Sunday, April 28, 2013

The six month Continuum Live Art Series is coming to a close on Friday, May 3rd at Avant Garden. It has been a truly heartwarming and inspiring experience, and I am thrilled to have experienced every single one of the events and workshops that were a part of it. There were more than one "virgin" performers and we connected with some truly talented artists that we never even knew existed. We peed in buckets, crushed spirit animals, defended dirt, became pain maps, slathered ourselves in ice cream, stuck our dicks through holes, played games with duct tape, told the future, expressed the color blue, and so so so much more. I think it is fair to say that there are very few places in the world with such a vibrant collection of performance artists, and CLAS truly put that on display while fanning the flame. I am proud to have been a part of it. 

I put together an interview with some of the brave new voices we connected with through this experience as well as Jonatan Lopez, a founding member, and the current facilitator of Continuum. CHECK IT!!! 

What has the Continuum Live Art Series meant for you personally?

Jonatan Lopez: CLAS has helped me learn so much about performance art, which it is itself a constant growing process, and about life in general. I learned that some of the most powerful work comes from within. Developing a performance out of our personal struggles, failures and triumphs, no matter how self-indulgent that might seem, always forms a strong connection with someone in the audience. There is always someone that will connect deeply with your work, and others take it home and interpret it in their own terms. I used performance as a cleansing and healing ritual, as a way to confront my fears, as a way to confront death. I feel so much older now, lol, as far as wisdom goes.
As one of the founders of Continuum, I am very happy that this project was successful at attracting new artists and providing a safe space, free of censorship to show their work, which has always been part of our mission. And all this is proof that sooner or later, The Universe always gives us what we ask for.
Joshua Yates: My name is Josh and I’ve been addicted to performance art for two years now. (*Hi Josh*) The first time I tried it, I reached my physical limits in front of 11 strangers and the rush that came from that moment of pure failure has become a drug. Only within performance have I found the most efficient means to connect directly to both the audience and my own subconscious simultaneously. It is the only method of art making that takes place outside the protective shelter of the studio and asks me to simply do and not over think. CLAS has given me the opportunity to present work alongside a wonderful community of like minded artists and for me that is invaluable. 
Neil Ellis Orts: CLAS has been an amazing opportunity for me. I have a great deal of gratitude for the organizers of this series and their willingness to let me play in their sandbox. I've only so far been able to show work at two evenings, but those two evenings opened my eyes to my own work.
David Collins: I am trying to be a writer. I want to have more of the performance aspect in my writing. Thirteen years ago I completed and published a book that has some performance artists as characters. I tested that book by reading chunks of it at notsuoH open-mike nights. Back in 1999, I did not know performance from the inside the way I do now (though I did know the Houston art scene in general) and it's gratifying to see that I got much of it right!

Jessie Noel: Continuum exists as a platform for local artists in Houston to explore performative art in front of a live audience. I am blessed to be amongst such encouraging and gifted artists in Houston. I am left with a longing for exploration and heightened senses by the end of each series that positively embeds in the desires for my next art piece.

Manola Maldonado: Continuum Live Series has been a journey a search for the simultaneous experience. How do we all fit into this equation and how can we share our experiences vs competing for our turn to experience?

What was one of your favorite pieces presented at a CLAS event?

Jonatan Lopez: There were so many favorite pieces, its hard to pick just one. Everybody took a very unique and personal approach to performance. David B. Collin's pieces were always so cheerful, yet with a sense of doom. Unna Betties's were so intricate and mind-blowing. Tina McPherson's struggles at performing long distance via social media always took her pieces into unexpected realms of interaction. I really enjoyed some of the pieces done in the back patio were most of the audience wasn't even aware of our event. Daniel Bertalot fought several drunks out of his plot of land for hours in a performance called "Mine," which became a very agitated game by the end of the night. Ryan Hawk submitted himself to humiliation by bar goers by simply laying on the floor with a cold drop of water slowly dripping on his back. The back patio became our guerrilla performance space, were the reaction of a naive audience was extremely interesting and hard to predict.
Joshua Yates: It’s really hard to narrow down but on the second night of CLAS, Daniel Bertalot performed a work entitled “Mine” where he physically protected a patch of dirt on the back patio from the audience members. I thought this was a beautiful way to dissect so many facets of human history in a very simple action. I am always attracted to the simple pieces because they give the audience the most room to breathe. 

Neil Ellis Orts: At the 4th night, Joshua Yates did this piece that has haunted me and I'm stopped in my tracks every time I see a picture from it. I've found the title of the piece is "In Remembrance of Me.," but I don't think I knew that when I watched his time-based performance, and I'm kind of glad. As a practicing Christian, that phrase has a lot of content and the performance was stoked with religion and myth without it. Thoughts of Sisyphus and Atlas passed through my head as he collected broken bits of cinder block into a bag. The blocks were arranged in circles around Joshua and each circle had larger pieces to collect. After each circle was collected in his bag, he lifted it to a single light directly overhead. Obviously, each circle became more difficult to lift, the time the bag was held aloft shorter and the space was full of his labored breathing. The circles themselves held echoes of Stonehenge and cemeteries. The lifting of the rocks to the light suggested something about offering, sacrifice, and the relative efficacy of worship. These few disjointed words don't begin to engage all the conflicting feelings I had during this performance. I found it hopeful and sad. It was impossible and necessary. I want to see it again.

David Collins:One favorite? That's difficult. I'm sure I'm not the only one who says so. Freshest in my mind is Koomah's piece from CLAS #5 (title escapes me) about the dictatorship of corn, its effect on people and animals, and being force-fed silage. Darkly hilarious and very poignant.

Jessie Noel: I do not play favorites when so many delightful artists stimulated me with their live expressions, although i remember one of Jonatan Lopez 's beautiful pieces that made me feel at ease. It was a tranquil and pure experience that made a lasting impression on me.

Manola Maldonado:  I would have to say my favorite piece presented was Nikki Thornton's. I loved the juxtaposition of the nails on her body. It really made me reflect on what it means to be trapped in the female body and the chains that we have to be bear for being objects of desire. Wrapped in inviting packages, vs threatening.

Any other potent memories from the CLAS series?

Jonatan Lopez:   I experienced one of the most potent moments recently while videotaping Julia Wallace in her piece "Intercession," for which she sat in the small entryway at the bottom of the stairs, with her eyes closed, in some sort of a trance. There was small offering by her feet of what seemed like dead flowers, and white paint was dripping out of her mouth. It was such a simple piece yet so strong. I knew something was happening, it scared me at first but then I knew it was something beautiful, as if a spell, as if she was controlling the pace of our environment for a few moments. I felt that piece through my bones.

Joshua Yates: On the third night Neil Ellis Orts performed a work entitled “Tell me where it hurts”. He wore a blue full body suit and asked the audience to draw the specific locations of their pain onto his body. It was as if he was attempting to alleviate part our pain and carry it with him simply through our act of identification. I still have yet to thank him for taking my scoliosis. 

Neil Ellis Orts:One of the most useful bits of information I ever got from a "talk back" after a performance was when I heard Bill T. Jones tell an audience member that the best way to look at contemporary art is to look at yourself looking at it. There is much about performance art, despite holding a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts, that puzzles me and even occasionally repels me. That I'm attracted to, even called to it is a mystery I'm letting myself enter into. I will admit that my aesthetics are sometimes at odds with what else is going on. I often sense an anger underlying some work that feels so deep and dangerous. But then I liken it to Flannery O'Connor's notion that you sometimes shout so the metaphorically hard of hearing will hear. So without specifics, I think the most potent part of attending the CLAS evenings is looking at what I may not, on the surface, "like," but which I need to pay attention to and see what it has to say to me. The first piece I presented at CLAS, Watch How you Watch, was indeed an instruction for myself. What do I see when I see myself seeing work I'm puzzled by, offended by, challenged by? What do I see when I see myself seeing work that touches my soul in more positive ways? I've found the most potent memories emerge months and years after the fact.
David Collins:Julia Wallace magically got several women and men to urinate into a communal bucket as an offering ("A Woman Like That"). This was one of those test cases proving that certain performances with audience participation work best when the audience has had a few drinks.

Jessie Noel:  The every first CLAS night Malice performed as the oracle on the third floor (admitting only one at a time). That piece stayed mysterious to me for most of the show until i finally got to walk up the stairs and was engulfed by magic and empowerment when she asked me what my one question would be.

What can we look forward to at the closing night?

Jonatan Lopez: I am really excited to see Manola Maldonado perform her final piece, I almost feel like I have lived it already in another life in a parallel universe, but I won't spoil the future for you. And I am just thrilled to experience every one's fresh new work one more time at this awesome venue. Other than that, you can expect the unexpected.
Joshua Yates: I’m a sucker for the element of surprise so my answer will be super ambiguous. I plan to achieve an intimate connection with every individual who attends the final show.
Neil Ellis Orts: I haven't foggiest idea. I'm currently recovering from a major surgery just now and am not even sure if I'll have the energy to participate. Snippets of ideas come to me, but not yet sure if I'll be able to use them . . .
David Collins:  I have been appointed MC for closing night Sway Youngston might say, "There Will Be Nudity."

Jessie Noel: For sure I know Unna Bettie will be performing a cathartic piece that reflects her grieving process brought on from the recent dying of her close friend Robert Franklin who was an artist, a muse and an inspiration.

Manola Maldonado:  I am hoping for this to close on a positive note so that I can send the message that we have the power to be free and to stop wasting our lives in fear and miscommunication.

What do you think CLAS has accomplished?

Jonatan Lopez: It has given many of us the opportunity to have a space to share our performances frequently, to build our body of work. It has attracted new artists and many new friendships have sprouted from it. And of course, the workshops and pre-show meetings were very helpful to me. I let every single workshop guide me in the development of a new piece, and I cherish so much the feedback I get from friends in Continuum.
Joshua Yates:CLAS has accomplished so many wonderful things. It has given numerous artists the opportunity to perform and grow together all while bringing this wonderful medium to the public on a monthly basis. I feel that there is a stigma attached to performance art that aids in the public’s misunderstanding (oh you mean like the “Blue Man Group” right?). Having a show that revolves solely around performance allows the audience to see how vital this medium is to any artists practice and perhaps will spur them to research it further.
Neil Ellis OrtsA series like this accomplishes several things. For artists: It creates an outlet for work that doesn't always have an outlet. It forces artists to work on deadline, which is a bane and blessing for an artist. It serves as a compact moment of time, where a lot of energy has to be expended and in some ways clears out cobwebs of ideas that needed to be addressed. It's a hosing down of the dusty walls of our creativity. For audiences: It offers another way of seeing art, that art is not just song and painting and dance, but also offers a way of seeing how all those media might inform this hybrid thing we simply call "performance." It invites puzzlement from an audience that is too often fed entertainment without subtext or deeper investigation. A series like this asks audiences to see a lot in a relatively short span of time, some of it "simple," and let the images soak into their lives until it becomes something complex—and hopefully revelatory.
David Collins:Hundreds of people are now aware that there is an active, local performance art collaborative, and that performance art does not have to be dangerous and alienating. Everything that someone can do to shock audiences has already been done, so we are living post-that, and it's quite liberating. Hundreds of others are just that much more bewildered about what constitutes art, but if these performances got them thinking, huzzah!

Jessie Noel: CLAS has brought artists together by providing a once of month artists are coming out of the wood works!

Manola Maldonado: Class has brought people together to create a simultaneous experience.

What do you have to say about Continuum after experiencing CLAS?

Jonatan Lopez: I would like to invite our new artists to stay involved with Continuum and take the initiative at facilitating new projects and events, so as Continuum enters its third year, they help us guide it into exciting new directions. I also hope they are all able to walk with us into the "Promised Land" ( More info about Continuum's Second Performance Art Retreat "Promised Land" coming soon).
I would like to thank Mariana Lemesoff and the bartenders of AvantGarden for providing the amazing space, never censoring us and letting me crawl naked up the walls, and many thanks the handy man for cleaning our performance residues at times. We are so lucky to have people like Mariana in Houston that support Performance Art at any cost. Will also like to thank Ted Viens for saving us from lack of documentation, he has come and videotaped so many of our pieces just out of love. Continuum Loves YOU!!!

Joshua Yates:CLAS is my first experience with Continuum and I have to thank Julia Claire, Hillary Scullane and Nikki Thornton for bringing me in to this amazing group of artists. Performance is central in my artistic practice and having a community of performance artists to interact with has helped me grow more than I could have imagined. Since I commute from Huntsville, I am looking forward to graduating in May so I can become more involved with everything that Continuum does. Those who perform together are forever tethered through a bond of vulnerability and I consider myself blessed to be a part of such a beautiful group.
Neil Ellis Orts: It's been great to be a part of CLAS and I am so happy Continuum formed to make it happen. There are ways that I feel I will be on the edge of Continuum, not fully a part of their energy and aesthetics and values, but I also have great gratitude in having worked with them and being in conversation (whether actual conversation or via our art works) with them. I hope it is a relationship that will continue even as I continue to build my own company, Breath & Bone/Orts Performance.
David Collins: CLAS and the associated workshops have made me a more open person, more willing and able to delve into feelings I may not have acknowledged previously. It has been performance therapy. Also, the more time I spend with the Continuum regulars, the more I realize how lucky I am to know them and count them as friends. We have ventured to the same depths, exposed our imperfections, learned from each other, and come out better friends.

Jessie Noel: Continuum keep doing what you do! (Visit Jessie Noel's Unna Bettie Facebook by clicking here!)

Manola Maldonado:Continuum is a group of free thinking individuals that promote the most honest form of self expression in it's performers.

CLICK HERE to see the facebook invite to the final show this Friday, which will be featuring the following artists: Unna Bettie, Joshua Yates, Evan McCarley, Jana Whatley, Salvador Macias, Emmanuel Nuño Arámbula, David B. Collins, Kelly Alison, Tina McPherson, Raindawg, Jade, Koomah, Julia Wallace, Jonatan Lopez and more.

All for free, can you believe it?


collages by Jonatan Lopez, Pictures by Hilary Sculane, Pieces by fabulous members and collaborators of Continuum and the CLAS Series. 

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