Weird is my normal. I blame it on early exposure to the works of Samuel Beckett or the fact that I am left-handed. We don't do linear so well. I like my art mashed up, with disciplines bleeding into each other.
I want to be seriously confused when it's over. So that's why I am writing this from Austin, where I am crashing through some major brain ache fun at the Fusebox Festival.
SXSW draws the tune hungry while Fusebox brings in a different kind of art adventurer. A few weeks back, I sat down with Ron Berry, Fusebox's founder and chief curator. Quiet and unassuming, Berry now sits at the top of a festival gaining in national stature. More and more artistic directors, festival curators, and fellow art nuts are making the spring pilgrimage to the city that hopes to "keep itself weird" to check out the outstanding lineup for the 10-day extravaganza.
Berry came to his current position from being an actor and director. He never set out to be an impresario of cutting edge art. Like me, Berry struggled with straight up theater.
"I am looking for a conversation between forms," Berry says. "I know it when I see it. It's blurry in form. Really, I like some seriously weird shit."
I could talk for hours with this guy, discussing all the bizarre things we have seen over the years. He's that fun.
Berry's scope is global, national and local. He mixes internationally known artists with local Austin folk, so a conversation develops between artists through the festival. "Austin is known for its music scene," Berry says. "But there's also a thriving performing arts community here that is less known."
Art parties take place at the United States Art Authority to better facilitate a dialogue. He's been smart to forge partnerships with the Austin Museum of Art, Arthouse, Testperformancetest, and UT's Texas Performing Arts.
The volcano disrupts some energy
Austin choreographer Allison Orr of Forklift Danceworks opened the festival with T Is For: Two Hundred Two-Steppers on the Steps of the Texas Capitol. Orr performed in Houston a while back with her oh-so-enchanting dance with blind people and their seeing-eye dogs. Charming doesn't begin to describe her work. Kaiji Moriyama's "The Velvet Suite" also headlined the opening festivities.
There's a growing energy between Fusebox and Houston. Sixto Wagan, co-director of DiverseWorks keeps on top of Fusebox events as does Berry with DiverseWorks. If it weren't for that pesky volcano, Houston would have been able to share in the delight of Action Hero's A Western.
"DiverseWorks partnered with Fusebox to bring in Action Hero but that volcano got in the way of their plane flight," Wagan says. "We are growing a strong relationship with Fusebox and expect more collaborations next year."
Karen Farber of the University of Houston's Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts is here checking out Big Dance Theater (BDT), one of the big anchors of the festival. BDT blew the Mitchell Center roof off with their smashing piece The Other Here just a few years back. They are the rock stars of the mixmaster arts world and the reason I got in the car.
"Fusebox has become an important festival in the nation, and to think that it's here in Texas," Farber says. "Of course, I am a big BDT fan."
Named as one of the top performances of the year by The New York Times, the Bessie Award-winning troupe performed Comme Toujours Here I Stand, a re-invention of Agnes Varda's classic new wave film Cleo from 5 to 7. "We had to grapple with the difference between film and live theater," Paul Lazar, BDT's co-artistic director says. "We created an impossible problem to resolve in the piece."
The amazing thing is that they did it, although don't expect me to tell you how.
I also checked out Marina Zurkow's Slurb at Women & Their Work, which has a long history of showcasing Houston artists. Think slum meets suburb in Zurkow's vivid video of a post-apocalyptic world where only the jelly fish survive. It's as beautiful as it is creepy, with haunting Katrina references.
For epic levels of strangeness Daniel Barrow's Winnipeg Babysitter documents the folk heroes of public access television from the 1980s, including the cult heroes of Pollock & Pollock Gossip Show.
There's also some Houston artists on board. Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen, the video artists I wrote about in Exploring Something New, were a big hit with Blender Love. Guerrilla artist Magda Sayeg of Knitta, Please is here yarnbombing the 2nd Street District.
Under Berry's hand, weird doesn't necessarily mean inaccessible. Entertainment is in the picture big time. Berry hopes to further the festival's Houston ties. Don't you love it when weird cities hold hands?
There's still three days left to bomb down 290 for some grade-A fusing.