The Performance Art Return

As most of you know, I was a solo performance artist until about 19 years ago, when shifts in the art world (as well as my own life) made me focus on recording the music. I did keep doing some performance art work, but as a dramaturg and director for Heather Woodbury and John Kelly, and I didn’t know if I’d ever return to the form myself.

But I’m back – sort of. I’ve combined the video and film work I’ve been doing over the last dozen years with the music, and found something I had to pursue. And the wonderful Julia Salazar from the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock has made a place for me to premiere the first iteration of this piece.

What is it? Well, here’s what I wrote to the last writer who asked me:

“In literal terms, I will be performing these story songs in front of video art background projections designed to illuminate the characters and stories that I’m singing about.

Drilling down a bit, the piece is based on what used to be a common sight in AIDS-era New York’s East Village: the contents of a person’s entire life, piled into the garbage after his death. You usually knew it was an AIDS death because there was no family to collect the things, which was common for the rejected gay men of that era.

Many of these items were quite personal — letters, a 30 years collection of Playbills, drawings — and many of them were quite mundane. But to me they were the only evidence that someone had lived. And there they sat, in boxes in the garbage, about to disappear.

I wanted to grab those boxes and save them. But you can’t save everything, so what do you choose?

There is a way, I know, of saving pieces of a person’s life and, if you arrange them right, you can evoke the missing person.

So: in the projections you will see a series of boxes which contain an object of one of the missing lives I sing about. Then the box will be filled with the video art that brings that life to life again. In a certain respect, this is my version of an old Joseph Cornell box (also aped brilliantly by William Gibson in his book Count Zero). In another respect, it is a way to bring the forgotten person back to life.

I see you’ve asked for an example from the show. For the song THE MAN IN THE GAME, the projected box contains a gun. The song tells the story of a teen boy obsessed with the man in his video game, and in the video art piece, the boy picks up this real gun in front of his video-game screen (with video guns) and handles it, learns to aim it and fire it, then takes it into the real world, where he tries to find the man in the game in a real-world situation.

As you can see, although the AIDS experience started this obsession, the missing people come from many places.”

Well, this is just a piece of a letter, not an essay. But if it makes you feel something, then come.

© Dudley Saunders