Defibrillator Jolts Life Back into Chicago's Art Scene


Non Grata

Joseph Ravens brings Berlin to Chicago for its inaugural opening of Defibrillator, a new performance art gallery in Wicker Park, Chicago. The exhibition was entitled Spark referring to the heart coming to life and the event was as momentous as the title. 3 Card Molly, Megan Duguid, Industry of the Ordinary, Adam Rose and Non Grata (from Estonia) were all on the bill.


3 Card Molly

3 Card Molly created a site specific performance for the double window spaces, which Ravens refers to as the Electrodes of Defibrillator. They chose the colours red and black for each space, sprinkling the floor with magazine ads and building wings that reached up the twelve-foot high ceiling. Adorned with beaks and wings Greiner and Winfield jut and muse with the viewers as they enter... making us aware that we are about to enter the unknown world of performance art - are you ready? In "Flutter and Flap" Greiner is particularly skilful at making you uncomfortable, teasing and challenging you through her movements and non-verbal communication. This was just the entrance of what was to come...


Megan Duguid captures the audience

"We are looking at you, looking at us, watching you, seeing us" could have been the title for Meg Duguid's work "Act of Documentation." Artaud discusses the theatrical wall being broken down in performance art:

"A direct communication is re-established between the spectator and the spectacle... from the fact that the spectator, placed in the middle of the action, is engulfed and physically affected by it." (by Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, 1938)

It was that kind of night! The audience became the subject manner as two female documenters dressed in Chaplin style clothing wove their way around the square placed benches taking pictures of us, the audience. Meg Duguid was up the ladder in transgendered costume: bowler hat, red cravat, moustache and red heels documenting the documenters. The photographers perched insistently on laps, gradually turning the camera in on themselves. We have become a culture obsessed with documentation; nights of fun can be had with a camera. Yet it is a tool of control, each person in London U.K. is caught on a camera 300 times a day. We are constantly uploading images onto Facebook and are being monitored who we meet, who our friends are and what we think. Conceptually this piece fitted well with the curatorial line up of the night engaging the audience in a conversation about the intersection between performer and spectator.


Industry of the Ordinary continue their work as others perform

Benches were shuffled to the side, setting the stage for a transitory moment but wait... as if by magic one noticed the floor was sprinkled with clumps of fur. The Industry of the Ordinary had been dropping their seeds all night in a durational performance piece entitled "Epilation." They moved fluidly throughout the space and out into the street and back again. The systematic chopping of fur resembled ribs, cutting the mink coat to the bare bone. Two men wearing lab coats chopping away at glamour... littering the ground we walk on. Highly symbolic of the hunting/ glamour/ consumer industry and very poignant - spreading the devastation across the floor. "Epilation" added to the diverse performances of the evening creating a carpet that resonated beyond the drama of the evening.

The Industry of the Ordinary was poetic and created a brilliant set for a stunning dance piece by Adam Rose entitled "Auto Body." He captivated the audience into silence as he twisted and contorted through the clumps of fur and dim floor lighting. Rose dressed in drag, in a nineteen-fifties red dress with a bow, a black wig and red lipstick smeared across his face.


Adam Rose as "Auto Body"

His movements pulsated like electronic shots that pierced the crowd's eyes. As he contorted to the electronic hums, enacting out a rape scene, or reiterating a piece of machinery being turned on and off, "Auto Body" enthralled the audience. The power and control with which Rose moved each part of his body was magnetic. The performance ended with him ripping down his dress to reveal a purple bra.



Audience member joins Non Grata

Without a moment of haste we were then confronted by Non Grata. Mega phone in hand Anonymous Boh starts screaming at us about the Defibrillator coming to life. Ladders are re-installed, an audience member is covered in an orange mask and glove, he is told to point out people in the crowd. As he points at people the audience member is vacuumed down with a black tube exposing bare bellies becoming part of the spectacle.



Non Grata set a religious icon on fire

A pedestal with the Virgin Mary is set alight and the chaos begins. A trash bin full of snow is brought in by two guys wearing blown up balloons for ears covered with stockings, wings protruding off their shoulders and their eyes painted out in black - is one in a Stanley Kubrick film? One climbs up the ladder while the other passes the lid packed with snow (from this point on, although I was in the front row of the audience, I was so transported that the sequence of events become blurred). Snowballs hurl at us from the guy up the ladder and then audience members start to retaliate. Meanwhile, a woman comes out in similar costume shooting a gun with firecrackers at the audience. Non Grata then hijack another member of the audience to climb up the ladder wearing a brain on his head, holding an audio recorder. We're then led into a chant - "Save the Brain." I needed my brain saving after this one... it was incredible. I haven't seen such controlled artistic chaos since the eighties and it was wondrous! It was like being in a Matthew Barney film but live. Anonymous Boh shouts at the crowd: "You are all Art." For that night, in that moment Non Grata transported us to a warzone of snowballs, burning religion, all in a mask of smoke to Save the Brain! The definitions between audience and spectator became blurred, it was a night to be remembered.

Performance art has the capacity to take you out of yourself, question and experience new and unfamiliar realities. The opening of Defibrillator curated by Joseph Ravens has put the Spark back into Chicago's Art Scene with more exciting things to this space.



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