others, just like a preachers and politicians do.
Some could say that we are very similar to a religious group specially since we experiment with ritualistic practices such as invocations to the rain, cleansings, hypnosis and trance based rituals as an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial species. By doing so, we seek to improve our lives by discovering what we are capable of. When we express our views on debatable issues unrestrictedly we are being exactly who we want to be, voices to be heard, new ideas to be considered.
Yes, we will search for answers to existential questions and attempt to find a common ground in the way we make sense of our world just like other religions do, but by converting into our cult, I mean, our performance collective, you will be as free as a bird. You can create your own set of morals, curse your own God and live your own truth.
However, when we all arrive at the final moment, you will be forced to drink poisoned Kool-Aid with us in order to reach the Promised Land. There, we will rejoice in an eternal orgy. Unbreakable, like a ritual. (Editor’s note: At Spacetaker performance, do NOT drink anything containing red dye No. 2)
We are similar to some religions in that we have the desire to help each other and we are currently seeking a kind of catharsis or transcendence through our work. We are similar to cults because we are a group of people that do some cool stuff together that lots of other people don't understand and may look a bit creepy sometimes.
CM: You say in your press release that Continuum’s performance workshops “will provide opportunities for the community to learn how to create their own performances.” Can you unpack that statement for me? How exactly do you teach someone to make a piece of performance art?
JW: We always start with some meditation to get into a less distracted state of mind, to achieve a sense of presence. Then we will be doing group exercises that set up a construct for people to perform within, so people can practice performing without having to think too hard about it. For example, everyone may be asked to sing their phone number however they choose. Then a beautiful number song will be created and everyone will get a chance to do some easy improvisational performing!
Continuum is in the process of creating these educational performance exercises, which function as art pieces themselves. We'll begin with small group collaborative performances, where people will come up with performances and perform them together. This is paired with some easy tips on how to come up with material. It’s a great first step for those who are nervous about doing something all alone.
We are encouraging people to come to all of the workshops, instead of just one or two. And the closing event will feature work created throughout the exhibition, so all participants will be featured in the show.
CM: I understand that you will lead a ‘Group Meditation’ with visualizations and affirmations created especially for the audience in attendance. Your press release says: “This preparation for openness and acceptance is a Continuum ritual and tradition.” Can you expand on this a little bit?
JW: I find that letting go of all of the stress and worries of the day and taking a few moments to open myself up to experience something with a fresh and present state of mind really enhances just about anything. For willing participants at the opening, I would love to prepare them to experience the show in this heightened state of awareness so that they can be open to any meaning the show may have for them. We begin most Continuum meetings and events this way and it has really enhanced our experiences together.
Plus, we want everyone to be open to relinquishing all personal assets to Continuum; it is really the most freeing performance possible. If you don't, you can't go to performance art heaven.