Working Without A Net: G. Vincent Gaulin’s Crisis Energy

Jeriah Hildwine

Props and set from the performance of "A Memorial To The Family I Almost Began" at Studio 1020

G. Vincent Gaulin’s recent work presents some challenges, in very pragmatic terms of terminology.  As an example, last month I saw a piece entitled A Memorial to the Family I Almost Began, the last exhibition to take place at Studio 1020.  G. Vicent Gaulin is ultimately the author of this work, but it’s part of an over-arcing meta-narrative in which Gaulin adopts the character of SCARCITY, who in turn is the author of an “ongoing slow play” called “Is This You, WANT?”  In the play, Gaulin’s character SCARCITY himself plays the role of DISCIPLINE BEAR.  So DISCIPLINE BEAR is a character in “A Mememorial to the Family I Almost Began,” written and performed by SCARCITY (created and portrayed by Gaulin) as ACT 1, Scene III of “Is This You, WANT?”  Previous acts include “Work In The Woods,” presented at Spoke.

“Ding!”  Thus Gaulin verbally signals the operator of the slide projector to advance to the next frame.  Ding!  It’s dissonant, obnoxious, far from the expected “Next…” that is so familiar from slide presentations, or the figure drawing instructor’s infinite iterations of “Change…” which turn every session into a parody of an Obama campaign speech.  Ding!  It’s typical of the kind of awkwardness pervasive in Gaulin’s work.  Ding!

Gaulin presents an earnest, “aw shucks” kind of country naïveté, which is clearly laid as an intentional performative affectation over a sophisticated and complex understanding of what it is that he’s doing.  When you watch the performance, you’re left with the question of how much of what you’re seeing is Gaulin, how much is SCARCITY, and how much is DISCIPLINE BEAR.  This might resolve itself after viewing multiple parts of “Is This You, WANT?” as well as Gaulin’s other work.

Screenshot of Gaulin's "Musk Ox"

Gaulin is only a year out of his BFA (SAIC 2010).  For his BFA show, Gaulin presented a performance in the form of a game, called Boom Ball, aka Ball Snatchers.  Judging from the YouTube video, it looks like a clumsy, awkward sort of parody of most competitive sports, but in particular a vigorous individual sport like wrestling.

Gaulin’s work succeeds because it’s so close to failure: not in that “almost good but not quite there” kind of way, and not in that ironic “so bad it’s good” kind of way, but rather in a way that a tightrope walker’s performance is compelling only because of the perceived danger of the deadly fall that would answer the slightest mistake:  thus the greater thrill when one works without a net.   A close parallel is found in China Meiville’s steampunk-fantasy novel Perdido Street Station, in which a character is devoted to researching “crisis energy,” a sort of power or energy intrinsic to objects that are in a state of crisis or danger.  In Meiville’s writing it is fiction, but Gaulin makes crisis energy real.


Jeriah is an artist, educator, writer, and snack enthusiast.  You can see his work at www.jeriahhildwine.com, and read his columns at Art Talk Chicago and Chicago Art Magazine.  Jeriah lives and works in Chicago, with his wife Stephanie Burke.