[editor’s note: photos by Jonathan Welch, text by Jaye Bartell]
It’s a fact of participatory art: Kids participate, adults photograph.
Fortunately, almost as many children as adults made up the sizable crowd that gathered in Pritchard Park on Sunday, July 11, for “Splat,” a dance performance/live art/music event sponsored by Arts2People.
This art’s two people — dancer/performance artist Claire Elizabeth Barratt and musician/composer Shane Perlowin — joined their unique and resourceful talents to infiltrate the all-day brunch that is downtown Asheville on Sunday, with many shades (and forms) of color.
The music for a never-made David Lynch film (about two people made out of wind who sit in a park and talk about where to go next) and the smell of tempera paints filled the air.
Dressed in white from headscarf to lace-less high-tops, Barratt made her body a canvas. She even covered most of her exposed skin with white paint until she looked like a wet plaster statue of herself, or like she was using very strong sunscreen. (This was a wise move, as the noon sun turned the park’s amphitheater into an empty swimming pool full of people who wished they were swimming.)
Reaching for one of almost a dozen condiment-type bottles of paint, Barratt added some yellow (a runny egg), then purple (add some jam), some orange (juice) (someone apparently had breakfast on his mind), and so on until the body-turned-canvas became a color palette (and finally a paintbrush). The performance was underway as Barratt applied various parts of her body to the actual canvas, placed on the ground in the center of the park.
Perlowin’s music was similarly transgressive; he had as many effects pedals as Barratt had paint bottles. This is not to say that the sounds coming from his purple Stratocaster were computer-generated. Much like Barratt’s painted fingers and elbows, the pedals extended the surface of the instrument so more surfaces could be reached, or the same surface could be reached in more ways. Leaning foot-first into the volume pedal (which amplifies as it’s depressed and quiets as it’s lifted), Perlowin mirrored Barratt’s gentle beginning, making round, swelling tones from the middle of the fret board.
As Barratt added more colors to herself, and more parts of herself to the canvas, Perlowin increased the details of his playing, beginning a quick run through a major scale before derailing the progression with a rusty nail or an empty coffee can falling down a tinfoil staircase. At one point, the dance and the score (both improvised, by the way), aligned decisively. Barratt picked up a paintbrush and made broad, slow strokes of blue across her chest and torso; simultaneously, Perlowin held and bent a note, or used his finger for a bottleneck.
The description may sound melodramatic, but this kind of correspondence is always striking in the midst of an improvised, collaborative performance. One is never sure who’s the wind and who’s the sail.
Both performers commanded their materials. Barratt’s agile physical expressions were spontaneous yet always definitive. Her work is exploratory, generous and based in joy. The same is true for Perlowin, whose process of searching, finding and discarding a sonic tack had everybody following him visually as much as they listened. While his sounds may not have been “joyful” in the sense of happy or upbeat, his darker part contributed to the balance of the broader performance.
Attendance was impressive for an early Sunday afternoon in July during a heat wave. Most of the attendees arrived early, and took their seats in the few shaded areas around the park’s center. It seemed that the majority of those present came specifically for the performance.
A few overheard comments from the crowd:
“This is a Pitchard Park picture if ever I saw one.”
“Honey, why aren’t you wearing shoes?”
“I love this crowd — no smoking, no drinking, no cussing.”
The crowd may have been clean, but Barratt’s now totally-covered body was not, nor were the hands of the four of five children who accepted one of the many brushes she held up and offered to all and sundry.
As the music quieted and stopped and Barratt politely notified her young collaborators that the piece was finished, one of the girls ran laps around the completed canvas. It looked like a patch of wildflowers, or a bruise, or a many-colored mud puddle (with some hand and foot prints on it). If Perlowin’s music produced the same evidence, there would have been purple and yellow and blue and orange all over the piles of rocks rising from the park to the sidewalk.
It turns out there was. Someone had to spray it all off with a hose.
photos by Jonathan Welch