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Spark!: The Things You Can Learn Stepping onto the Other Side of Art

Meg Duguid and Catie Olson at Defibrillator during set up. December 17, 2010. (Photo Credit: Tempestt Hazel)

If I could recommend one thing for all the non-artists on the other side of the art spectrum, it would be to at some point in your life try to create or participate in the art-making process. At least once. It can completely change how you look at work, as it did for me when I participated in Meg Duguid’s performance Ahem at Spark! on December 17, 2010 at Defibrillator. With our walk-on cameos, Catie Olson and I found ourselves alongside groups such as Industry of the Ordinary, Non Grata, 3 Card Molly and more. The respect I have for performance artists and those who confront head-on the vulnerabilities that we often hide in the far corners of ourselves was definitely strengthened.

Meg Duguid’s work often explores the limits and capabilities of documentation through technology and performance. For instance, during Mischief Night at Hyde Park Art Center Duguid videotaped herself on a ladder dropping 30 pumpkins, one at a time, and shooting each fall from thirty different plotted spots around her. The performance itself was very entertaining–especially to the people who witnessed it. She laughed as she recalled the “Ooohs!”, “Ahhhs!” and “Awws!” sung by the spectators as each drop happened. (The “Awws” came when the miniature pumpkins were dropped but failed to splatter like they were supposed to.) Just as interesting as the process is the result–an edited video that Duguid made, each angle spliced together in an attempt to show a 360 degree shot of the performance.

Meg Duguid, Tempestt Hazel & Catie Olson just before the Ahem Performance. December 17, 2011. (Photo Credit: Tempestt Hazel)

Ahem tested similar grounds.  Situated around a tall ladder were a dozen white benches, three to each side, squaring off a section of the space.  The audience was instructed to sit, shoulder to shoulder, on the benches.  At the start of this short performance, Meg, Catie and I emerged from the back of the space wearing hand-painted ties, paper mâché hats, fauxstaches and high heels.  Meg climbed to the top of the ladder, and with that cue Catie and I moved through the seated crowd, sitting directly on each person’s lap and quietly saying “Excuse me, pardon me”.  As we did that we were attempting to photograph one another through the crowd, with the ladder usually obstructing our view.  As we tried to find each other, both being pretty short girls easily lost in a crowd, Meg towered over all of us taking pictures with her own ‘camera’.

A few things I quickly learned:  When you invade people’s personal space without permission and put yourself in vulnerable situations, people will take advantage of the circumstances.  (I even got tickled, causing me to burst out into laughter during a mostly silent performance) Moving from lap to lap requires pretty strong legs and will work up a sweat. Never wear a sticky fake moustache when you’re doing to do hard work–they fall off easily.  I get why it’s sometimes hard for my friends to find me in crowded places–I’m short, even when I’m sitting. Avoid shooting in the raw in these types of situations–you’ll only end up with HUGE photos and a full memory card very quickly.

Meg Duguid climbs the ladder as the audience looks on and I attempt to find Catie during Ahem at Defibrillator. December 17, 2010. (Photo Credit: Tempestt Hazel)

Finally, and my favorite of them all, is that when someone you know touches you, even when you don’t know it’s them, you can feel their energy.  When I sat on artist D. Denenge Akpem, who I didn’t realize was there until later, she placed her hand on my back and somehow in the middle of the madness I felt this sense of calm.  For all who know Denenge, you know what calm I’m talking about.

What I really take away from the recent work that Meg Duguid has done are thoughts about how it relates to my own interests.  In retrospect it reminds me of why I tend to avoid opening receptions and events like them.  The people are usually in the way, making it impossible to appreciate or even see the work that is the reason for the gathering.

It also makes me think of my own issues with arts documentation.   As Sixty Inches From Center attempts to find new ways to capture and re-present the art happening in Chicago, we are fully aware of the shortcomings of our methods.  Duguid’s work is an obvious testament to that.  I’m sure Duguid went into the work aware of the challenges and impossibilities of truly capturing the performances in a complete way.  We at SIFC share a similar understanding.  I completely recognize the fragmented nature of arts documentation, and know that there is that third dimension that can never be recorded–that experiential element.  Which is why I urge you to take a step back from the art on your computer screen and go out to a place like Defibrillator and have an art experience.  If you’re lucky, you just might become a pivotal part of the work.

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