Concrete Escort I, II, III, IV– Friday, April 26, 2013 @ 6 pm
The performative exhibition tour based on the current Gutai exhibition at the Guggenheim was most memorable for two elements: the beautiful constructed paper “capes” created by Amy Sillman and the playfulness of the white balloon-banners performance. The Gutai collective was founded Japanese artist Yoshihara Jirō in 1954 in the postwar era and became a forefront avant-garde collective that experimented with new art forms combining performance, painting, and interactive environments. The tour succeeded most in areas where playfulness and interactive were heightened and lines blurred (either by accident or intentionally– for that is the unique nature of play) and lagged most when the tour became divided into traditional lines of audience vs. performer (e.g., comedy duo performance).
As Amy Sillman placed the taped and painted colorful capes over our heads in an inclusive ritualistic manner (recalling moments like the white coat ceremony for doctors, armor for knights and so on), she cautioned us to allow her to take them off at the end of the hour-long performance, due to their fragility (and the practical need for the second performance). And right she was to worry about her works’ fragility, as throughout the tour, at least one was torn and another trampled over. The capes allowed the audience to transform into participants and transformed a ragtag bunch of visitors into a collective. The capes were constructed from Gutai brochure essays, taped in blue, and painted with black and orange dots and strokes resembling characters. This made our walking crowd look like a dispersed colorful font winding its way up the Guggenheim’s spiral inner staircase. Gathering the tour group into a silver-lined freight elevator became a delightful experience of herding commas and dots into a freight elevator, with tour leaders asking us to pack as tightly together as possible to fit everyone much like a teacher shepherds their classroom children.
We traversed the layers of the Guggenheim to retrieve clear banners at the top and on our way down sat and watched a pre-audio-recorded comedy performance about “Frenemies” which was neither poignant or coherent with the theme (for a better conversation on Frenemies see NPR’s This American Life). The redeeming section of that piece was the “shape-shifting” portion where for 30 seconds the male and female performers created shapes with their bodies. The finale performance was indeed the most successful and beautiful, with clear banners tied to large white balloons and released into the air while people shook coffee cans (filled with beans?) and members clinked toy red and yellow xylophones.
Recounting the experience with the friend afterwards over dinner, he remarked “Everyone loves balloons.” And while I wanted to think that it wasn’t so simple, I realized that there was truth to the universal playfulness of balloons in resonance with the Gutai manifesto to lift our spirits: ”Keeping the life of the material alive also means bringing the spirit alive, and lifting up the spirit means leading the material up to the height of the spirit.” (December 1956)
Performers of this tour included Ei Arakawa, Shinsuke Aso, Kerstin Brästch, Gabriel Feliciano, Eileen Quinlan, and Amy Sillman.