The Traveling Miracle Show Part 4 -Damn Kiwis & a Shaman

Photos courtesy of The Traveling Miracle Show
Photos courtesy of The Traveling Miracle Show

Monkey HealerThere’s an idea that you put a million monkeys on pianos in a room for a thousand years and you will get a Beethov-ian masterpiece. My assumption is that this is the idea behind Matthew Couper’s “performance”. A painting monkey! It’s a miracle! What are you Matt, an Atheist!? Couper wore a monkey suit and worked on a painting in his signature style. Since Matthew Couper is pretty much my favorite Vegas artist I recognized this monkey’s style immediately.

After looking at Promethian Jock Strap’s ass twice, consciously I shifted gaze to monkey man painting Coupier-ian style (framed and on metal with cut-out looped video of bile and Matt’s face behind.) He was sitting at the front entrance, at the easel, and I can’t imagine the amount of annoyance this performing monkey had to endure between curious art audience members and the shovel-dragging Jock.

Couper paints in a style recognizable if you’re familiar with Mexican folk art-or so. Meaning and anecdote are heavily laden, high on imagination, and representational accuracy is forgiving. Sins, taboos and black bile–such as in this particular painting–are rendered in moral-story fashion. You’ve heard of leeching to release Mediaeval suffering: An excess of black bile was once thought to cause evilness. DRAIN THAT SHIT genius monkey shaman from the 15th century!

Dave Hickey is a wonderful art & culture critic that sometimes writes for Art in America and other international art publications. The author used to live in Vegas  and he became the subject of my quick conversation in a doorway at RAW with Couper. I love that writer’s perspective as it cuts to the chase and doesn’t pander to “The Theatre of The Fine Art World.” The guy’s a big gambler and boozer, I guess. His daddy was a blues man. Matt & I talked about Vegas’ loss of this critic, which Matt didn’t think seems to make any difference for the city’s art scene. Hickey didn’t advance Vegas artists, except for a few, none of which are painting monkeys.

See I really wanna’ connect Reno artists and Vegas artists so when I saw that J.K. Russ saw this Traveling Miracle Show at Reno Art Works as a “bridge building” endeavor, I was hooked. Some of these folks are involved in Momas & Dadas, which is a new performance and art space in Vegas. I’ve been curious about them.. wondering if they might like to make NadaDada happen in motels down there. If it’s gonna’ belong to their city some locals are gonna’ have to bring the noise–I’ll keep plugging it.

Jo Russ and Matthew Couper are real Kiwis–meaning unlike Jenessa Kenway, they are from New Zealand. They are the couple that got her talking like that and she’s a fine girl the way she is–The two should not be forgiven for that.

*Ya’ know, I should know better. I just read the Dalai Lama saying we should not pay attention to the things that make us different but to the things that make us the same. We are artists and we are a certain kind of weird. No matter how we talk, we should stick together. Fine. I’m sorry for teasing you so much, Jenessa.

Now I’ve gathered some things from Facebook pages and I see that J.K. Russ is “an artist” that claims the identity of a fifth person I saw acting at the Miracle Show. A petite female in black lycra (even over the face) and sporting flowers up the arms wore a saffron top and guided us to sit at a circle of wood-pulp mulch lined with pieces of golden ginger roots. Is this all she does?

We sat tightly around this brown black bed, four feet in diameter, with lemons, more garlic (NOT gold) and a fifth of Jaegermeister in the middle around a camping stove–ready to get lit (haha). I didn’t have to look hard, I love all these items and instantly recognized the bottle of Jaeger, as this used to be my drink of choice; It was a long time ago, don’t ask. I was even able to put it together that we were about to ingest a concoction of the elixir.

Gandhi subsisted for months on a similar brew (minus the alcohol). And I forgot to mention the honey. After the quiet cooking ritual (aside from the clanking of the dragged shovel punctuating silence for 1 minute every 2 minutes) we drank from tripled tiny plastic cups. The bare foot Asian-ish (Philippino?) cook/shaman, shrouded in a silver blanket served us all generously. After receiving this mellowing brew, we understood it was time to get up and mingle onward.

Jevijoe Vitug was the artist. I was interested enough to pull him aside after the ritual and ask him about Gandhi’s influence as well as Joseph Beuys’, who in the 60’s acted out art performances, reminiscent, but under shrouds of felt and animal fat. Also, if I remember correctly, there were elements of gold-leaf in Beuy’s performances which had to do with that artists’ legendary story of survival during a war.

Of the night, I’d say I liked Jevi’s performance the most. Maybe it was the Jaeger, but I’d choose to think that it was more about his eyes lighting up when I mentioned Beuys & Gandhi. They were both shamanistic in their own ways. It’s all about the miracle show!

The Vegas artists got a grant to make this show happen because otherwise it WOULD have been a miracle to see them here. People don’t always realize it’s an 8 hour drive between Vegas and Reno. I’m thankful that the Nevada Arts Council and Reno Art Works were able to bring these folks up north in lieu of a high speed shuttle train.

The Traveling Miracle Show, Part 2 – Jock Strap Prometheus

Traveling Miracle Show

Why do we even do this art shit anyway?

Reno Art Works hosted a showing of some Vegas artists over the weekend. I say showING because it was more a verb, as in performance.

I’ll start by telling you about the Promethian guy.

This tall, stripped, masked man armed with a shovel and a jock strap–whistle in his mouth and cleats on his feet–engaged himself in moving shovels full of dirt all night long from his pick up parked just outside RAW’s roll up front door, up the narrow wooden stairs at RAW. He had to continually navigate the small crowd of onlookers, tooting his whistle, dragging his shovel between loads, all this while trying to stay upright as his plastic cleats kept slipping on the pavement and spilt sand. (I’m not sure if he meant for the slippage to happen–I’m guessing no.)

Up the stairs, you’d find his big pile of deposited sand. Sandwhich bags full of the sand were for sale, $2.50, with a sign: “A little piece of Paradise”. (I’m guessing the dirt came from a site on Paradise Blvd. in Vegas–Maybe I’m wrong).

I’ve gotta’ mention the artists this act reminded me of. First off, as previously mentioned, there’s the Greek tragic anti-hero Prometheus: why do we do the senseless shit we do? Something else this artist, Michael Barrett, likes to do is push big ass tires up Lombard Street in San Francisco.

But I’m also reminded of Matthew Barney, whose physicality in his performances was central to his rock-climber-drawing-on-the-wall thing. These performances were taxing on the body and belonged to a wider genre called Conceptual Art where you really didn’t have to see it to get it. Someone could write about these performances and you’d understand the intellectual significance of the act: Explain to me why this is notable.

Come to think of it, “Promethian” could really describe the whole genre of Conceptualism.

I saw some Barney wall drawings and some of those plastic fake rocks bolted to the wall for climbing at S.F.M.O.M.A. and it was absolutely un-astonishing. They were left behind at the museum from one of his performances because he’s super famous. The guy ended up with Icelandic rock star Bjork.

Marcel Duchamp, Godfather of Conceptual Art had a glass bulb made in Paris and called it “50 cc of Paris Air” and gave it to his friend and art collector Walter Arensberg. In case you don’t know, this is also the guy who bought a urinal in 1913, laid it horizontal and displayed it with the title “Fountain”.

Regarding the physicality, It’s not surprising Barrett, as soon as his truck was emptied, he jumped in it and retired to his motel room, allegedly at Circus Circus; I’m sure he was beat.

I did not buy a bag of his Paradise dirt; his fascination with jock straps freaks me out.

Honesty–The Miracle Show Part 1

English: Hunter S. Thompson, Miami Book Fair I...
English: Hunter S. Thompson, Miami Book Fair International, 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think of Hunter S. Thompson and his Gonzo journalism. There’s one story while on the campaign trail in ’72, he nearly got the shit beat out of him by Secret Service thugs by way of a misunderstanding.

Seems the campaign manager called Hunter out in a restaurant about something Mr. Gonzo had written about him in the Rolling Stone article that month. Though Hunter liked the man and was generally complimentary, about his appearance, Hunter called him rumpled and likened him to a used car salesman.

Walking into the restaurant the campaign manager yelled “You have the nerve to show up here!?” Dr. Thompson hadn’t noticed George McGovern, the candidate, was present as well as his Secret Servicemen who were about to pounce on the unwelcome journalist.

In the end, apparently it was just a joke and said campaign manager didn’t really care about Hunter’s comments, although his wife apparently hated Thompson for what he’d said.

I freelance from time to time for local publications and I can recall one artist that I know and respect talking to me about an art review of mine that had just been published about his show. He thanked me but added comments about how sometimes art reviewers will throw in a kind of back-handed compliment.

This remark always stuck with me because, like a double agent, I had my paranoia that his “back-handed comment” was, in fact, back-handed. You see, there was something about his exhibition that I was criticizing by artfully using the word “abundance”. I love this artist’s work but i felt there was too much of it being shown.

There can be alot of fear in journalistic endeavors, but then again, I guess one could say the same about any kind of story telling or communication in general.

The lesson learned is this: Don’t try to be artful. Be courageous and just say it. If your opinion insults someone then maybe you’ve given them the best gift of all–honesty.

Please stay tuned for my next blog post. I’m going to “review” The Miracle Show which was a group of artists who performed and showed work at Reno Art Works this weekend. I want to lay it out honestly; they’ll all forgive me.

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