Testing the limits of active art

As the music played, a life-size white rabbit jumped around the dance floor. The DJ, wearing a bodysuit made out of a garbage bag, a diaper and a bunny mask, rambled on over the microphone about jail, his sick grandmother and the current political situation, occasionally yelling, “Let’s dance!”

Meanwhile, a girl sat in the corner, blowing up hundreds of yellow and blue balloons while the audience reflected on the nude woman who had just urinated on the floor. Vanna White and George Washington continued to mingle as a man offered to construct a new father for me and asked to see what was inside my pockets. No, these events were not part of a strange dream – they were all part of Performance Lab 1.5.

“Performance Lab 1.5 is an eclectic event exhibiting performance art, electronic music, film/video, installations and many other interdisciplinary works by USF’s College of Visual and Performing Arts graduate and undergraduate students,” according to the advertisement.

The event was organized by Daniel Moore, a graduate student in the art department, as a way “to try to get more interdisciplinary artworks and artists in the same space.”

“I want to create a space where people can enjoy visual imagery and be entertained, as well as participate and contribute artistically,” said Moore.

Performance Lab 1.5 was a one-night event that occurred Wednesday in the Science Works Theatre at the Museum of Science and Industry. The event was actually the second of its kind – the first Performance Lab occurred earlier this year in May. The event has developed a loyal following due in part because of its active approach toward art, which is so often dominated by passive discussions instead of interaction.

The night’s activities included 13 events, both performances and videos, as well as ongoing performances, artwork/sculpture/installation and interactive areas.

One performance that received the undivided attention of the audience was that of Becky Flanders – an artist who is interested in active female urination. Although women traditionally sit down on a toilet to urinate, historical documentation exists that this was not always the case. Herodotus, known as the “Father of History,” recorded stories of Egyptian women standing to urinate – an act now associated only with men. Considering that women are capable of urinating while standing, Flanders wonders why visual images of such behavior do not exist.

In response to the lack of images of active female urination, Flanders photographs herself urinating while standing – proving that women are capable of doing so. However, some level of disbelief is associated with the photographs, so the artist decided to create a performance piece to prove that she can in fact urinate while standing. Dressed in a nude-colored coat and a skin-tone face mask, Flanders began her performance by undressing in front of the captive audience. Wearing only her mask, the artist stood still for several minutes, attempting to urinate into a silver chalice positioned one foot in front of her. Breaking the intensity of the situation with graceful gestures and movements, Flanders then repositioned herself and began to urinate, aiming directly into the chalice.

While the first reaction of many to Flanders’ performance might be that it is just yet another performance based on shock value, the piece is based on much more. According to Flanders, urinating while standing is about “reclaiming territory.” Flanders believes that the position one takes while urinating, whether sitting or standing, is about the “social construction of gender.” Gender “affects not only the intangible things, but also the capabilities of our bodies,” said Flanders.

The artist’s decision to perform while nude and wearing a mask represents “stripping off layers of socialization.” The nudity also adds a somewhat sexual element to an act that is often not sexy.

“Women’s bodily functions are often seen as taboo and unsexy,” said Flanders.

For those who think urination should remain a private act, there were many other performances at Performance Lab 1.5 that are worth mentioning. Raul Romero performed an ongoing performance piece called “I Movie.” In a corner of the room, Romero set up a collection of his vintage belongings, including a chair, table, rug, 8 mm film projector and record player. Home movies made by Romero’s grandfather were projected onto the inside lid of the record player while the song “I’ll Get Mine Bye and Bye” by Buddy Jones played. The home movies reflected the artist’s grandfather’s life, including trips to Coney Island, Puerto Rico, Florida and New York. Romero alternated between watching the movies and struggling to operate the vintage technology. The struggle was intentional, bringing attention to the contrast between modern and older technology, as well as the overall theme of frustration.

While Romero’s performance continued, other artists performed their ongoing pieces as well. “Infinite Inflation,” a piece by Yvonne Kline, involved Kline sitting in another corner of the room, blowing up balloons by mouth consecutively throughout the night. Balloons, first yellow and then blue, were pulled from a bag sitting in her lap. Whenever anyone would inquire what Kline was doing, she would respond by letting air out of the balloon that she was blowing up at the moment. By the end of the night, literally hundreds of balloons engulfed her.

Another highlight included Jim Reiman’s “Hands & Pockets Documentation,” which involved Reiman photographing the contents of everyone’s pockets spread out onto a table covered in a black cloth. The hands of the person being photographed were placed on top of their personal belongings.

“It’s funny because you see how complicated some people’s lives are,” said Reiman.

“WWW III,” a video by Shawn Cheatham, documented a woman who feared radioactive particles and wished for the death of Fidel Castro, whom she described as “an ugly cigar-smoking pig in the fatigues.” The woman’s mental illness was revealed through the list of medications she has taken throughout her life, as well as the odd fixations of her discussions. The film interweaves clips of the subject with “stolen clips from other films,” including Mole Men, Nosferatu and Poltergeist. The atom bomb and the link between physical degeneration and artistic perversion, among other topics, were explored. The film was broken into different parts, similar in style to If, the 1968 cult film directed by Lindsay Anderson. The climax of the film was the discovery that the mentally ill woman is Cheatham’s own mother.

For those who missed the festivities, another Performance Lab is scheduled for the spring.