Performance art gatherings foster student creativity

Senior painting and printmaking major Grace Mae Huddleston and senior sculpture major Alex Curley’s performance shows two people overcoming hardships during a journey together. Photo by Craig Zirpolo.

Craig Zirpolo
Contributing Writer

On a warm March evening, a line of students and Fan residents file out of an Oregon Hill home and assemble in an adjacent lot. Extension cords snake from down the narrow hallway to an amplifier and projector. As the brick face of the row house turns a saturated blue, the audience quiets and the performance begins.

Much like the house-show scene for local musicians, DIY, or do-it-yourself performance art shows create a space for students to share their work and explore new ideas freely, said senior painting and printmaking major Grace Mae Huddleston.

Huddleston opened up her home as the venue for “Patterson Hi 5,” a free performance art show featuring five VCU students and a variety of installations, projections and other works.

While there are no set parameters, performance art generally uses space, time and some form of media and audience interaction to speak conceptually beyond immediate entertainment, which separates it from theater, music and other performance works.

“Patterson Hi 5” featured projections, performances, installations, original sound designs, comedy and other varieties of art, with the diversity of presentation being central to the event, Huddleston said.

Because performance art is often interdisciplinary, a variety of students from VCUarts perform and attend DIY shows across Richmond, said senior sculpture and extended media major Caroline Dahlberg.

“It’s up to us to make our own communities to support our work outside of VCU,” Dahlberg said. “All of our teachers and departments encourage and support us, but we’re definitely encouraged to host shows outside of the school environment.”

Though Dahlberg said she often hears about performances by word-of-mouth and Facebook events, they are not simply “parties with art on the walls.”

“People have a respect for the artists and their work just as they would in a gallery, but it is also a more casual, conversational and personal space,” said performer Rachel Ludwig.

Ludwig and Huddleston collaborated for their first DIY show, “Safety Dance” in December of 2013, and were inspired to continue exploring non-gallery performance spaces with “Patterson Hi 5.”

“Hosting the first show at my house started my interest in alternative spaces because I was really into the way the viewers (were closer to) the artists,” Huddleston said.

In “Safety Dance,” Ludwig and Huddleston focused on themes and images associated with parties such as birthday cakes and social installations, further establishing their basis for using their home as a venue.

“I transformed the living room with objects that were social catalysts,” Huddleston said. “The work didn’t have a start or stop time, so people interacted differently.”

While Ludwig continued her exploration of birthdays, time and change in her outdoor performance at “Patterson Hi 5,” the event grew beyond her original explorations of “Safety Dance” thanks to an extended lineup of diverse performances.

“For ‘Patterson Hi 5’ it was more of a desire to bring together many of the people we know who are working in performance and showcase their works,” Ludwig said. “All of the performers are students at VCU, but this event exists outside that space.”

Without an official venue for performance art in Richmond, Ludwig feels that DIY shows across the city will continue to act as a proving ground for new ideas and collaborations.

“I think the artists and performances really thrive off of the engaged audience at these events,” Ludwig said.

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