I knew PDL were doing street performances, and I knew this must be one of the performances as I started interacting with Jason Puccinelli (the P of PDL) and a couple of other people picking pennies up off the sidewalk—but what I didn't expect was the voice that yelled "CUT!" and, even less, the crowd standing behind a chainlink fence overlooking the sidewalk, which burst into laughter at my shock. I was completely embarrassed.
The premise of the experiment—and the premise of the entire show inside the gallery—is interactions between artists and strangers. Or maybe interactions between strangers facilitated by artists, as opposed to, you know, people who are trying to introduce people for a specific purpose. Artists are trying to introduce people to see what happens. (This is an amoral position with potential, I think. It relates to what Meiro Koizumi is doing in his videos: making you aware that societal "goods," such as art and religion—activities associated with healing—may in fact be founded on certain forms of abuse that are so embedded as to seem redemptive. This is a question for another occasion, I guess, but at least it varies from the feel-goodism of so much interactive art.) What happened in this case was that I blushed and walked away. It felt perversely okay. There is something clean about being antagonized.
Guerrera covered the floor in white styrofoam and everyone had to take off their shoes at the door. Styrofoam turns out to make your feet warm (use it at your apartment?). With everybody wandering around shoeless, the room had the feeling of some sort of spiritual studio, a fragile cocoon. Guerrera and his nameless collaborators had painted abstract calligraphies on white papers now set in piles for perusal. Small, delicate sculptures rest directly on the floor, mostly white, and occasionally kicked by a passerby: a model house surrounded by foliage, entirely white; a piece of wood embedded in/emerging from a white slab (solid plaster?); a tangle of white roses with soft stems (wrapped in wool?). You expected to see Guerrera sitting, legs crossed, in a corner, looking very Zen—and in fact you did. (He was just talking to friends, not posing as a holy man, but it was perfect and funny.)
Anne Mathern, the greatest force behind Crawl Space for all these years, wore a long black flowing garment in honor of the maharishishness, and pointed to one of the drawings Guerrera made: "That drawing of splurting mind goo is...amazing."Brink Award at the Henry) had never been before (!). They'd tried, but failed to find parking, Shari explained. This time they said fuck it and parked illegally. John was jumping up and down in a new pair of striped socks. "We're peeing in our pants a little because everything's so hot!" he said. I presumed he was talking about the show, which was, in fact, pretty hot.
Curated by gallery director Jennifer Campbell, the show is not a typical group show in that it is not focused on the interactions between the artists, although that is a subtext. The focus instead is on the interaction between each artist and each viewer or group of participating/viewing strangers. Crawl Space has four discrete spaces, and each of the four artists (PDL, Guerrera, Alana Riley of Montreal, and Ron Tran of Vancouver) has one.
Riley's photographs in the back room capture her being embraced by strangers. She walks up to them in grocery stores or hospitals and asks them if they will climb on top of her. The results are awkward but abbreviated. The fact that these interactions only take a moment rather than, say, the extended weirdness of the videos of Laurel Nakadate, lightens them considerably, maybe too much.
Tran took the corridor/corner of the gallery between the two larger rooms. He may also have created the signs that were on the gallery's front lawn, but I didn't see them very well in the dark. His gallery signs
What felt so welcome about the show was its lack of kumbaya. Even the Zenlike texts of Guerrera's installation were embedded in the context of production and consumption (cash-register receipts laced with poems rather than prices were a nice segment). Tran's video of two strangers eating across from each other for 22 minutes at a fast-food restaurant is equally reassuring and devastating, which seems about right. And it was poignant that all these small connective events marked a sad ending. One text on the wall read, "I'm going to be nobody someday," as if the wall were talking.
Stranger Circumstances is up Fridays to Sundays through November 29.