Pope.L performance at Contemporary Art Museum Houston
Photo by Max Fields
"Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes at circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass," writes Ralph Ellison in The Invisible Man. "When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination -- indeed, everything and anything except me."
Ellison's novel about living as an African American man in America, invisible to white people, can be seen as a forerunner to Costume Made of Nothing, a sculpture and performance piece by Pope.L. The artist's work will be animated this week at the Walker Art Center's Target Free Thursday Night and at Free First Saturday. Part of "Radical Presence," an exhibit that investigates black performance, the piece will come alive with the help of local dancer Bryan Evans.
"Radical Presence" opens at the Walker Art Center
Pope.L performance at Walker Art Center for Radical Presence opening
Photo by Gene Pittman
Costume Made of Nothing
isn't the first time Pope.L has explored the idea of invisibility. In "Ain't No Such Thing as Superman," an article by James Trainor for Frieze Magazine
, the writer describes numerous guerilla-type performances conducted by the artist that often didn't even cause notice by passersby. In works such as How Much Is That Nigger in the Window
, Pope.L sold "dollops of spoiling mayonnaise and single aspirin tablets for astronomical prices," Trainor writes. "No one seemed to get the punchline." For his "crawl" pieces, Pope.L could be seen "dragging a little white baby doll on a string around New York and Cleveland." In these cases, Pope.L was "treated by giggling passersby like a harmless local fool, or a thing to be avoided," Trainor continues.
Costume Made of Nothing, currently on view, includes a wall that has a hole in it. For its edition at the Walker Art Center, you can see both sides of the wall, though in previous versions of "Radical Presence" only one side could be viewed. The performer, in this instance Bryan Evans, will don a skin-tight costume that covers his whole body, including his face. He interacts with the wall, eventually placing his hand and arm inside of it, as if it were disappearing.
A fascinating video
(starts at 5:50) of the performance at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston gives you a sense of the audience reactions. Because it's in a gallery, it takes a while for people to notice that a performance is happening. Some people watch, transfixed, while others continue their conversation or watch for a while and then walk away. Others document the event on their cell phones. Some people smile, and others look blankly toward the performer. This potpourri of reactions speaks to the lack of rules for audiences when seeing performance outside of a traditional theater setting, but they also add to the notion of invisibility, and to Ellison's description of people seeing "only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination."
In her essay about "Radical Presence," curator Valerie Cassel Oliver writes that though Pope.L avoids being labeled as a political or activist artist, his works are "finite points of social critique, an unapologetic barrage of statements about racism, masculinity, social inequities, and injustice."
Eating the Wall Street Journal installation at The Walker
In Eating the Wall Street Journal, Pope.L would perch on top of a tall pedestal with a toilet on top, eating bits of the Wall Street Journal with ketchup and milk and then regurgitating them. "As if cannibalizing power, the artist sat atop his tower over several days, covered in flour and dressed only in a jockstrap," Cassel Oliver writes. "Consuming and then purging the paper onto spectators who gathered around the tower, he acted as a shaman to an audience of unsuspecting initiates."
While that work won't be in action, as the artist has discontinued performing it, you can see an installation that shows the set piece for that performance, which gives you a sense of what it was like. Costume Made of Nothing
performs at 6:30 p.m. tonight, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Additional performances will take place on November 13 and 20 and December 4 and 6 at the Target and Friedman Galleries at the Walker Art Center.
IF YOU GO:
Target Free Thursday Night
Read more about the other happenings, which include beer and cat poetry, here.
Free First Saturday
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.