New Blood III at the Chicago Cultural Center

Editors note: New Blood III occurred on the weekend of November 20th-22nd.

Elise Goldstein "Open Seclusion," part of New Blood III

Elise Goldstein "Open Seclusion," part of New Blood III

by Todd Frugia (Co-Artistic Director of ROOMS Productions)

New Blood III Prelude

It was only by chance that I ended up at the final night of New Blood III – a showing of new durational performance pieces by students from the School at the Art Institute of Chicago.  My wife and I had just got back from out of town and were doing some shopping in the loop when we ran into Stephanie Burke (who later encouraged me to write this review).  We ran into her in Starbucks and she asked if we were going to the New Blood show – we sheepishly said “no” and admitted that we didn’t know about it.  She gave us the details and went on her way to the Cultural Center.  Soon after I decided to go ahead and check it out.  I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked – so I was only able to really sit down and experience three of them to the extent of writing a review.  So my apologies to the other performers.


Happiness is, artwork by Christopher Bradley

In the downstairs studio theater I found Christopher Bradley’s piece Wiper Drawings: Happiness is.  The performer (presumably Christopher) was sitting in front of a windshield lying flat, elevated on four legs or a set of saw horses (not sure which).  A light illuminated the windshield from beneath while the performer spread and fastened a smooth piece of paper atop the glass.  With a pencil tucked behind his ear, the performer took a wiper, pressed it firmly to the glass, and mimicked the object’s classic mechanical motion very slowly.  You can imagine the sound (accentuated by a speaker emanating the signal sent from a microphone fixed to the blade).  He then picked up the blade and examined the paper – brushing away any streaks or marks – then he went at it again.   I was drawn in right away – it was funny, mysterious, clever, and made me examine the tenuous relationship I have with my own wipers.  I was a bit confused by the physical set up – an elevated platform with several chairs sat about five or six feet in front of the wiper set.  I can only assume this was meant for the audience.  But being enamored with his set up, I stood very close to his “wiper” station.  An older couple came in and did the same.  They even asked him what he was doing.  He quietly tried to explain without getting drawn away from the performance.  He did great but seemed somewhat flustered.  I’m not sure if he was okay with the inquiries or that he was hoping that the platform would keep us at a safe distance.  But it was early – and kinks were being worked out – I decided to move on and hopefully come back.  When I did come back an hour or so later – the present audience had started to obey the room’s layout.  Several people were on the platform watching and he had more variations in sound.  Sometimes creating sounds that were more original, and sometimes getting that “rainy day wiper” rhythm just right.  I finished the night out there.  It was mesmerizing.


Elise Goldstein

Elise Goldstein’s OPEN SECLUSION played out in Gars Hall.  The cavernous room was very dark.  There were several beds in a row in the middle of the room and each bed had a perimeter of white tape on the floor just a couple of feet from their edges. At the end of each bed (four or five feet away) was a desk with a lamp and a clipboard with several pieces of paper on them.  The papers each had a specific stage direction and passages. A young woman dressed as a sort of nurse or doctor would pick up these clipboards and read from them – sometimes pacing around the room or facing parts of the audience (presumably dependent on the stage direction).   She read what seemed to be a variety of passages – articles from medical periodicals, personal journal entries – they all seemed to deal with some sort of psychological issue or practice.  Chairs were placed around the outside of the room for audience members.  Another woman, wearing a sort of blindfold was attempting to navigate her way through the room – going from bed to bed – ripping the stuffing from the pillows and mattresses.  She seemed to be searching for something.   She would find small objects, which turned out to be keys, she’d desperately yet delicately put them behind her head and attempt to unlock her blindfold.  The key would not work, and she would then hold the object out for the other doctor like performer to take and put on a key ring she had hanging from her waist.   I was intrigued with the theatricality of the piece and enjoyed my frustration with the task set for the blindfolded performer.  The task seemed extremely difficult, but in a durational piece like this – I was seduced by the possibility of her finding the key within the evening.   I just wish it could have been a little brighter – while the mood was magnificent – I felt it sometimes eclipsed the clarity of her task. I also felt a lack of specificity in their attempts to involve the audience.  I was most impressed with their resistance to the cliché performance her clinical environment might produce.   She focused on the task at hand, the nurse/doctor focused on the readings and directions.  Her reactions were genuine, helping make her commentary on psychiatric care the same.

Allison Fall

TENSILE by Allison Fall, was performed in the Cassidy Theater.  Her idea was simple yet striking.   She stretched latex sheeting across the proscenium layout of the Cassidy Theatre – stage, seating, everywhere.  She pulled, tied, stretched, and danced with the material while a piano player patiently plunked out a few notes from time to time.   I sat pretty far back where just a couple of seats behind me the latex was anchored down in a crudely tied not.  The latex shot all the way to the front of the house – where she was dancing at the time.  I was only a few inches from where it passed me – and though there was much distance between myself and the performer – my experience was not passive.  The latex fluttered, snapped, and swayed beside me.  Several thoughts went through my mind.  I felt directly connected to the performer’s movements, there was some danger involved (not knowing if I was going to get hit by the latex), and ultimately the material took on a life of its own.  This triangle of the latex sheet, the dancer/performer wearing a flattering sheer costume, and the audience created a kinetic yet sensual communion.   Sometimes her exploration of movement with the latex prevented her from being a bit braver with her manipulation of the material within the space.  All in all it was a very exciting yet meditative new piece.

On the way out of the cultural center I was able to catch a glimpse of WASH by Jillian Soto and I also passed by PERIPHERAL PRESENCE – by Stephanie Bailey, Alan Fleming, and Michael Fleming.  What little I saw of these pieces reminded me how powerful the presence of live performers trapped in the systems and rituals of the durational format can be.  A general criticism (and somewhat backhanded praise) of all the pieces is that they seemed passionately focused on their concept.  However, they sometimes lacked the specificity in relation to how an audience experiences the piece. Beyond that, I was inspired by the new work.  I come from a theatrical background, leading to experimental performance, leading to the installation work my wife and I do now at ROOMS Gallery.  So I still feel like a new comer to this world.  When I see work like the performances at the New Blood Show I think of one word -MORE!