On Tuesday evening, January 31st Automata Gallery in Chinatown hosted Imagined Elasticities, a mash up of performance art and cabaret punk rock, curated by internationally acclaimed, LA based performance artist and writer, Sara Debevec, best known for her animal inspired multimedia solo performance art work through Europe, Asia and United States. In the role of a curator this time, Debevec celebrated original music and performance by artists from LA, Miami and New York.
“I wanted to create a space where artists could converse with one another through their work and though the elasticities of their mediums. It was crucial that this experience would take place in a gallery with no seating and the audience immersed among the artists, blurring the boundaries between the observer and the observed, between the back stage and the front stage. I wanted it all to turn into one collateral performance piece everyone could be a part of” says artist and curator Sara Debevec.
Imagined Elasticities brought together musicians Valerie Kuehne and the Wasps Nests, Copán and Rachel Mason as well as performance artists Tora Kim and Nathan Bockelman for one night only at an intimate, alternative art and performance space Automata Gallery. With it’s storefront windows and a peephole cinema at the back, where the audience can actually look through a hole out the back alleyway and watch puppet films, Automata is both enchanting and welcoming, making you feel like you have stumbled upon a secret living room in the heart of LA.
Rachel Mason opened the evening with songs from her new album Das Ram by Cleopatra Records. Touted as "one of the most creative forces in the world" by Impose Magazine, Mason is best known in music circles for delivering fantastical narratives which interweave musical, theatrical and narrative elements into unexpected operatic journeys. Through her wide-ranging portfolio of mixed media work, she instigates fantasy and harsh realities through scripts, sculpture, rock operas, live performances and compositions that span over a decade. At Imagined Elasticities, surrounded by a red glow and using various clown inspired masks and props, Rachel’s mesmerizing voice walked hand in hand with her eerie choreography.
An emotionally charged performance “Home Invasion” by artist Tora Kim followed. This was a multimedia exploration of politics, trauma and the immigrant experience couched in a visceral homecoming. Wrapped up in a white sheet with a mask on her face, Kim shouts at a projected video of a dog panting, “Shut up! Shut up!” after which she turns around, and words appear on screen “You are Disposable.” Powerful words meet intimate family footage in this heartfelt performance piece exploring themes of trauma and dislocation; “I told stories of my family when we moved to NYC, and my own racial confrontation in LA. It was important to me to access the personal as well as the political, with humor and archetypal imagery.” As Tora Kim reached for a takeout box, started eating the contents and sat in the storefront window of the gallery, “Home Invasion” rolled into the third act of the evening Valerie Kuehne and the Wasps Nests.
Valerie Kuehne and the Wasps Nests is a NYC/PGH based trio composed of cello/vocals (Valerie Kuehne), violin (Jeffrey Young), and drums (Alex Cohen). The trio performs frenetic and visceral material in the form of songs that have been described as a collision of disparate genres (art-rock, cabaret, metal, grindcore, classical, experimental, punk, rock). The band members have a wide range of musical backgrounds and interests: Valerie Kuehne studied classical music when she was young, got a college degree in philosophy, and now works mostly as a songwriter and in the performance art scene. Jeffrey Young got a degree in classical violin and composition, and now plays a mix of rock, experimental, and classical music. Alex Cohen got a degree in jazz drumming, and now plays most frequently with death metal bands. Their performance was intense, beautiful and thought provoking.
“I saw Valerie Kuehne and the Wasps Nests, for the first time in New York and immediately fell in love with their raw aesthetic and vivacious energy. Not only are they incredibly talented musicians but they are also gifted performers and storytellers. I was blown away watching them perform this evening!” says curator of Imagined Elasticities, Sara Debevec; “They are on tour at the moment and were in town for one night only. I am incredibly happy they were able to share their work with LA audience!”
Nathan Bockelman performed in darkness, with solely street light entering the space through storefront windows; “I don't always deal with charged topics, but that’s the direction this work went as I was making it.” Nathan Bockelman is a writer, actor, performer, and sculptor based in LA. While often showing work in a solo context his performative works are often times collaborative working with artist, writers, and dancers such as Julie Mayo, Eric Svedas, Brian Getnick, HK Zamani, Kimberly Zumpfe and Elliot Reed. Taking out a torchlight that was hanging off some sort of a thread, Nathan Bockelman, created an atmosphere of suspense and explored the space from a completely different angle, to mesh up of Queen and police news reports. A viewer was given the torch light along with the power to decide what was seen by others – an interesting touch to the immersive aspect of the show.
The finale of the evening was Copán (Jordan Chymczuk-Sol and Yoán Moreno) an instrumental two-piece that aggressively performs ‘Latin’ music, as filtered through progressive and noise rock. The group is known for its lengthy, trance-inducing compositions and for its frenetic live performances that entail improvisation and looping. Copán released "The Outskirts" in 2015 and is also featured on "no//thing but noise" (2016). Originally formed in Miami in 2011, the group is now based in Los Angeles. Keeping in line with the immersive aspect of the show and exploring the limitations of an art space, the band pumped up the volume and literally ended the performance by “forcing” audience members out of the gallery with their heightened volume. The audience moved outdoors and enjoyed the music from a different space, making it almost site specific.
Imagined Elasticities challenged the boundaries of performance art and music creating an immersive space of collateral reflection. As artist Tora Kim summarized it; “I felt the entire evening of performers was elevated as a political act from the sheer context of our current social climate. Whether or not each movement or song or word uttered was meant to be political, I felt every moment was activated in a new way, perhaps indicating a new realm of possibilities to empower and be empowered.”
Debevec plans to curate similar shows this year in alternative art spaces in LA and New York. Her geopolitical video performance My Family Before Me, will be shown between May 1st and 26th at 18th Street Arts Gallery in Santa Monica. Also, look out for her solo show at PAM Residencies in October this year.
It is always a unique experience to see an artist curate a show, taking their work and creativity to the next level and Debevec seems to be taking the Los Angeles arts scene by the sorm.