Permutations, Transformation and AWoW
by Connie Roberts*
In this week’s New York Times Style Magazine there is a piece about the 78-year-old experimental performance artist Joan Jonas, who lives in a loft in SoHo and who, since the late-60s, has been practicing her own unique art form: “Jonas has pursued a category-defying, perpetually exploratory practice that melds performance, drawing, film, video, sculpture, installation, sound and literature.” Jonas is a woman not constrained by any discipline. She would have fit in well with the sisterhood of artists—visual, performance, and musical—at the Artists Without Walls: Gallery Series, featuring Kathleen Bennett Bastis’ Permutations at the First Street Gallery, NYC this past Friday night. Mixed media artist Kathleen Bennett Bastis, singer-songwriter Martina Fišerova, violinist Annette Homann and performance artist Allison Sylvia, like Jonas, do not fit neatly into a pre-packaged brand: all are difficult—in the best way possible—to pin down. The aptly named exhibition Permutations served them all well. There was alteration and transformation in spades on the night!
The “art gallery etiquette” was thrown out the (second floor) window: no need to speak in hushed tones as you observed the marvelous surrounding art work in the white on white space. Laughter and conviviality abounded. Kathleen set the tone when she, in addressing the crowd, held up an AARP magazine with an image of Bob Dylan on the cover. Yes, indeed the times are a changin’. Kathleen beautifully (and magnificently) harnesses that sense of flux in her work, transforming and reimagining all kinds of detritus. “She’s the real deal,” someone leaned over and whispered to me. And we AWoWers that night had the best deal in town.
Martina Fišerova was the first of the evening’s entertainers. And boy did she entertain. In her green, tulle pixie dress and black boots, with guitar in hand, she worked her magic, opening with one of her classic quieter pieces, but, with encouragement from the crowd, embraced her wilder side toward the end, with a dazzling display of guitar work and what can only be described as supernatural vocals. It was riveting to watch and hear.
Allison Sylvia followed on Martina’s heels. Allison, a recent graduate of NYU, is a thinking young woman who melds song, dance, poetry, and chant (for now) in her work—I’ve a feeling she’ll push the envelope even further in future performances—also had the crowd on the edge of their seats. A year or more ago, I’d read snippets from journal entries Allison had written—character sketches she committed to paper as she rode the subway between Manhattan and Brooklyn. And lo and behold, there she was Friday night dramatizing these characters—cello players and unrequited lovers—for an enthralled audience. Just as Kathleen had done in her multi-media pieces, Allison transformed her scraps into art.It’s exciting to watch her perform. And mark my words, she’s only coming into her own.
Annette Homann, our very own lady-in-red, violinist extraordinaire, rounded out the evening’s entertainment. Over the past few years, I’ve seen Annette perform numerous times. She is an amazing musician, a powerhouse of talent. And when she steps on stage, not only are we captivated by her beautiful music, but we are held in the palm of her hand by her beautiful (and beautifully authentic) personality. Her mischievous wit (watch out for that twinkle in the eye!) and hearty laugh wins us over every time. Barefoot and resplendent in a flowing red dress, Annette, segued flawlessly from classical music to pop; in the latter, impishly gyrating exaggeratedly to the swells of Adele’s Skyfall, all to the sheer delight of the audience. This joie de vivre is trademark Annette: a consummate performer. She’s having a damn good time on stage; consequently, so do we.
AWoW co-founders, Niamh Hyland and Charles Hale, did an amazing job as always co-hosting. Their job is very important, as they create the space—literally and figuratively—for artists of all stripes to be their best selves, to push boundaries, to experiment, to collaborate in a safe, nurturing environment. They are also the glorious pied pipers whose charm keeps bringing us back again and again to these marvelous events.
I think Friday night we all left the Permutations exhibition more than a little transformed. Thank you Kathleen, Charles, Niamh, Martina, Allison and Annette.
*Connie Roberts debut collection of poems “Little Witness” is available here: Click on “Buy” on the right hand side of the page