Out, out, battery operated candle! Performance artist René Medrano
A crumbling homespun knight performs his final meal on his way to dusty death. Flickering, flameless plastic candles are picked up in succession from their places around a grubby picnic of enemas, seltzer, pills, a white rose, flour, an onion, on silver trays on a filthy sheet. Each candle is raised to the lips of the performer and, blow, click, with a finger he flips the switch off.
One of my favorite gestures from a very full day of performance art at Blowout DC Performance Art Festival was this quiet gesture near the end of René Medrano’s piece: blowing out a battery operated candle. In performance, as the artist deals and works with their real body in real time, individual gestures acquire meaning far beyond their everyday implications. Performance considers the signification of actions, in a way that is much more direct and less mediated than a representation of even the same action through photography, video, painting, whatever. “I can deliver the detailed aspects of a concept in a performance by introducing the nuance of a color or movement,” René writes in a statement. What does it mean to blow out an electric, flameless candle?
René is a student at the Corcoran, and a member of the collective Boys Be Good. The collective has a show running currently at Arts@1830, Debitum Naturae (more about that here) and today they are hosting a performance night to launch their zine, the proceeds of which will benefit It Gets Better. René will be performing, as well as Jason Tucker, Andrew Fogle, Pussy Noir, and guest performer Eleanor Barba. Eleanor also performed at Blowout, and Boys Be Good did February Soapbox.
Performance seems to be near the core of BBG, but not singularly central. It is just one aspect of the multi-form “movements” which consist of an exhibition, a zine, and events like this performance night. I asked René about the role of performance within the collective. “Performance for BBG is representative of range. We have an opportunity here to express beyond the gallery walls and produce an equivalent impact through performance and we start to create new examples of what queer art can be or rather how our queer identity conceives itself through the medium of performance.”
The piece that René performed at Blowout was Suicide Hummel’s Last Supper at the Round Table. He wore a carefully constructed and intentionally deteriorating knight’s costume that fell somewhere near a glam metal stage costume and Tank Girl, but with a sweet floral shirt tucked into pale yellow cut-offs. He began with standing on two ice blocks spotted with frozen flowers, and moved to his knees to begin his meal. His body moved in waves, slow, erotic. His movement was rhythmic, he had ear buds connected to a hidden source, was he listening to something? To the audience the piece was nearly silent, everyone was very still. He tossed a black powder from a silver container in the air and on his face, too dark to be ashes but referencing that. Head thrown back he squeezed the contents of the enema bottle into his wide open mouth. He bit into an onion, nodding at Marina Abramović. The piece was so dense, I could unpack each element, symbol, and gesture forever. The performance was just about twelve minutes long, but complexly loaded. After his supper, he stood back up on the ice blocks, tugging up on a black noose around his neck. In this heavy layering of symbolism, meaning wasn’t lost but amplified, the very fact that there were so many elements at play was significant in the overall portrayal of tragic excess. It referenced Christ and the Last Supper, knights of the round table, depression and suicide, medication, ritual, sexuality. What does it mean to squirt an enema in your mouth? What does it mean to hang yourself by pulling on your own noose?
“Motivated by dark intentions and a signature cynicism, the work transcends its very personal origin and hopes to inspire interpersonal thought through its burlesque guise.” Here is a link to video of the piece, which does fall pretty short of the impact of the piece in experience. Sometimes video documentation does a performance justice, and sometimes a piece even improves in its video life. The question of documenting performance does not have a simple answer. The costume that René wore for his Soapbox performance in March, Suldoga, is on display at Arts@1830, and I think it exists as a much more accurate representation of his performance than the video of that piece.
René’s performance is driven strongly by meticulously constructed costumes. Earlier in the day of his Blowout performance, René performed a totally different piece at the Corcoran in a show representing work from David Page’s class Wear, Strut, Occupy. “I choose to be flamboyant as a way of making the works' austere origin charming but also as a way of entertaining through that irony. I figure, my aesthetic serves to attract, the actions and objects in context serve to give my concept life.”
The show at Arts@1830 is the third “movement” of Boys Be Good. My first encounter with them was at their second show at Morton Fine Arts in December. Solid show, with an unfortunate weekend-long run. I was disappointed to miss the performances. For me, the most stand-out piece was René’s Defrocked, a tall hanging velvet sculpture, in sumptuously saturate cool red. It hung in a corner off the ground, eerily and comically ghost-like. The audience was invited to reach into the top, about head height, to pull out whatever was in there, a gift. This minimal action of actively participating with the piece and literally reaching into ‘the unknown’ to uncover the secret of the work, and what you pulled out was a cartoon-like plush penis. It was really so funny, and powerfully conflated masculine and feminine elements. The piece borrowed from elemental forms of minimalism, working in gaudy velvet, and ended in a sweet joke.
(First posted on dcperformanceart.tumblr.com, 6/19/2012.)
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