"Something I learned from going out into public spaces is that sometimes public space isn't actually public, but it feels public," says Sandrine Schaefer, a prominent Boston performer who co-directs the art initiative The Present Tense. (She also teaches at Montserrat College of Art, where I teach.) "That started making me think a lot about how we understand space, how we divide space, how we feel like we own space, and how we don't own space."
Those are questions highlighted by "Insider/Outsider" at Lincoln Arts Project, which rounds up photos and videos documenting performance art performed outside the usual art galleries.
A photo here shows her wedged under a chair at an empty Oaxaca, Mexico, food cart; she stayed there "until a taxi cab driver expressed concern (14 minutes)." It's a style called "durational" that's big in Boston — meaning actions dependent on the passage of time, and that can go on for quite a while, often involving some sort of physical or psychological stress.
"My aesthetic is very meditative. I like really meditative durational, what a lot of people would think is maybe boring work," Schaefer says, with a laugh. "But I think it's exciting. . . . I like to create some kind of visceral response."
The 13 artists — six of them with local ties — in "Insider/Outsider" mainly use performance symbolically, to address social concerns. Jodie Goodnough counts out thousands of pills onto a bed to address the "overabundance of psychiatric medicine" in America — as well as her own pill consumption. Joanne Rice adds 100 stones each day at noon to a pile growing outside Boston's Trinity Church (from 2007 to 2009) in memory of Iraq and Afghanistan war dead.
It comes down to the power of their actions, though. Milan Kohout's ideas are energized by his surprising rap and location and confrontational weirdness, as he stands in a cage in Boston's South Station telling passersbys, "Once there was a reason to keep me inside of the cage all the time because I was an unreasonable critic of the capitalist system." Whereas Lezli Rubin Kunda's five days alone in an Israeli bomb shelter — swinging from a ladder, pasting leaves around her shadow on a wall — begin to feel trite.
The takeaway is that for all the social concern running through these works, most of these artists act as though convinced that they are incapable of improving the big world. They use public spaces to perform small, meditative, nearly private gestures.
"INSIDER/OUTSIDER" :: Lincoln Arts Project, 289 Moody St., Waltham :: Through December 1