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When Artists Are Your Neighbors

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On Saturday, November 12, the Marcus Center will be hosting a second “Performance Art Showcase” featuring local talents in Vogel Hall at 8 pm. This show simply wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Riverwest. Riverwest has been THE breeding ground for performance art since its very beginnings in Milwaukee. For example, Tom Tolan writes in Riverwest: A Community History (2003) about a “happening” at the Kaleidoscope underground newspaper (at 733 E. Clarke) in the late 1960s. “A movie was projected on a wall, sausages dangled from the ceiling, and participants mulled around in the dark,” chronicles Tolan. Performance art, not to be confused with the “performing arts,” pulls from the disciplines of dance, comedy, film, music, poetry, sculpture, theater, and video. Because of its interdisciplinary nature, you need a group of artists from different disciplines who start colliding and interacting. Over the past 35 years, Riverwest has provided this environment. In the 1980s, Woodland Pattern brought in national stars and sponsored local events. Prominent Milwaukee artists, sculptress Jill Sebastian and Wild Space Dance Company founder Debra Loewen, who both lived in Riverwest at the time, helped found a performance art collective that produced numerous shows in multiple locations between 1982 and 1986. The Polish Falcon’s Nest was one of the more creative spots, with the sound of people bowling in the background throughout the performance. The November showcase will feature many Riverwest artists who see where they live as having a huge impact on their work. “Riverwest, being a nexus for artists — and the harder to categorize “artistic types” — affords more opportunities to exchange artistic ideas and energies,” says Jeffrey Cartier. Cartier has lived on Chambers Street for 17 years. He will be providing photography and video skills for a piece about astrology at the Nov. 12 Showcase. “If I want a critical audience for my work,” Cartier commented, “I need not go any further than literally next door.” Peter Barrickman, a 12-year Riverwest resident, has also found the community a “good place to collaborate.” Like other artists, past and present, he appreciates the low rent which allows him to make enough money to live and still have time to make art. He and Randy Russell have created a theatrical debate for the showcase about the crisis of the Midwest artist in today’s global venue. One of the debaters will be new Booth Street resident Molly Snyder Edler. Allison Halter, who moved to Riverwest in 2001, says, “This neighborhood has given me encouragement to show my work at the Jody Monroe Gallery, Center Street Daze, and Locust Street Festival.” She’s been able to bring to fruition a number of projects she’d had “floating around” in her head for a long time. One of these, the “Fash Attack!!” will be part of the showcase. “Fash Attack!!” is an experimental fashion show that combines do-it-yourself clothing design, live music, and narrative. Just a few months ago, Halter’s cofounder of the “Attack,” Lindsay Hayden, moved across the street. Hayden talks about how the neighborhood, and especially Halter, has influenced her. “In a lot of places I’ve lived, there’s been a definite sense of creating in a vacuum,” notes Hayden. “I think the Riverwest community is SO different… an artist here has friends who are willing to help realize work.” Some of the models in the “Fash Attack” will be Riverwest friends. Even one of the two out-of-town performers for the showcase, Tracy Doreen Dietzel, sees Riverwest as an important part of her artistic growth. Like other artists, Dietzel, who has lived in Madison since 1990, has found Woodland Pattern a vital resource. There she has seen shows, participated in workshops, and met a woman who later asked her to perform at Lincoln Center in New York City. Dietzel’s two “Liphoop Series” pieces mix dance, hula-hoop movement, and lip-syncing. Her performance at Vogel Hall will include a world premiere. Tickets for the show are $7 and can be purchased at the Marcus Center Box Office or by calling (414) 273-7206.
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