Tony Labat “Elevation: Denver”
There was a crowd around the hot dog vendor as I entered Emmanuel Gallery (i.e. church edifice) for Tony Labat’s installation and performance centered “Elevation: Denver,” 2014. Labat’s highly lit and immense, slightly cross-shaped; pseudo catwalk Elevation lumbered the center of the gallery.
Elevation as performative sculpture differs from the initial conceptual drawing Elevation: Platforms, Stages, & Catwalks VI, 2012 only slightly yet meaningfully. Unlike most stages or fashion catwalks Elevation’s “front and center” staircase allows the performer or participant to democratically enter and/or exit from either the front or the back. Dependant upon one’s bearing, the stairway describes either a downward or ascendant movement.
Within “Elevation: Denver” there are no viewers only participants, collaborators or the possibility to be socially accessible. Asking the public to “continue engaging with the work” Labat’s formulation of parameters around Elevation works to remove the accepted wisdom of an artist’s (performer, or priest’s) elite status or superiority. No “just looking” allowed here.
Perhaps he’d lulled or tricked the group into a sense of complacency with the hot dog cart at the entrance? I’m thinking baseball and people watching. Labat asked us to attend and be present in this moment. Wait- not just be present but also contribute and continue to wrestle the nuances out of his spectacle’s anti-spectacle.
The crowd didn’t sift around the platform but seemed to be holding breaths as the beat of club music started. The built stage at Emmanuel allowed the first activators- drag queens, costumed, vamping and lip-syncing to thumping dance music to rupture the space between the viewer and spectacular performer by coming down off the stage and interacting freely with the crowd. Even with an All-American hot dog cart I knew I wasn’t at a sports coliseum with gods held out of reach.
From the spicy, corn-cob suckers to the sweetly pink cupcakes in silver foil on a towering tiered platter- Labat’s cultural mocking was not just to be seen but wholly experienced. The packed-in, teeming wooden cross heaved as political object in a gallery whose shifting Episcopal identity is still belied by the architectural remnants of vestibule, nave and transept.
Between performance activations the crowd was encouraged to get up on that stage and unpack the work. So, like a few others, I danced on the platform. Sensing a precarious height that comes along with prominent display I thought about the drag queen’s added six-inch high heels. My sense of falling or failing was sharpened. It’s the Jennifer Lawrence falling at the Oscar moment with photo-ops.
Not said dismissively, while the work was not ADA compliant (my sole critique)- Did you “viewer” “watcher” understand this by standing idly? (A performance document will never draw attention to this. Not inadvertent, the photographers here were also part of the work- caught in the act of watchers.)
Later from the upstairs balcony I stopped looking at the series of drawings, narrative text and sculptures when I heard “Legendary Punk Rock Mutant Front Man, Fritz Fox” play the harmonica. After the thumping beats and drama that had surrounded Drag Queen Anya Nees rendering Sleeping Beauty (or Ginger Douglass as BAD BAD GRRL NUN) -Fox’s jumbled accompaniment to prerecorded music was lo-key and so significantly beautiful.
I thought both about shifts of, loss of identity and the desire that formed around a cult of youth. Did you see that too?
In that upstairs balcony, below the round, second-story church windows that look out into the branches of trees are a set of rocks held in vitrines. (Are they the bedrocks of religion? Or are they just rocks that could be held in one’s hands? Hurled in protest?)
I’m in the trees with rocks holding me down.
I’m in the air again as Fritz Fox warbles below.
Labat’s work goes past edifice pushing us to regard similarities as incongruencies. With DJs, aging punk rocker and drag queens activating the object and space it was more significantly a poignant Drag Queen Ranon as Madonna “Papa Don’t Preach” moment.
To be present to watch but not taking the risks to be on the opposite side of production, “viewers” are shown to be complicit in their non-understanding of the mechanics of urbanity, identity and stereotype. Labat takes elements of his earlier work, such as Babalu, 1980 and stretches it to the limit. Similar to Lygia Clark he explicitly challenges one not to be a viewer but participant.
Are spectators too used to being spoon fed images, where experience is now a non-production game? The individuals, the community response to the performance tells it’s own story. It’s here where Elevation is most heady. The work itself serves to critique the public; a “how to complete the work” manual. Now “we” have one more week to finish “Elevation: Denver.”
Boldly walk through “Elevation: Denver” at Emmanuel Gallery through June 28, 2014.
Tony Labat as Babalu- http://www.eai.org/title.htm?id=2241
Tony Labat 1988 A Jar Full of Jam” Based on a play about sexual difference by fifteen-year-old Ella Tideman, A Jar Full of Jam is performed entirely by a cast of teenage males.” http://www.eai.org/title.htm?id=2277
Read Jacquelyn Connolly and Cortney Stell‘s curator statement here on the ArtPlant Residency website–http://www.artplnt.org/2014/
Wednesday June 25th, Tony Labat’s host, ArtPlant Residency will host a site-specific karaoke challenge, NOYOKØ: Next Level, from 8-10:30 at Emmanuel Gallery.
Emmanuel Gallery | Auraria Campus | 1201 10th St. | Denver, CO