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No man is an island

“The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.” _Allan Kaprow
By IAN PAIGE  |  October 22, 2008

CANDLELIT: Love correspondence read aloud.

When Allan Kaprow presented his first performance at New York’s Reuben Gallery in 1959, the conception for the first Happening was tightly scripted. The lines between audience and artist were blurred in a dramatic new way, as participants followed directions given to them on cards and cued by a bell that signaled, among other mandates, to change seats and witness another room at what is considered the first interactive environment in the modern art world.

During the annual Sacred and Profane event on Peaks Island, the only instruction to the audience was in the form of a candle to light the way as participants began shuffling into the darkness of the old Battery Steele, aimlessly moving toward an echoing cacophony that removed any sense of spatial awareness. Life as they knew it faded away in an environment made all the more immersive by the collective energies of artist installation and performance in every nook.

The dizzying tour came on the heels of getting to the site in the first place. The passage began with a ferry ride to the island, packed like sardines with a hundred familiar faces from the Portland peninsula (although reports suggest both celebrity sightings and international visitors). As veterans assured initiates, old friends clasped hands and smiled, and a musician tuned his guitar, there was literally no turning back.

If there was any doubt that S&P exhibits qualities of ritual as practiced by the ancient mystery schools of Egypt and Greece (as the title’s reference to Mircea Eliade’s term suggests), it was erased by the on-island greeting from the inimitable performance artist Crank Sturgeon (the event emphasizes artist anonymity, but there was nothing anonymous about this welcome wagon). As the herd of participants followed the drums on the 20-minute nature walk to the site, Sturgeon got the crowd into the necessarily nonsensical mindset with spot-on props, costumes, and mildly veiled political acumen. If we told you any more details, we’d have to kill you.

Candle in hand, each participant began an experience that would make Kaprow proud. Artists and audience were indistinguishable in the darkness; each individual at Battery Steele took a different path to get back to the boat, whether it was two hours later or the next morning. The path could circuitously lead past an ornately costumed performance as two lovers recited their letters to one another, and then perhaps to a hushed enclave cradling a baby made of ice, and then off to bed to watch a video projection of Friday the 13th. If there are awards to be given (and there are not), those for execution would be handed to the pair of artists responsible for eerily peaceful jellyfish sculptures hanging from the ceiling, seeming insubstantial and transparent; or to the massive spinning zoetrope and audio loop, filling an entire room but viewable only from the entryway. The grapevine suggests the artist was struggling to kickstart the engine right down to the last few minutes before the event. After a triumphant couple of hours, he threw the giant structure into the bonfire, to the delight of those huddled around as the cool night set in. Talk about ritual.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Entertainment, Performing Arts, Performance Art,  More more >
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