Monday, October 12, 2009

Kelly Shaw Willman: grunge*quest, Movement 7

Performance artist Kelly Shaw Willman's grunge*quest continues, with the most recent glittery installment, Movement 7, taking place within her apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The performance space (Kelly's shared living room) was dimly lit, her audience encircled on plush couches and chairs, surrounding a sculptural installation. The installation evoked feelings of intimacy and girlhood with toys, candy sprinkles, and brightly colored panties carefully arranged. There were three sets of small shelves in the space, containing an array of small spheres covered in glitter, and panties bundled into more sculptural pieces hanging from the ceiling. The piece that most struck my fancy was a brightly colored toy bunny head sitting in a bowl of sprinkles. As the performance began, Kelly started two tape players, one playing recordings of a conversation between several people, and the other playing what seemed to be the sounds of some kind of airplane or engine.
Willman moved through the space doused in flour (or baby powder?), performing a series of almost ritualistic actions. She was a woman stirring her own pot, making her own magic right before our eyes. At one point, she sliced open some apples and filled them with crimson glitter. They looked as though they were oozing a beautiful blood.
At another point, Kelly poured a bowl of honey over her head, most likely as an ode to Oshun, an African deity of love, sensuality and fertility. Oshun's energy was a perfect addition to this very womanly performance piece. And one can't help but make connections between the use of apples in the space and the temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden.
Further into the performance, Kelly picked up the various pairs of panties that were on the floor, and placed them at the feet or on the laps of her audience members, along with a small bottle of blue water. Then she walked into the bathroom. Everyone followed her in, and there we witnessed the grand finale, which was Willman sitting in a bathtub full of blue water, covered in red glitter.

Audience members took the bottles full of blue water they'd been given earlier and added it to the bath water. It was almost like a communal baptism of some sort. There she sat peacefully in the tub, as sounds from one of the tape recorders squawked and sputtered in the background. I was reminded of a scene in Ousmane Sembene's 1966 noir film Black Girl, where a French Family's Senegalese maid commits suicide and is found in the bathtub, killing herself in anguish over being mistreated and feeling out of place in a strange new land. Kelly is indeed far from home, but her bathtub scene marked a rebirth of sorts. I cannot wait to see what this remarkable young artist offers up next.