Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Guest blogger Diane Dwyer

Artists from CAC's Off the Strip series were invited to post about their recent work. The first installment of this series comes from Diane Dwyer. She describes her project for the exhibition series in response to questions from Wendy Kveck.

I had the opportunity to perform Can I Get You Anything Else? as part of this year’s New Genres Festival, Off the Strip. It was a great experience, and I want to thank everyone in Las Vegas for your generosity. I know you all worked so hard. What a great art community. I especially want to thank Wendy Kveck, Justin Favela, and Elisa Mondragon. I am also grateful for the support from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, which enabled me to travel to Las Vegas.

The following text was generated in part from questions posed by Wendy Kveck, the Director of the festival.

Can I Get You Anything Else?

Performance Concept:

Most interaction between strangers revolves around commerce --- the exchange of money for goods and services. We follow understood directions and rules that guide our behavior, yet within limited parameters, moments of intimacy might occur. Can I Get You Anything Else? is an interactive performance exploring the prescribed interactions of strangers using only the language of a waitress taking an order.

How the Piece Developed:

This performance was developed last year as part of a series of live actions. I often make pieces that are mediated performances, rather than live, and wanted to challenge myself before commencing with a new web project. At the beginning of 2009, I had an idea to create a project in my apartment that would be a collaboration of performances, realized as a website. (This project is now DIANE'S CIRCUS.) In preparation, I decided to spend a year doing live performance. Because much of my work is performance for video, I felt it would be interesting to explore my relationships with body, interactivity, and audience. I participated in street interventions with K.I.D.S. and Flux Factory. I also did private performative acts, including riding the subway without sitting or holding on to anything. (This lasted 6 months- until I injured my foot.)

Can I Get You Anything Else? is another piece that comes from this series, which was first performed as part of the exhibition, a set of directions for making something, curated by Leslie Grant & Nina Pessin-Whedbee, at Grotto Gallerie in Brooklyn, NY. It is interesting how objects can generate ideas. I have a magnifying glass that is attached to an adjustable arm and base. One day I was playing with the magnifying glass, and realized that I could position the base on my stomach, and have the glass situated in front of my mouth, making my mouth enormous. This exploration immediately generated the idea for the piece, Can I Get You Anything Else? Separating my mouth, and what I am saying, from my body and my self, becomes both humorous and grotesque. The magnifying glass foregrounds the words I am saying and the distance we presume when interacting with people in the service industry.

My Performance on Fremont Street

My performance took place on Saturday, October 16th, from 1pm to 3pm. With the help of festival organizers, I chose the outdoor area of Las Vegas known as The Fremont Street Experience. In the performance I wear a classic diner uniform, with a magnifying glass in front of my mouth, making it huge in front of my face. (The magnifying glass is attached to my body by a brass arm protruding from my stomach, secured under my uniform with a corset.)

My script, regardless of what people say to me or how they respond to my questions, remains circumscribed by my designated position... (“Italian, French, ranch, or blue cheese?” “Green beans or peas and carrots?” “Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or coffee?” “I’m sorry, we’re out of the haddock.”) My questions always begin and end pointedly with selections such as the following:

“Are you ready?”

“How is everything?”

“Is everything okay?”

“Can I get you anything else?”

The theatricality of the piece fit in quite well with the environment of Las Vegas. I chose to approach many people as if I was their waitress who had forgotten to clarify part of their order:

“Um… I’m sorry… did you want that toasted?”

or “Excuse me, how did you want that cooked?”

Because of the location, I realized right away that I had to address the expectation of many there that I was actually trying to sell them something. For those unwilling to have a conversation with me, I simply said, “OK, I will be right back with your check!” This worked well. Many responded with laughter, some with confusion- and, I hope, a heightened sense that most experiences in that city are commodified.

While aspects of this performance are humorous and theatrical, I always look for a space in the conversation to ask questions that may be quite personal. Because the area is loud and bustling, I had to stand quite close to people to have a dialogue. Because of this, I did not generate a crowd, but did draw the curiosity of some- who I would later approach as I worked my way up and down Fremont Street. My interactions were usually brief, none lasted more than a few minutes. Because of this, I spoke to a large number of people. With many who did participate in the performance, my experience was intense. I have performed this piece before, though never in a tourist area. Certainly never in a place like Las Vegas.

What I didn’t foresee was the painful responses I elicited from some individuals. I think vacations reveal much about our definition of happiness, as something people think they can buy. This expectation must be exaggerated for some in Las Vegas, where experience is framed by the spectacle of artifice, risk of gambling, and opportunity for indulgence. Of course, people have fun in Las Vegas; and a number of interactions drew playful responses. During these exchanges, the requests included, a better pair of shoes, a new boyfriend, and even cocaine. My response to outlandish orders- “I’ll be right back with that!”

I did encounter some drunk tourists; and tried to make the performance work by exaggerating the confusion they were experiencing, playing the confused waitress, trying to clarify further, what errors I had made in their order.

While there were a range of responses, the dialogues that are staying with me revealed what I can only describe as despair. The performance became most potent when asking, “Is everything all right?”

The painfully insistent response, “YES! Everything is GREAT, why wouldn’t it be?” that one man expressed revealed more than he intended.

I do consider this piece a series of private interactions, though I will share the end of another encounter:

“Is everything all right?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can I get you anything else?”

“Can you?”

And she walked away…

She was curious about what I was doing, initially. And now, her response is something I am still thinking about… both in terms of how this performance functions, as well as what I think about audience. She and all of those I encountered are as much the performers of this piece as I am. Are they also the audience?

Perhaps not.

I think I was provoked as much as any participant.

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