Thursday, January 13
There Will Be A Pause Between Outfits: Michelle Ellsworth’s Brain Candy
'Listen to the girl
As she takes on half the world
Moving up and so alive
In her honey dripping beehive'
The Jesus & Mary Chain
“Just Like Honey”
There is a disembodied monologue that lives in the refrigerator of every house with a television—and it knows which fork to use, and it is dying to be fucked—and it knows what a good listener you are.
The last time I set foot in my father’s house was 1997; it was Christmas or Thanksgiving, and when I’d visit the fridge to refill a pint glass with box wine, I’d hear the family in the next room as they channeled the busy, busy voice of America.
Michelle Ellsworth has her finger, eyes, smile, feet (and ¼-inch socket wrench) placed perfectly & wickedly upon the voice box of the WASP work ethic. If there is one thing we do well, it’s Get Things Done. Ellsworth’s diptych sets its sights on two of our current/ancient obsessions: God and Safety.
The allusive, erudite, flawlessly-timed delivery of this big girl’s show-and-tell is only that: allusive; full of Things. A coping mechanism. Nowhere, but happy. Ellsworth’s brilliance lies in how very quietly she talks about emptiness, while we laugh and nod and lose track amid the toys and talismans and paintballs and licorice.
'I'll be your plastic toy
I'll be your plastic toy
At the end of an hour, we’re looking at a young woman in a trashed black box. Some members of the audience are singing along with our spokesmodel. I’m thinking about the hiking boots and Sonic Youth records that are probably still in my Dad’s attic.
I’d like to see Ellsworth do a piece that begins with the junkyard she’s made here, after the client/audience has left and the house lights are up. Watch her rummage around, or try to put stuff away. Listen to what she might let slip.
'Eating up the scum
Is the hardest thing for
Me to do'
'Just like honey' (x 17)
Tuesday, January 11
Who knew fashion could provide so many answers?
Who knew fashion could provide so many answers? Last night’s delightfully zany performance by Michelle Ellsworth defied any expectations I might have had. Her breathless, sugared-up delivery held me captive as she constructed then deconstructed “Ed,” her dress that solves problems.
For instance, Ed solved the problem of “does my butt look okay?” with a bustle. Ed was an actual dress, then a womb and finally a fort/classroom. Ed always provides the safest solutions and gadgets to navigating life’s quirky pitfalls and challenges. I particularly enjoyed Ed’s solution to bad behaviorial impulses like whenever Michelle felt like calling someone up to talk or gossip with a series of small boxes filled with things like a nine-volt battery, a dead mouse and prickly pear. You have to see this to believe it.
Fashion goes on in the second act to provide Michelle with a jumpsuit equipped to operate her own religion, a cult of one. It’s a pantsuit that solves problems in the religious world. “Religion is a fashion risk I’m willing to take,” she declares at one point and then she takes us through all her personal interpretations of church, catechism, community service and ultimate the peak experience of ritual sacrifice.
I can’t wait to see what Michelle does next. And whatever it is, I’m down with it.
-- Michelle Ellsworth
There's a strain of performance art best described as academic: It has an idea, and the performance fleshes out that idea. So, from the beginning, you know more or less what the performance is; the details remain to be filled in, but the extent and terrain of the performance are so determined by the idea that there's very little movement or surprise. When Michelle Ellsworth told the audience at the beginning of 'ED: The Word Made Dress' that she's created a dress that will make her feel safe, I pretty much got everything the performance was going to give me. The details, the particular elements of the dress's design and the things it contains that Ellsworth (either jokingly or genuinely) says make her feel safe, were often clever or amusing---Ellsworth is smart and not without comic charm.
But when the performance ended, the details didn't amount to anything more than what I could have invented from the same starting point: A dress that will make you feel safe.
'The Monkey Saddle', in which Ellsworth creates her own personal religion, has a little more imaginative space, simply because the idea is bigger (safety, after all, is inherently confining). But another aspect of academic art becomes more prominent here: The citing of references. In 'The Monkey Saddle' Ellsworth refers to, quotes from, or summarizes ideas from Karl Marx, Carl Jung, Thomas Carlyle, and Bob Dylan (in 'ED', she referred to 'The Odyssey' and 'Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land', for that ideal high art/low art postmodern combo). In an academic paper, it's never enough to talk about something, you have to cite everyone else who's talked about it and how they relate to what you're talking about. Again, the reference are intelligent and have an ironic humor, but I'm not what would be left if they were taken out.
Interestingly, Ellsworth is better on video, where her frenetic, neurotic persona seems quirky and personable; live, she comes across as awkward and one-note. Her video work---including the pieces she uses in the course of these live performances---frame her in some ineffable way that spins the familiar persona of an infomercial host or a self-help guru into odd and sometimes subversive waters. Had 'ED' been an infomercial trying to convince me to buy this dress---or perhaps to buy a kit that would allow me to build such a dress for myself---I might have been engaged. Live, I found both pieces static and impervious to emotional connection. ---Bret Fetzer
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Who better to write about what happens at On the Boards than the people who support and attend our performances? Making art is part of a dialogue between artist and audience, and so we've created Blog the Boards...
About Ellsworth Bloggers
Thanks to our Bloggers for Michelle Ellsworth, Beth Brooks, Allen Johnson and Bret Fetzer.
About Ed: The Word Made Dress
About Michelle Ellsworth
Collaborator Bios here...