Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal believes art should be about having fun. But when it comes to her belief that words have the power to connect people, she is not messing around.
CLOSE, her event last Friday at Concord Art Space (one of our 25 Alternative L.A. Art Spaces to Check Out Now) was part book release, part gallery installation, part performance art and part plain good old-fashioned party.
Featuring works by Brandon Andrew, Daniel M. Savage, Alex Chavez, Jesse Malmed and James Roehl, the show did in fact feature a fully-functional The Princess and the Frog bouncy castle, an unconventional clown creating adult-themed ballon sculptures (I was lucky enough to get an orange vulva) and some strapping, half-naked bartenders, as well as an additional gallery with several engaging multi-media pieces for visitors to experiment and play with.
More and more, the art scene is morphing to include fleeting, interactive works. Following in the footsteps of pioneers from the 1960s and 70s such as John Baldessari, Marina Ambramovic and Michael Asher, many emerging contemporary artists are now focusing part or all of their practice on gaining active participation from their audiences. Mainstream galleries and museums are becoming increasingly open to this kind of work, which is called relational aesthetics.
Rosenthal, although petite, is a powerhouse when performing live. A graduate of Vassar and the CalArts writing MFA program, her poems were recently featured in PANK magazine. At the CLOSE event I met up with her to discuss the finer points of this expanding vision of experienced-based art centered in the growing number of artist-run and alternative spaces in and around L.A., and to try and figure out what exactly this all has to do with adults jumping around in bouncy castles…
Tell me about this show. It seems like everyone is having a good time…
All of the works in the show are inspired by the issues my poems deal with. CLOSE is a collection of seven poems that I just released as a chapbook with Sibling Rivalry Press.
What are you hoping to accomplish with this show?
This is an event that doesn't know what it is. Is it a party? Is it an art opening? Is it a book release? I am interested in those in-between spaces. The event is all of these things but none of them exclusively. I am speaking with two separate voices here. One is a critical and academic voice using an established discourse to discuss certain themes. The other voice is what I call my “big tongue voice,” which just wants to say “THAT. WAS. MOTHER. FUCKING. FUN!”
Speaking of fun, I have to ask about the bouncy castle…
Bouncy castles structure space in a way that makes people interact in a way that they wouldn't normally interact. I want to give people permission to have new experiences. For example, people didn't immediately know they could touch the art, but they did know they had to take off their shoes to go in the bouncy castle. I think that speaks to the level of permission your average audience gives to themselves.
Why the Princess and The Frog theme for the bouncy castle?
I love how the entrance suggests that you are going underneath her skirt. People jump around then emerge, out of breath and sweaty, out from under the skirt of a Disney Princess. It's hilarious! I said to the delivery person when he dropped off the castle, “You must bring people so much joy,” to which he said, “Yeah, but you should see what happens when we have to take it back.”
What about Jesse Malmed's “conversational karaoke” piece?
He wanted to give strangers the opportunity to interact but instead of small talk they are “wearing a conversation.” [This installation featured two microphones facing a TV screen, where amusing and sometimes nonsensical sentences appeared for the participants to say out loud to each other — and anyone else watching.] It gives them something to laugh about. Humor can trap people in uncomfortable ways and also set you free from that discomfort at the same time.
At first, no one was using the art. I had to put up signs that said “play me” for the karaoke piece, “use me” for the overhead projector, and “turn me off” for the UV light. No one realized there was a switch on the light.
That UV light actually makes me really uncomfortable — I feel like my skin is frying.
That is Daniel M. Savage's piece. I find that being near the UV light creates a hollow feeling, like an emptiness or a depression. There is a sadomasochistic relationship between artist and viewer in this piece. You can turn it off, but by being in the space, you are submitting yourself to the will of the artist and allowing yourself to be slightly altered or damaged by the art.
It is a little like my poems. I think of my poems as bright lights that burn out… But I did learn pretty much everything there is to know about UV lights installing the piece.
Do you feel like you did what you set out to do with this book, this party and this art show?
Yes! Overall, I think of it as “justifying fun.” Really, I just wanna have a good-ass time and give people a chance to regain a sense of play while they connect to each other. I want to have my cake and eat it too.
The textual elements of the show and the connection between language and sexuality is important as well. When you put people in situations where they are forced to interact in different ways that are outside the norm It brings out people's passionate sides and allows for new personal discoveries.
The sexuality involved in the whole show, and the book, and the party… how far do you think it will go? Do you think anyone has hooked up in the bouncy castle?
[Laughing] We can't be sure!
So, are you ready for a jello shot?