|Scott Heron (prostrate on floor) with Hijack's Arwen Wilder (left) and Kristin Van Loon in "Smithsoniansmith." William P. Starr photo courtesy Scott Heron.
Copyright 2010 Gus Solomons jr
Some art defies explanation and some doesn't require any.
Scott Heron, a notable New York performance artist, who now calls New Orleans home, and Hijack (Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder), a couple of post-modern movers and shakers from Minneapolis, met in Russia in 2002 and made a short dance, titled "3 minutes of Pork and Shoving."
The trio's latest collaboration, "Smithsoniansmith," the result of eight years of "many trips up and down the Mississippi River" --presented July 29-31 and August 5-7 at Dixon Place's spacious new digs -- seems like a compilation of these collaborative efforts. The hour-long collage opens with the above dance; a subtly stirring pile of denim clothing holds one side of the space (with Wilder hidden inside) and opposite, Van Loon seasons and marinates Heron, who's naked, lying on a table -- pants around his knees, keeping his nuts and berries covered with baseball mitts, and sporting a glove on one foot ? and puts him on a spit like a pig for roasting, as stage smoke billows from an offstage "barbecue pit."
Then the three caper around stark naked, each holding a leafy branch, with which the women give themselves bushy penises, challenging each other like pubescent boys on a playground, while Heron cavorts with Dionysian abandon.
When they do put on clothes, Heron's in a dress and the women are in jeans. Although the clothing is gender reversed, the performers? actions take no notice of the fact. They shove indiscriminately and push each other to the ground.
Heron hangs a clothesline ten feet high by climbing up on a stepladder and Wilder's back. Van Loon flings three denim garments onto the line, and they all sashay around, prance like horses, and mumble earnestly to the clothes. When an amorphous blob decorated with tiny lights -- a chandelier, an alien space ship, or maybe a mystic sky-god -- descends from the ceiling, they dance fervently in its dim illumination to the sound of a sad violin, their shirts pulled over their heads.
Throughout, the performers turn trash to treasure, wryly noting our newly accepted social responsibility -- recycling. They build an ungainly sculpture out of shopping carts, a traffic cone, a crutch, poles, umbrellas, Ace bandages, and other assorted
paraphenalia. Low frontal beams (mysterious, animated lighting by Heidi Eckwall) cast a dramatic shadow of the whimsical thing on the back wall, as it rolls slowly forward then topples with a crash. After that, the performers, in off-white sportswear, dance what could be a celebratory jig.
In other scenes, a bulbous-bellied Heron perches on "high heels" made of stacked tin cans, while Van Loon points and laughs at him. And as Heron's character exits, he poops a load of recyclables from under his dainty crinoline. Subsequently, he and Wilder concoct a chapeau from the refuse with hot glue. Van Loon inflates a big creature-shaped balloon from the balcony, then drips chocolate syrup down the wall from up there, and Heron smudges it into abstract painting with a long-poled brush, fashioned from shredded paper.
These three uninhibited performers, masters of stream-of-consciousness bizarreness, seem to reinforce each other's outrageousness. They do everything with deadpan understatement, however vehement or violent. Whatever it all might "mean" is immaterial; the free play of their imaginations challenges ours to decipher it -- or just take it all in.
The door-slamming finale -- "Noises Off" meets Marx Brothers -- signifies the volume of emotion that lies just behind their too-cool-for-school demeanors. The trio transforms arrant silliness and borderline obscenity into what seems alternately funny or offensive but undeniably fascinating. Upon reflection, it becomes ineffably deeper.
|Scott Heron and Hijack in "Smithsoniansmith." William P. Starr photo courtesy Scott Heron.