by Bethany Younge and Lia Kohl
We went to the HCL Spring open house on Saturday, a bi-annual party/performance/fundraiser that highlights the work of their Sponsored Artist program. It’s a fun way to meet people from different artistic communities and see excerpts of what a few of the artists are working on. We had a conversation about the event afterward:
Bethany: What were some of your expectations going into the show?
Lia: I had been to the open house last year (I actually performed with Victoria Bradford, a piece that we were working on with Jess Cornish). It was on three floors, and a little bit more overwhelming, also more of a party atmosphere. Perhaps because it was Halloween, there were wild costumes and just generally more wildness. I guess I was expecting something similar. I was excited about seeing some of these artists this time.
B: I expected a similar situation as with the Dal Niente’s party, where there were sets presented, and food and beverages served in between sets. People listened carefully, and then felt free to socialize after performances. HCL’s party had a pretty different vibe, though; the space was much larger and was an echo chamber (which was at times a good thing and at others a not-so-good thing).
L: I thought it was kind of nice that they set it up in stations, because it required people to move around the room. The Dilletantes had a station, food was at a station, lots of movement. I felt like I talked to more people because of the set-up. The guy selling a pyramid scheme about drawing skills–not sure who he was…The food was good!
B: The first thing after eating
B: …was to visit the video installations
L: In the other room?
B: No, within the main space where performances were projected. I have to admit I did not give them my full attention, but I can say they did successfully create an atmosphere of intrigue and excitement for the performances to come.
L: I noticed that there was one more abstract installation, with close-ups of burning things and colors (Nicole Mauser’s The Light drips Down), and then a video of a dance piece (Nadia Ousenko with Dropshift Dance). The variety was nice, though it was odd to have recorded performance and live performance going on in the same vantage point.
B: I actually liked that they were happening at the same time. If they were paused/turned off for the live performances, it would sort of disrupt the free-going/party atmosphere.
L: That brings me to a frustration that I had: it was hard to tell if we should party or be attentive audience. Both aren’t really possible.
B: I couldn’t tell if people were there to appreciate art or to feel like they were art appreciators. I think there’s a big difference. Perhaps the issue, though, lies within the curation. Obviously the more visceral performances fared far better than those involving narrative or focused listening.
L: Yes definitely. The first piece (Pablo Chin’s flute piece for Dalia Chin), was actually a piece that I’ve seen and heard before, and I found it very moving in another context. In this one, it was hard to hear Dalia and almost impossible to see the video. I felt like she was probably frustrated as well, that people didn’t seem to be listening. That happened with a lot of the performances.
B: I do know that HCL did inform the artists of the setting in advance and warned them to take the party-atmosphere into consideration before a signing up to perform. Perhaps HCL should have some sort of application process to really ensure that the performances are appropriate for the setting. OR change the setting altogether. Either way, it wasn’t working.
L: Yes, I think some combination of the two–artists being more aware of the setting, and HCL being more careful in their curatorial efforts–would help.
Mitsu Salmon’s piece was very effective in that context because she involved the audience–she passed around a bottle of whiskey and a sheet of paper for audience members to read from. It surprised people and made them laugh–very refreshing.
Interestingly enough it seemed like people were more quiet and attentive for certain of the dance pieces: The Humans did a wild piece with some very present narration, and Kristina Isabelle Dance Company’s virtuosic use of stilts was hard for people to ignore.
There was a nice quiet moment in the corner for Elise Cowin’s lovely Up to the Elbows.
B: It’s very hard to talk about the music/dance/video/etc. I couldn’t even be critical of the actual pieces, simply because I couldn’t properly hear or experience them. So is this show, then, really about art? I do think the party-art atmosphere COULD be sooooo promising, though having a very clear structure in place from the onset is crucial. Dal Niente’s party, for example, had very clear sets in place, where it was obvious when it was and was not appropriate for the audience to “party.”
L: I think there’s also something about having so many disciplines in one place. Like, dancers aren’t used to having to listen in order to experience a work of art at all. And maybe we, as musicians, weren’t being aware of their performances. There could be something really productive about learning how to experience each other’s art.
Did you experience what the Dilletantes were doing?
B: Not much. I had to drop a phone in front of someone and convince them it was their fault. It was fun and cute. Good for the setting.
L: Did the person fall for it?
B: I’m a bad actress.
L: Of course.
B: What was your experience with the Dilletantes?
L: I had to close my eyes and imagine my inner criminal self. I became a spy (domestic, obviously).
L: Overall I had fun–it was just frustrating not to be able to really engage with the art as art and not commodity or entertainment. An interesting question for many of us to ponder as we think about the best way to hold fundraising events or show our work in unconventional settings.