Ahmanson Theatre, MOCA
Performance art and museums are rarely a good fit. By the time a performance artist is deemed worthy of inclusion, they are often recreating something that was more compelling in the ratty little space where it first appeared. Vaginal Davis is no stranger to peculiar venues. She has transformed dank motel rooms into art environments, presented performance workshops all over the world, and ran several legendary Los Angeles clubs that featured performance artists. When she mentioned that she had always wanted to “do something” with the Ahmanson theatre at MOCA, I was very intrigued. What would the least compromising artist, who is currently defining a new genre of environmental performance do with plush seats and an imposing proscenium fourth wall?
Well, the answer was to, of course, ignore them all and make the space her own. The seats were all covered with brown wrapping paper and hay. Platforms mounted over the seats created small stages on a sort of alpine hill. There were performers on the stage as well. The most consistently disturbing to audiences was a topless woman writhing, her head thrown back, as she swallowed a steady stream of honey poured from a ten foot high platform. And where to put the audience? Well, there’s that small space between the seats and the stage that nobody was using. In that space was set a long banquet table and overturned buckets to sit on. The table was set with white books laying open to blank pages. On these open books were stacks of paper. The audience was lead to their buckets by student volunteers attired to evoke something classical out of a 50’s motion picture.
While screen test videos played on the wall behind the stage, the disembodied voice of Ms. Davis spoke of the modern world. Occasional words appeared over the projections for emphasis. There were four variations of the show, which theoretically ran 45 minutes. There were different performers listed for various shows, so no two audiences saw the exact same thing. What everybody who experienced the show all definitely experienced was the honeyed woman, a “meal” served on the stacks of paper (symbolic, as everything was bite sized and cleared as soon as it was served) and an ominous soundtrack full of menace and dread. More than one person leaving was heard to remark that they felt like they had consumed drugs.
Well into a variety show performance that had been narrated by the disembodied voice of Vaginal Davis, it was time for “the entrance”. Leaving behind her perch in the Control Booth, she graciously descended the theatre steps like Carol Channing’s version of Glinda the good witch of Oz. Taking her place on a throne surrounded by her lovelies, she read to us from a book called Beware of a Holy Retarded Whore. This evocation of Fassbinder was not misplaced. Few living artists are this prolific and consistently disturbing. Perhaps it will be the courage to book this sort of transgression that will set MOCA apart, when the number of downtown art museums increases.
return to Bunker Vision
this review appears in the March/April 2011 issue of Artillery Magazine