Thursday, June 26, 2014

Planning for December Part I

Artist opportunities, for artists of all kinds . . .

Two Houston churches, Grace Lutheran and St Stephen's Episcopal, are teaming up to sponsor an advent season (the church season before Christmas) art event. Of some kind. We're keeping it somewhat undefined for the moment. We only know we want to engage the themes of advent: hope, anticipation, anxiety, expectation. We want artists of faith and of no faith to explore these themes, hopefully without recycling old images but by bringing new vision.

What's happening now: A workshop/playdate/brainstorming session.

Saturday, July 26
10:00am - 1:00pm
Grace Lutheran Church
2515 Waugh Dr, Houston, Texas 77006
 
This will be a combination of structured exercises and intentional play. We're planning on doing one of these each month, just to explore what's possible 
 
Musicians, performers, installation artists, visual artists . . . no medium turned away! 
 
No commitment is assumed by participating in this workshop. In fact, I'd be happy to have people who just want a creative play day to show up. I won't be asking for commitments until October or early November. 

And if you can't make this one, you're not ruled out---as I say, we plan to have one of these monthly until we make the thing. 

Three is a Facebook event page for this, so if you're on Facebook, feel free to go HERE and ask questions or join up there. If you're not on Facebook, feel free to email me at neilellisorts <at> yahoo dot com. 

Please share this with other artists who might be interested. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cary & John Sample Chapter

This blog is usually about my performance work (and I'm much behind in documenting a couple of pieces), but tonight I'm using it for my literary endeavors.

At this moment, my novella, Cary and John is being released. You can order a copy directly from the publisher by click here.

I've also been asked if I could post a sample of the book. So here it is. It alternates between a straight forward narrative---and afternoon between two lifelong friends---and a series of letters written in the early 1970s. Cathy is telling Gloria about a stack of letters their fathers left behind that reveal a romance they never knew existed.

I chose a chapter and a couple of letters about a third of the way in. I hope it whets your appetite for the entire novella.


Chapter 6

"Oh Glory Glory," Cathy said and then said no more. Gloria couldn't see her face and leaned forward, elbows to her knees, the last half of a snicker doodle in her clasped hands.

"Cathy, why don't you come sit down?" Somewhere they learned to never ask a question that would result in a lie. No "what's wrong?" to be answered with "nothing."

"Isn't it funny how different things can be?" Cathy asked, turning. "I mean, all the appearances. You think you know how things are, but they're only appearances."

"We see through a veil. One day we'll see face to face."

Cathy made a face that she corrected quickly. Gloria knew it was either Cathy's dislike for scriptural responses—"trite," she called them—or else Cathy was about to tell a secret. Cathy sat down next to her big shoulder bag on the couch.

"It just becomes clearer after the fact," Cathy said. "It all makes sense, eventually. Mysteries you didn't even know existed get solved."

Gloria considered Cathy's words before speaking. "Do you think things weren't as happy as they appeared that day?"

"Oh, no," Cathy said. "That was such a good day, all of us together. Look at that picture. Uncle Cary and Aunt Phyllis so quiet but so—loyal to each other. Mom and Daddy, cutting up as always." Cathy smiled. "Do you know they were both over sometimes, after their divorce? You know, something for the girls or whatever. They laughed together just like in that picture, right up until the day Daddy dropped over dead."

"Well, that's what I never understood," Gloria said. "They always seemed so happy, got along so well." She finished off her cookie.

"They were," Cathy said. "To a large extent, they were. But, well, with hindsight . . . Cathy began to pick on a button on her blouse. "Well, I guess in retrospect I'd have to say they were more like college roommates who happened to raise a daughter together."

"Oh now, Cathy. What makes you say something like that?"

"My marriage isn't like that," Cathy said, and added before Gloria could say anything, "and neither is yours."

"Every marriage is different, Cathy. Every person is different."

"Of course," Cathy said and waved her hand. "But Gloria—I look at you and Fred and there's—what's the word? You know, not always but you can tell with people. You're not 'just friends' as we used to say in high school."

"Cathy Cat, you're talking in riddles today. We're husband and wife."

"But there's more than just words to it with you. You're attracted to each other." Cathy looked away and said quickly, "I mean, you're lovers."

Gloria blushed and giggled. "Well, yes, but I hope we're not staring wantonly across the room at each other!"

"Oh, nothing so obvious," Cathy said. "But—Oh Gloria, you know what I mean. You're the one who started the game back in high school!"

Gloria's face felt hot, but she couldn't help laughing. Back in those days, when they were high school girls remaining pure and chaste, they played an off-color game, guessing which couples they knew were or were not having sex regularly. It got to where they couldn't look at each other during church services if certain couples sat nearby, or else they'd dissolve into silent, quaking laughter. "Oh Cathy, stop!"

"Don't go getting all bashful about it now. How many times have I heard you talk about the importance of the marriage bed?"

"Well, yes, I do believe it is one of the greater gifts of marriage." Gloria tried to regain her composure.

"I mean, that couples retreat we went to that time?"

"Oh now, Pastor asked Fred and me to lead that session—"

"Because it's obvious you two are doing it!" Both women laughed. "With regularity!"

"Stop it!" Gloria's face was red from the laughter and embarrassment. She pulled herself together briefly and said demurely, "I'm simply a woman who takes her wifely duties seriously." And both women laughed again.

Cathy wiped at her eyes. "I was trying to have a serious conversation somewhere in here."

"Okay," Gloria said and touched her lips. "Serious again."


"All I'm saying is, I don't think our parents had that kind of relationship. They liked each other, even loved each other, but—"

"Oh, Cathy, what's wrong with you? No one likes to think about their parents and sex!"

Cathy smiled but her eyes drifted to the portrait. "I guess not, but it's a part of life."

Gloria rolled her eyes in fun. "As far as I'm concerned, it's enough that they had us. That's all the evidence I need on that subject." Gloria flashed on overhearing her mother speak of a sexless marriage, but pushed it away.

Cathy turned more serious and looked at her purse. "This is going to be harder than I thought."

"What?" Here, Gloria thought, is the heart of the matter.

"Gloria, I've been going through Daddy's things."

"Of course," Gloria said soberly. She knew the weight of the task.

"Daddy left a stack of letters."







February 3, 1971
Dear John,
A month has already passed. Sorry I haven't written. I start letters and then I get interrupted.

Phyllis and Gloria were so glad to see you all come and sad after you left. I wondered how Gloria would be. She's getting involved at school, making friends. I thought she might have moved on. When you left, she said, "I don't think I'll ever have another friend like Cathy."

I'm not sure about camping. I don't have any vacation time yet. I wouldn't be able to leave until after work on a Friday and I'd have to be back Sunday. Is just 2 nights worth it?

It was good to see you at New Year's.
-Cary


2-9-71
Dear Cary,
You make me crazy with waiting for a letter and then you write so little. Beggars can't be choosers, though. I take what I can get!

Yes, two nights with you is worth it! What are you talking about? Two hours with you is worth it!

I called up to the park. They have a cabin available the second weekend of March. I went ahead and reserved it, put down a deposit. I haven't said anything to Maddie, yet, but if you just can't I'll take her and Cathy up—they don't really like it, but since I already paid for it, they'll go. So save me from a weekend in the woods with two unhappy girls! Arrange it so you can go! Ha!

In fact, tell Phyllis and Gloria to come this far with you. They can stay with Maddie and Cathy and they'll have an all-girls weekend.

Look, I know it's not ideal, but you'll get off work at 5:00, right? Pick up your women and be on the road by 6:00, and you'll be here a little after 9:00. We'll be at the cabin easily by 11:00. So it'll be a little late. We won't have to get up early on Saturday. Or at all! Ha!

Maddie and Cathy have talked a lot about how much fun they had New Year's. I'm convinced we—you and me—had the best time of all.

Your letters are so reserved. I guess I hesitate to get too graphic myself. Is it too much to admit that just thinking about you—about New Year's and going camping—has me very excited right now? I'm so excited it hurts to keep sitting down! Ha!

Yours,
John

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Houston Peace Festival 2014

Breath & Bone/Orts Performance will be performing at the tail end of the Houston Peace Festival this coming Saturday. Follow the link for the schedule of myriad activities and performers. BB/OP will be doing a roving "happening" sort of performance, starting at 6:00pm (it's a performer availability thing---come early, stay late!)

In case the link fails, here's the bare bones:

Saturday, April 26 at 12:30pm - 8:00pm
Friends Meeting House
1318 W 26th St, Houston, Texas 77008

BB/OP will be doing a light, hopefully colorful piece called Seedling Heart. 

Again: Come early, stay late, bring the kids!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Writing and Performance Work 2013

I made a post like this last year, only a month earlier. Sometimes, timing isn't everything.

Below is something of a CV of my writing and performing work for 2013. So much here was made possible with the help of remarkable colleagues and co-creators. It was a good year.

 Posting a list serves two purposes: it gives you a sense of the work I do. Perhaps something will catch your eye. Perhaps you'd or someone you know would like to commission a work, bring me in for a workshop, or just come see my next offering. Yes, this serves as some sort of marketing. I don't have the marketing gene, so at least there's this.

The second purpose is to have something to show for all my fatigue! Maybe this isn't much, but it was all done around a full time job and a major surgery to boot. I feel pretty good about it all.

There are also things that don't show up because they've not been released into the world. I have a few pieces of writing out there, waiting on some editor's desktop to be accepted or rejected. There is a dance film that I participated in making which is still being edited. This list doesn't show everything I've done in the past year.

But again, it was a good year. Check back in a year for what 2014 held.


January

PERFORMED Watch How You Watch (or what do you see when you see yourself seeing), a durational performance at Avant Garden, Houston, TX, part of Continuum Performance Art residency January 18, 2013

PERFORMED various roles in Bodily Function Follies, written, directed, and choreographed by Margo Stutts Toombs at FronteraFest, Austin, TX January 23, 2013

February

PUBLISHED Review for They Who Sound with Leslie Scates and Nicole Bindler, Dance Source Houston February 2, 2013

March
PUBLISHED  "SHSU Loses Beloved Dance Teacher"  in OutSmart Magazine, March 1, 2013 

PERFORMED Tell Me Where It Hurts, a durational, interactive performance at Avant Garden, Houston, TX, part of Continuum Performance Art residency March 1, 2013

CONCEIVED, DIRECTED, PERFORMED ShadowPlace, a performance installation at the Photobooth on Montrose, under the Breath & Bone/Orts Performance banner. Three performances: March 3, 10, and 17, 2013

April

PUBLISHED  "Witnessing and Blessing"  in OutSmart Magazine, April 1, 2013

FACILITATED Workshop on Presence and Creativity, Austin Community College, Carnival Ah,  March 4, 2013

PUBLISHED  Adults  in Voices Against Bullying #1, published by Sword and Labrys Productions

PUBLISHED  "The Devil and the Dynamite Duo"  on The Longbox Project, April 30, 2013

May

PERFORMED "Coloring the Line", a durational performance at The Hilary and Nikki Show, Hardy & Nance Street Studios, Houston, TX May 17, 2013

July

PUBLISHED  "The 25"  in The Dying Goose Volume 1 Issue 2 http://thedyinggoose.com/magazine/the-dying-goose-volume-1-issue-2/

CONCEIVED, DIRECTED, PERFORMED in Wringing Out Light: Poems & Prayers at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Houston, TX under the Breath & Bone/Orts Performance banner, three performances, July 19-21.

September

PUBLISHED  "On Liberty, Unity, and Keeping His Cool",  Interview with Bishop Gene Robinson, OutSmart Magazine, September 1, 2013

PUBLISHED  "A Body of Collaborative Work," Interview with Bill T. Jones, OutSmart Magazine, September 1, 2013

PERFORMED Flouring/Flowering, part of Submission, an evening of durational performances produced by Continuum, Continuum Headquarters, September 6, 2013

PERFORMED in Sidewalk Psychic, A short film written and Directed by Kapil Nair and Margo Stutts Toombs, debuted on YouTube September 9, 2013

October

PUBLISHED  "Batman and Other Reminders of Never Again"  on The Longbox Project, October 12, 2013 http://thelongboxproject.com/collector-projects/2013/10/12/batman-and-other-reminders-of-never-again

PUBLISHED Review of Teresa Chapman's Shifting Spaces, Dance Source Houston, October 24, 2013

PERFORMED role of Leonato in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Directed by Kate Pogue, O'Kane Theater, University of Houston-Downtown, October 25 - November 2, 2013 (nine performances)

November

PUBLISHED  "Art for Art's Sake",  (Hope Stone Kids) in Dance Studio Life, November, 2013 (link is to a large PDF file and takes some time to load.)

December

PUBLISHED  "Dancing Illusions"  (Pilobolus Dance Theater) in Arts + Culture Texas, December 2013/January 2014

PUBLISHED  "In Memory, In Silence"  in Saint Katherine Review, Volume 3 Numbers 3 & 4.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fieldwork in Houston

I'll be facilitating the spring Houston Fieldwork workshops Monday nights, starting on January 27  through March 24, with a showcase at The Barn on Saturday, March 29. Get more info by clicking here

What I want to do in this space tonight is to note why I think Fieldwork is important and maybe the best kept secret in the Houston arts community. 

I'll be honest, my first experience with Fieldwork (in Chicago, while I was still in grad school) didn't thrill me. I didn't immediately take to the process. 

When I moved to Houston, I found that there was a Fieldwork community here. Despite my less than fulfilling experience with it, I gritted my teeth, knowing I needed to meet Houston artists and find my way into a network. 

And that's exactly what Fieldwork did for me. Besides giving me opportunity to make and show work, I made friends a few collaborators. The workshop allows you to become intimately acquainted with other artists work and process and by the end of the first showcase, I had a few people I was anxious to work with. Even after I got to know more folks in the Houston arts community, I still returned to Fieldwork to find new people. The connections I make through Fieldwork are priceless. 

On the way to finding my Houston community, I became a convert to (and eventually a facilitator for) the Fieldwork process. It's a process that is best experienced, but here's the gist of what I love most about it. 

This is not a workshop where you learn how to make art---you come in accepted as an artist and no one is going to teach you or give you advice about your art-making. We don't give advice or direction. 

What we do is we tell the artists what they're communicating via their art. We tell them how the work made us feel, what it reminded us of. I've come to appreciate this much more than the type of feedback that starts with "why don't you . . . " I've come to appreciate knowing what I said to you more than getting suggestions. 

I often say "we don't like things at Fieldwork." What that means is that we don't give feedback about whether we liked something or not. After two weeks, you'll learn quickly that there is a spectrum of aesthetic perspectives in the room, and it's really fairly irrelevant if someone with diametrically opposed tastes likes your work or not. Telling me you liked something doesn't tell me what I told you. It's difficult at first, because we're so accustomed to saying we liked or didn't like something, but as facilitator, I'll gently steer you toward telling the artist how it made you feel, what you heard, saw, understood of the piece. 

As the artist, then, you are able to hear what people are receiving and adjust your message accordingly. Personally, I've had a range of experiences with this. In one case, I was making a piece about my relationship with God. I got feedback about seeing and feeling what it's like to be a child with ADD. That wasn't my intention and I decided I was okay with that interpretation. (And maybe that tells you something about my relationship with God, but I digress.) 

In another situation, I kept getting feedback that told me that I was communicating nothing of my intention and as frustrating as it was, it made me work harder to find the right "vocabulary" for my intention. I was able to move toward my intention rather than blindly believing I was doing what the piece needed. 

So the "learning" aspect of Fieldwork is learning how to give feedback that isn't making judgments or giving directions and learning how to listen to that kind of feedback to clarify the work. 

One more reason to do a Fieldwork workshop: It's a great place to try something new. At it's core, it's a group of mutually supportive artists, we're all there to make art, we all understand and accept that each other is an artist. Within that acceptance and support, you're free to try something new. Are you a dancer who has never spoken on stage, but have this monolog bubbling up? Try it out here. Have you been a painter who wants to try out some performative aspect of your work? This is the place. Have you been thinking about a wild idea that isn't exactly theater, not precisely poetry, maybe it's dance-ish but not entirely . . . mash it up here and see what happens. 

To review: come make friends, come make art, come try something new. 

Contact me on Facebook, via email (neilellisorts <at> yahoo), or in the comments space below if you have questions.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Flouring/Flowering


photo by Jet Liam

This is the post-mortem of a piece I did the first Friday of September. Because I'm interested in process, I'm going to write about the process of making the piece. If that's not your thing, enjoy the pictures.

A few months ago, I had an idea that involved clouds of color in the air. I didn't have any idea for what, I just pictured throwing something in the air that would make a colored cloud. I figured flour would make a cloud like that and asked on Facebook if anyone had any ideas for coloring flour.

I should say, I had no idea at the time that there is an Indian holiday that uses just that sort of thing. Holi. Had I known that, I might have just asked an Indian friend or two about it, but in any case, it was an Indian grad school classmate, Shikha, who answered with a link for making colored flour. Indeed, had I known this was an actual thing, I would have just conducted my own web search for instructions. There are, I've learned, several pages with this information out there.

So, anyway, that just sat in my brain for a few months and gestated. Then, the movers and planners of Continuum announced a night of three-hour, durational performances, which is one of my favorite forms of performance art. I went to brainstorming and came back to this vague colored flour notion. What resulted was Flouring/Flowering

This was the initial idea: I'd stand under a slowly dripping water hose. Around me would be pans (or whatever) of colored flour. The audience would be invited to toss the flour into the air over me. Hopefully, the water on me would cause some of it so stick as it fell, so that the cloud of flour would then color me.

It would fall in line with a lot of my work, which is a celebration of body, of being incarnate. It would also test my comfort zones, as I knew I had to be (at least) mostly unclothed for this. I seldom am in public with so much as my shirt unbuttoned very far. I also knew part of this was also dealing with my hirsuteness. In general, I'm not ashamed of my hairiness, nor do I dislike it. I simply know that some people find it on the "ew" side of life, particularly in this age of shave, waxing or otherwise "manscaping."

I don't manscape. I think life is too short for all that.

Anyway, I figured the water and settling flour would highlight my hairiness as well.  Something for the bear admirers out there, maybe.

The first thing I learned was that making colored flour, while not difficult, is time consuming, I should have started coloring my flour at least two weeks earlier. I also found that it doesn't want to pulverize back into a find powder so easily. My blender did an okay job, but after sifting, I still have a few cups of colored flour that is the consistency of sand.

But the most important part is the time consuming piece. I knew that I would not possibly have enough colored flour to put out for random people to toss. I tried to find an assistant who might ration theflour as the evening went on, but no assistant ever materialized, so that a little more was available at the start of each hour. I was concerned that someone would think it would be funny if they dumped it all in the first half hour and then what would I do for the next two and a half hours?

So being distrustful of humanity in general and a bit of a control freak in particular, I decided I would just toss the flour in the air myself. That way I could make sure I rationed the supply to stretch through the whole three hours.

Also, when I went to scout the warehouse where the event was held, I really liked this nonfunctioning elevator car. While there was a source for water not too far off, there wasn't an obvious way for it to drain without having regrettable consequences. The warehouse was un-air conditioned and in September in Houston, that meant I would be making plenty of my own water. So I ditched the dripping water hose notion and decided that anything that stuck to me would be sticking to my sweat.

That's two changes from the original concept, for those who wish to keep track.

I did agonize over what to wear---an unusual emotion for me. I toyed briefly with the notion of going ahead and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but that seemed to obscure some of the point of the piece. flour accumulating in the creases of clothes might have been interesting, but not as clearly a celebration of my middle-aged body, in all it's beauty and flaws.

I thought I had a tan, full-bottom dance belt. For those of you who don't know what a dance belt is, it's a bit like a jock strap that male dancers wear. Most fit somewhat like a g-string, but there are those with full bottoms, making them something like aggressively supportive briefs. Anyway, I thought maybe that would work for the piece. Except I couldn't find it. The tan dance belt that I did find left more of my lower cheeks hanging out than I was willing to let hang out.

Now, a word about nudity. I'm not against it. I'm even willing to be nude in the right circumstance. I also know that whenever I, personally, see nudity in a performance piece, it can really overwhelm the whole thing and the piece becomes about the nudity. I'd just seen a video of a dance piece by a famous and respected choreographer and there was a section with nudity. While I got what he was after with this section, I have to admit that the nudity was distracting. If I wasn't convinced I would not be nude before, that convinced me.

I admit, I had the converse discussion within my own brain: If all I'm wearing is something like briefs, does that become really obvious and does the piece then become about the one piece of clothing I'm wearing? Maybe.

What really cinched that I would wear something was that I really don't feel like I have a life where I can appear in public fully nude with random strangers taking pictures of me. I've been an artist model a few times, so in a controlled situation like that, it isn't a worry to me. But for better or worse, I do have a day job to worry about and a few relationships that are probably strained enough by what I did wear.

So for better or worse, I wore some athletic boxer-brief type things I found at Academy. They're form-fitting and didn't have a fly, so they seemed like a good choice. And they were. I feel like they allowed me whatever safety such minimal modesty allows while also keeping the shape of my body in focus (and confirming well enough that I am a cis-gendered male). As a bonus, they were super comfortable! I believe I hit on the right balance with these.

In coloring the flour, I decided that I'd stick to the primary colors---red, blue, and yellow. After I started making these colors, I realized something---mix those colors together, and you get black. Despite knowing this, I had pictured having a rainbow of colors on me. As you can see in the pictures, that didn't happen, the black did. So if I were to do this again, I'd stay away from full spectrum and just do maybe three colors from a narrower portion of the spectrum  (blue, green, yellow or red, yellow, orange or maybe even blue, purple, red) but not a combo that will create black. It was still kind of interesting anyway, I think, but the black mud look was not part of the original concept. And had I realized this before I had colored a whole lot of flour, this would have been another change.

At the last minute, I also realized, hey, white is a color. So, to extend the life of my flour supply, I added white, uncolored (or bleached, as the package says) flour to the mix.

Over all, I'm really happy with the event. I felt the flour caking on my lips and other places. When no one was watching I pulled wads of black paste from under my arms. It took 48 hours---and a whole lotta eye drops---for my vision to return to normal (mostly, I saw halos around lights for a while). It wasn't what you would call comfortable. And yet it all felt right. I had some good, positive feedback from people, and while I'll take some of what I learned and alter it if I ever do this again, I have no regrets about this iteration of the piece.

Oh, and the smartest thing I did? I laid down a small lap blanket on the floor of the elevator. Did that ever make clean-up easier!

Now, for a smattering of photos from various sources:

photo by Craig ArrMutt
phot by Craig ArrMutt


photo by Alex Barber
photo by Alex Barber
photo by Jet Liam

photo by Jet Liam
photo by Jet Liam
photo by Dean Liscum


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Notes from a Presentation on Theological Aesthetics

Here, in Houston, there is a new, monthly gathering called the Queer Theology Discussion Group. On Tuesday, September 17, I presented some of my thinking on theological aesthetics as applied to performance/live art. These are some of the thoughts I presented. I'm really just at the beginning of trying to express some of this formally and I very much invite comments and questions.

I started with a very brief introduction to performance/live art, talking about it's difficult-to-define-ness, but how it always seems to come from the edge. There are plenty of places online to get historical overviews of the form, so I won't repeat that here. I did pass around my copies of Peformance Art: From Futurism to the Present by RoseLee Goldberg, Performance; Live Art Since the 60s, also by Goldberg, and the Artist's Body by Tracey Warr and Amelia Jones. I'd marked a few pages in each to draw attention to some of the more famous performance pieces, such as Carolee Schneemann's Interior Scroll (do not look this up at work or around people sensitive to nudity or sexuality), Vito Acconci's Seedbed (concept not safe for work, but most photos are), and Yoko Ono's Cut Piece.

I also introduced the concept of theological aesthetics, which can have nearly as broad a definition as performance art. Briefly, theological aesthetics might address:

1. The beauty of God/glory of God; beauty of church doctrine, of theology itself (theology as creative writing genre).

2. Theology of creation or the natural world, which reflects God's beauty.

3. Liturgy and liturgical arts.

4. An artwork, an artist's body of work, a particular movement or medium of art---all of it approaching the conventions of the art with an eye to what they may say about God.

5. Among other things.

I should go without saying, I'm about the business of #4 and performance art.

Some assumptions I bring with me to art:

From an after-performance talk by Bill T. Jones some years ago: The best way to look at modern art is to look at yourself looking at modern art.

I've interpreted this to mean that it is fruitful to investigate my own reactions. Do I think an artwork is offensive? Am I disgusted by it? Why? I may not change my reaction, but it may be an insight to myself that I'd not met without the help of the artist.

Ask questions of art. What am I seeing? What am I feeling? What is the artist/artwork telling me?

With these approaches, liking or not liking are less the issue (although, to be sure, there is work I like and work I do not like) but the dialogue it creates become the thing. Quite often, the more difficult pieces---the ones you don't like---have the most to tell you.

Theological assumptions I carry with me:

Art-making is always an act of incarnation. Ideas and words (logos) take form. (Form can sometimes give birth to ideas, of course, but the notion remains this: flesh and spirit are both necessary for what we recognize as life, including an artwork that has "life.")

Also, we humans are made in the image of God.

There is beauty in these notions, but I also hasten to add that wherever there is flesh is there is also death and decay.

A somewhat famous quote from Flannery O'Connor: "When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

 In a chat with a friend on Facebook, we were talking about incarnation. at one point, I said, "We want incarnation to be magazine cover models who don't fart, but I'm a gassy middle aged man." The point being, there are things we think of as unpleasant associated with incarnation but we don't like to think about them. They make us very uncomfortable and queasy and so much of our society tries to avoid them. Pastor Lura Groen says one of the most controversial things she ever said in a Christmas sermon was to reference changing the Christ child's poopy diapers.

Performance art often addresses the limits and the functions of the body. Endurance of pain, bloodletting, other bodily fluids are often part of performance art. When I look at live art that uses/exposes these things, I think of the O'Connor quote above. I feel the artist is trying to tell me something, show me something. I admit, I sometimes struggle to hear.

I believe it's a tricky thing to look at non-religious and even anti-religious work with a theological eye. I sometimes feel I'm bringing to it something the artist might find offensive. Still, I confess to being who I am and I can't avoid doing this, especially as I'm drawn to this type of work.

One thing I wonder about is the sacrifice---a religious term---of the performance artists. Once you read a scroll of text that you pull out of your vagina, can you get an office job? Once you've masturbated beneath a platformed as you broadcast your sexual fantasies to the people above you, can you coach little league?

In other words, some social normalcy are made when you break social conventions in such a public fashion. As someone who often says security is a false idol, I admire their lack of concern with the security they're risking by putting their ideas and bodies so literally nakedly on display. It seems to me a performance artist, on the extreme edges of performance art, sacrifice something of an "ordinary" life when they say what they say in the way they say it.

Is this prophetic? (In our discussion afterward, Jeremiah came up.)

Is this liberation, speaking from the underneath, speaking from the fringe?

Are they telling us something about justice, speaking seldom heard truths to conventional power?

If all this piss and blood and cutting is ugly, is it a more true representation of the crucifixion than most of the pretty art pieces in our churches?

If "Christian art" has spent too much time in safe, pretty, sterile pictures of Easter, does this often non-Christian form of incarnation give us a way to enter Good Friday, the necessary passage on the way to resurrection?