I walk into dfbrl8r performance art gallery after a three hour commute from hell. On top of the fiasco of traveling through the hub of that fire that tore up the Fullerton Red/Brownline station on Tuesday, I spent an extra five to ten minutes wandering Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, somewhat in a daze, probably suffering from heatstroke, heading southeast, trying to understand why the street numbers were decreasing. ‘Shouldn’t the numbers be going up? Where is this place?,’ the thoughts rattle senselessly through my body, feet pounding cement sidewalk, eyes scouring the addresses, searching discernibly for ‘1136.’ I turn around and head back up the street and perform this ritual frenzy of paces past the same intersection, up the curb, down the curb, up the curb, down the curb, until I finally realise where I’m going. ‘Oh wait. Duh. I’m on the northside, the numbers go down as you head south here. Whoopsee.”
In my hurry, I managed to walk right past Defibrillator gallery, my brain still reeling from the ordeal of just getting to my volunteer meeting for the upcoming Rapid Pulse, Performance Art Festival. It’s no wonder I missed the gallery all together, with the display windows stripped completely. The walls inside, bare silver. And the floor, artless, except for semblances of painting material and a torn and folded scrap of a large sheet of unbleached kraft paper. The white floor, faint with scuff marks and dust, blank canvas. The space, empty except for three people: Joseph who notices me walk in, heads towards me immediately, inviting me with his smile. Amber, who fumbles with something on a rolling table packed with snacks. And, Jaida, typing away on a laptop. “Hi, I’m one of the volunteers, I think we were emailing back and forth, right?”
Joseph puts me to work immediately, vacuuming the display spaces, sweeping, moving chairs, trimming the gallery floor in preparation for its pristine new white finish. Over the rest of the evening, I learn that Amber was recently branded with a hot iron rod in Europe, and was part of this punk performance collective called. Non Grata. Jaida is from Turkey, I think, and just finished up her painting MFA at SAIC. And Joseph, he runs the gallery. Among the chaos of setting up the space, making sure the artists arrive on time and worrying about the million other responsibilities this upcoming festival entails, Joseph Ravens maintains this incredible, light-hearted serenity, even taking time to delve into my curious past in Mexico. We talk briefly about the performance art scene down there, and about the exciting prospect Defibrillator brings to Chicago. But really, I’m there to work.
The space, having only recently been opened about a year and a half ago, currently embarks upon the momentous task of spearheading its first performance art festival. I’d seen the display windows of the space before, in passing, probably on my way to Q4’s new space. And, I’d have to say, I might have been intimidated by the exterior, that initial first glance past obscure manakins in all black, with dark, brooding objects dangling around them. But, now Defibrillator feels strangely familiar. Like any other community of artist, needing, welcoming, embracing volunteers and innocent, interested new faces into the fold without hesitation. The space, in its barren, stripped, most vulnerable state, speaks volumes about the raw potential of the performance art scene in Chicago, about its proponents, its people and the infinite possibilities that await this performance-curious novice.
I help unload the garbage full of spilling over, used and mostly depleted paint cans and flipped inside out paint gloves as the night draws to an end. The main entrance closes, and we’re trapped inside with an enclosing see of white trapping us in a corner in front of the basement door exit. The last roll of white finesses the floor, erasing its flaws. All I can think is, “dang, this floor isn’t gonna stay this white. By the end of the festival it’s gonna be just as dirty as when I first walked in.” A sea of feet will mark, and sully, defile and simultaneously beautify the work that, in a weeks’ time will go completely unnoticed, perhaps as a metaphor, a performance unto itself.
Performance art is a tricky subject. Sometimes galvanizing, with its austerity, its piety and its headiness. I can’t say that I always enjoy, appreciate or completely capture, or can even sit all the way through most performance art pieces. It takes a special character trait; perhaps, patience? It takes an openness, an “in the right kind of mood” mentality, an experimentative, or playful nature both as spector and creator, for the “happenings” to take on their full effect. Performance art can shake you, burn you, splash a vision of yourself, or shine a light on memory, it can gross you out, or move you to tears, but irregardless it is an experience.
Stop by Defibrillator from June 1-10th for a unique, all encompassing experience. A chance to feel, see, interact and emote, conceive and relinquish yourself, your body, and your thoughts. Bringing together 28 artist from around the world and from our own local performance arts scene, Rapid Pulse aims to spark discourse and momentum around performance in Chicago. With panel talks by countless more intellectuals and experts in the field, artist lectures, and of course performances running for ten full days, this independent space is carving out a niche for performance art in Chicago’s already amassing notoriety in the global art arena. It’s an exciting time to be here, and an even more exciting time to delve into the unknowns. So, don’t be shy. Stop on by.
Here’s a quick schedule of events. But for a more in-depth schedule with artists’ performance times and bios as well as discussion times, there you go. Otherwise, all your questions about the varying event locations can be answered, right there. Are you as geeked as I am?
Rapid Pulse: International Performance Art Festival
JUNE 01-10 2012
Primary performance space: 1136 N. Milwaukee
$10 requested donation for performances at gallery / Free discourse and public performances