Before Perforations began, the audience standing in line at Washington High School was warned that the first piece, Act(ing), involved a small, dark space, and we should wait outside if we’re claustrophobic. That got me very excited. I like cramming into small, crowded spaces, and wondered what would possibly unfold. But while there were a couple of moments of beauty and thought in it and the evening’s three other site specific performances, by a series of Serbian and Croatian artists curated by Zvonimir Dobrovic from his Perforations Festival in Zagreb, it was a night of nonnarrative, visual-based performances that would’ve functioned better as installations and benefited from some major editing. Instead, they left me primarily exhausted.
Perforations will have it's final performance tonight at 8:30 at Washington High School.
For Act(ing), we filed through a small room into the vaulted, rectangular back stage area of the theater. A short dark haired woman, Croatian artist Petra Kovacic, stood frozen in a spotlight. After the hallway door was shut, the spotlight went out, locking us in darkness. When it came back up, she was standing in the small antechamber separating the backstage from the hallway. Holding a spool of yarn, she started to string it between nails in the doorway, slowly closing off the door with a geometric spider web, to a soundtrack of baroque and goth organ synth tracks and a changing series of lights.
For the next 20 minutes, the front row watched her string her web, while the majority of the audience craned to see something, anything, of our shorter performer. Never have I thought of the significance of a performer’s height more, and my advice is: stay close to the door when you enter. The most interesting moments for me were when she was backlit, projecting her shadow onto the back wall like some giantess dancing over the heads of the tiny audience people, or onto the side walls like massive, swaying spider legs, creating an ominous image to match the music. And certainly the lighting on the yarn was entrancing (in a rave sort of way). Her program notes said she explores the artistic process of creating a work within the space of its exhibition, but for the most part, it felt like she was trapping us in a web of our own basic expectations and frustrations—for instance, that as an audience, we should be able to see—a web that we had to cut our way out of in the end with scissors. I appreciate witnessing the act of creation, but if it’s literally going to hold the audience captive, I feel it needs more to its process and, dare I say, showmanship, than connecting the nails with yarn.
As we filed back into the theater house, frustration grew as some 20 minutes passed before the start of the second piece. Titled Reflections, it involved Kovacic moving and manipulating a series of mirrors on the floor that reflected like little square spotlights on the back wall. It also had a moment of great imagery and illusion: as Kovacic rolled across the mirrors, her body and her shadow blocked out the reflections, making it look like some sort of many armed Hindu goddess was cavorting behind an illuminated screen. But over all, it too was slow and long, challenging more my TBA sleep deprivation than my critical mind.
Next up was the Belgrade avant-garde artist Biljana Kosmogina with “P” Campaign. Before she took the stage, signs were passed out to the audience and photos of primarily shaved, waxed, or otherwise bare vaginas began to flash on the back screen, drawing a rather delighted giggle and photo from the white haired woman in front of me.
Kosmogina walked up to a lectern in a slightly trashy nighty-style dress with an inverted black pyramid at her cleavage, followed by a woman dressed in secret service garb, and launched into a faux-presidential speech promoting the election of “Pussy” for president. The piece had been described by curator Dobrovic at that afternoon’s artist talk as taking the language of presidential politics in the host country and inserting the word “pussy” in place of select other words—a performance madlib that produced sayings like “Drill, Pussy, Drill” and “We are the 99 Pussy.” I had hoped for something like Mitt Romney’s nomination acceptance speech with just a couple ironic word swaps. Instead, it was a faux speech that grew in earnestness, repetition, and blandness, as Kosmogina exhorted all the values of the Progressive Pussy Party (which apparently supports a pretty standard, if leftist, progressive agenda of women’s rights, anti-war, universal healthcare, etc.). Occasionally, without any real reason justified by the rhythm of the speech, she would pause for an applause track and expect us to hold up our signs (As Kaj-anne Pepper writes, it “was cute the first time. And ironic the 5th. And despicable the 8th.”) Then she performed what she called a poem, which involved moaning orgasmically to a soundtrack of other female moans, as she breathily named a series of politicians that she tried clandestinely to read from a piece of paper palmed in her hand—hitting Al Gore twice, getting laughs on George W. Bush, and inexplicably inserting pornstar Ron Jeremy.
I minored in Gender and Womens Studies. I’m a longtime fan of the Vagina Monologues, Annie Sprinkle, Julie Atlas Muz, and a number of other pussy-positive performers. I am the ideal audience for this show. But I found Dobrovic’s performance to be little more than a one trick pussy (I’m sorry, it had to be said) that had little to add to the conversation (she at least mentioned Eve Ensler and V-Day). Once the joke of 'pussy for president' wore off, the speech just went on with generic and repetitive demands. It never offered deeper political commentary or satire, which made it feel like she hadn’t done her research beyond a few clever catchphrases.
Further, the photos worked in direct opposition to the message. Not only did they frame the vaginas in ways that made them seem isolated and alien from the human body, but they mostly depicted bare (barren?) vaginas that looked like they had been selected from porn sites as the most bland and “inoffensive” vaginas ever arrived at through the evolutionary process (a couple exceptions came from Marina Abramovic’s Balkan Erotic Epic). There was no diversity, no texture, no topography, not even any hair—most were little more than a fold of flesh—which made it feel like a pussy platform that was drafted to satisfy the Republican National Convention.
The last performance was an experimental sound art performance upstairs by brothers Alen and Nenad Sinkauz, from the band East Rodeo. Highly percussive and ambient, it would’ve provided a fantastic soundscape to Kovacic’s performances. But coming that late in the night after several painfully drawn out performances, it couldn’t keep me from a final stroll through the beer garden, where visual curator Kristan Kennedy optimistically reminded me that sometimes the pieces you don't like stay with you the longest, and finally a joyous retreat to my bed, wishing all the time that I could've just seen Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present at the film center last weekend instead.