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Reuben Breslar, "Beachy"

From Peri0d
By Reuben Breslar
December 30, 2013  |  weblink

This 4 hour Happening included 5 fans, 1 space heater, 8 ½ x 11” paper, 2 music soundtracks, 2 video projections, a drop-cloth-constructed-tent as a changing area, 25 deck chairs, 10 performers, an audience and alcohol.  There were a lot of moving parts in the show and it was all a learning process for me to put it together.  I have never done anything like “Beachy” before.  I had done stand-alone installations and performance-based art before, but never the fusion of the two.  I also didn’t know what to expect working with a cast of 10 people and then both José and James, the owners of Furthermore.  It was 3 months of planning and 2 intense weeks of set-up. I ended up feeling more like a producer or director than an artist by the end of it.  But it was all so wonderful.  The day of the event everything came together and I was blown away by the talent level in the space that night.  My cast of 10 performers stepped it up and made their characters both fun and personal.  The happening achieved everything I wanted it to, by creating a transcendental space for people to lose themselves in.  Outside it was cold and rainy, but inside Furthermore it was a balmy 75 degrees.  People got comfy and drank and hung out, and most didn’t leave til about 12:30, when the event ended at 11.  I wish I could host this Happening every weekend for the duration of winter!

My very first encounter with the idea of a Happening was through a Modern Art history book during my freshman year of college.  The artist mentioned was Rirkrit Tiravanija, and the piece explained was an untitled work he presented at the Carnegie International exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA in 1995. His Happening included wall text that presented written instructions for cooking South-east Asian green curry, which was then prepared for visitors.

I remember thinking about how beautiful it was… his act of giving.  As Tiravanija’s happenings use cross-cultural exchange to create “parallel spaces” in galleries for others to use and enjoy, it made me think about how you couldn’t necessarily do this in Painting— a medium I was currently obsessed with.  The thought of using art to give back, in some direct way, stuck in my mind long after reading the essay.  I remember feeling inspired by this, as giving always feels better than taking.

After graduating college, I went on to stage different Happenings in local DC galleries.  This was in 2006 and 2007.  I was feeling burnt out from strictly painting and making installations, and there was a part of me that ached for more human connection in my practice.  Project 4, Civilian Art Projects, and Transformer were all participants in my first Happenings.  At the time I called them Draw-Ins, and they consisted of taking over a gallery for an afternoon or evening and letting anyone and everyone come in and drink and draw in the space.  I was very into the idea of purity when it came to these first Happenings, so I did not take pictures or record them in any way… very much like Allan Kaprow.   They were “one-off” events, meant to exist uniquely in time—temporarily, and not preserved for eternity.  My main impetus was to repurpose the gallery space, taking commodity out of the equation for a moment, and tending to the importance of community, love, and togetherness.   I wanted to make a place to rest our bodies and recharge our souls.  I believe that everything is interconnected and the more love you put out into the world, the more love you get back.  It’s a principle of cause-and-effect. 

A few years after the initial Draw-Ins I staged a “Touch” happening at Philippa Hughes’ apartment, as part of her Salon Contra series.  It was amazing.  The event was based on people getting to know each other by painting on one another with body paint.  It was a play on formal introductions and the way we meet new acquaintances.  I was pushing the envelope on themes of trust, comfort, and vulnerability.  “Touch” was about celebrating people—in a more ancient ritualistic fashion.  Living in a city, people become obsessed with their personal space and their “bubble,” and we forget about how important the act of touching is and how it has been a mainstay in the evolution of societies since the beginning of time.  Leading up to the event I was thinking a lot about our human sensory processes and I tried to keep the event light by including a processional component to it all— a dance, a cadence.  People milled about and had the opportunity to paint on many different attendees, all the while being painted on themselves.  I was setting the scene and celebrating humanity.  It was a lot like the French terms mise en place and mise-en-scène, where one includes all of the ingredients necessary to make something happen, but in my case I wasn’t sure exactly how the variable of people would play into the outcome.  So in a way, I realized that my Happenings were very much like human experiments, where I did not know what was actually going to transpire in the space.  People became the magic ingredient in the production, an unknown variable that would in and of itself dictate a state of “humanity now.”

I have never set out to host a Happening intentionally.  All of my Happenings have evolved from larger abstract ideas that do not fit the form of any other media.  I love how people joke about “but is it art?” to instigate some kind of jovial polemic about the state of art now, and this is almost exactly how my Happenings formed… it was very “well, it’s not a music show or a pay-to-enter event, so I guess it must be art.”  I love hiding behind Art.  It’s a great excuse to do something that might not make sense any other way.  Not to mention the unbridled creativity that can come about from trying to realize your daydreams.  I mean, we all have to bend a little bit to put on a show, but Beachy really made me feel like a kid in a candy store.  I had very few reigns holding me back, and James and José were as excited about the event as I was. 

James and José were awesome to work with and we started planning the show back in July.  At first we were thinking of doing a show about my binder series, an evolving practice that I began in 2010.  But it wasn’t quite experimental enough for the space.  José and James were great mentors and challenged me to do something I hadn’t done before.  It wasn’t just about a show, it was about trying something new and taking chances. I brought my computer to the first meeting and just showed them tons of stuff I was working on, everything from painting to video.  A kite video that I had taken at the beach several summers ago caught James’ eye and we started building the show around it, organically.  José and James are exceptionally gifted people and I learned a lot from them by putting on this show.  That was one of the greatest gifts—getting to work with them personally, and also learn from them about what the DC art scene was like in the ‘80’s and how it has evolved to where we are now.

Even though my binder series was not in the limelight of the show, it has been my backbone for creative pursuits for over 3 years and encases anything and everything I am interested at any given moment of time.   It’s part self-analysis, documentation, and research, and within it I am examining language structures and ideas of rebus and syntax.  I have a background in music and love playing in bands, so the language of music and the language of art often fuse in my practice.  It has been this overlap that led me to start investigating the 5 senses and try to bring them into a show context.  “Beachy” exemplified this study, and I paid particular attention to each of the 5 senses while formulating the simulacra that ended up being the experience.   There were visuals that played on our ability to see (video projections and beach accoutrement), there were ocean sounds and music for the element of hearing, the 10-person cast instigated forms of touch by offering hand massages and hair braiding (not to mention the TSA agents who were giving pat-downs outside the main gallery doors), there were smells of coconut oil in the air used for massages, and there was a rum punch to drink for the component of taste. 

The cast of characters were all friends, and I felt so lucky to be able to work with each of them.  I still can’t believe they were all able to participate, and this by itself was one of the greatest experiences of my art career.  Seriously, how often do you get to work with 10 of your favorite people on a show?!  Amazing.

The cast included:
Philip Barlow, lifeguard
Lorenzo Cardim, cabana boy
Michaël Gagnon, TSA agent, main doors
Rachel Hrbek, voodoo lady
Amanda Kleinman, Majestic Ape
Armando Lopez-Bircann, cabana boy
Katie Macyshyn, AKA “Bubbles,” cabana girl
Adrian Parsons, TSA agent, main doors
Sheldon Scott, AKA “Antonio,” cabana boy
Kevin Sottek, TSA agent number 1, front door access
*Alana Stanley, cabana girl (Alana was a welcomed addition to the original cast)

Although I don’t always know where my ideas will take me or the final project they will encapsulate, they do all come from a sincere place—a personal moment that I want to expand upon and share with others.  The Draw-Ins were conceived of in undergrad while drinking and drawing with friends in the studio late at night; the Touch happenings were a result of painting kids faces at my nephew’s birthday party; and Beachy evolved from my love of the beach and family vacations.  Many times I will walk the beach at summer wishing I could teleport all of my favorite people there for a moment.  Since this is nearly impossible, Beachy was the next best thing.