It was an extremely humid evening when I arrived at the Fridge to view Taint, Pt. 1. The alley way was buzzing with anticipation and I asked my friend “Do you know what we’re seeing tonight?” No one I spoke to had any clue of what we should expect. The door wasn’t open yet and as we lined up for entry, the excitement of the crowd began to grow even more. This feeling of a curtain call was dissimilar to many other DC performance art events that happened this summer, such as Take it to the Bridge where the performances go on all day long, so one can come and view as they please. Taint was urgent and I felt bad for my friend coming late.
The doors opened twenty minutes late. When I walked into the space I didn’t see the stage at first—it was blocked by a giant head that resembled Gandhi made out of inexpensive sculpting material (cardboard and tape). Beyond the head, and the multimedia pieces on the wall (by Deshaundon Jeanes and Joe Orzal), was a small stage. Along the border of the stage and about four feet in front of the stage lay small piles of pigment of a variety of colors. On the stage sat three women (Jasmine Heiss, Catalina Lavalle, Melinda Diachenko), on yoga mats sitting in “Easy Pose”—what the projected image above them told us. The projection is from an Ipad and seemed like some sort of yoga app.The battery was low on power. Sitting crossed-legged, the women (wearing skin colored body suits) looked bored—squirming and grabbing at their phones angrily. After twenty minutes of easy pose, the women move into Table Pose. They moved not in a fluid motion as yoga is usually practiced, but quickly, firmly placing their hands and knees in on the mat. They perform every pose like this, moving like a cheerleader’s stiff routine.
The performers distress over their cellphones, a robotic voice coming from the iPad, and their stiff movement, added a sense of humor to the performance. One woman’s phone actually fell apart as she angrily slammed it to the ground. I thought of this as a nod towards the trendiness of yoga in America and how the ancient practice is used now for capital gains. I cannot help but think of the extremely pricey yoga pant outfitter, Lululemon and recent trend in yoga competitions (who receives the blue medal? The first person to reach enlightenment?)
Then the tone of this performance changed. After 50 yoga moves, the iPad died and a video came on with Hindi music and hundreds of people dancing in a street with dusts of colors being thrown across the hoards of people. With this change, the performers stand at the edge of their mats and then slowly slither onto the floor where they begin to move, in unison, through the piles of colored dust on the stage and on the floor. This new choreography was opposite from before—they moved fluidly from the stage to the floor and then back. Their pristine flesh colored garments were suddenly full with an array of color. (The festival on the screen behind them came from a celebration called Holi, which occurs throughout India in the beginning of spring.)
The two parts of this performance were so drastically different. The first half seemed to be drawing from consumerism, our idea of transforming a practice so honored into a weight loss phenomenon that results in sales of $100 yoga pants. It also demonstrated our inability to stay away from technology—an inability to turn away from the little screens in our lives. The second half of this performance represented removal from the stiff, angered way of consumerism by drawing inspiration to one of the more lax religious holidays in India. The visual comparison between the iPad screen and the video of Holi, the difference between the performers’ movement and the introduction of color compels the viewer to examine variations of how we consume another culture. Half heartedly, or with true intention and respect of a culture?
Towards the end of the Yoga performance, the mood in the space began to change. People were ushered away from Gandhi head (sculpted by Joseph Hale). Margarite malt liquor cans were rolled out, and Sef Palmero pointed a crowbar at the work on the walls, asking the audience “Is THIS art?.” He asked the question again as he pointed to the Gandhi head. Then the crowbar entered Gandhi’s taped, well-rounded head and everyone was invited to this violent pinata. The crow bar got passed around but it wasn’t before long that people go bare-knuckled to the now disfigured Gandhi. As the sculpture was pulled apart, salt and plastic margarita cups fall onto the ground.
In a way, I really disliked this part of the night. Like doing yoga stiffly with a cellphone, attacking a head of Gandhi violently seems to make a point at how the western world transforms eastern culture to fit our modern views. When a performance piece involves audience participation, especially when they are encouraged to be destructive, do we miss the symbolism in the piece? Or is the violence the point trying to be made? As a viewer (who participated a bit), I found myself trying not to get mauled by others around me. “Watch your back swing” became the mantra in this piece, as we were circled in this small space. (Would it have been better in a bigger space?) Those participating (mostly men) got so excited! Was this the point of the piece? Or was the meaning (capitalism as imperialism) overshadowed with the spectacle?
How drastically the mood of the night changed from watching a performance with a clear stage, to (whether you wanted to or not) being involved in the illustrative destruction of Gandhi. The yoga piece made sense to me; I found it visually beautiful while thought-provoking. I don’t know if I had those same thoughts while having to avoid being hit by a crow bar.