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Monday, February 14, 2011

'Breaking Ranks' at the Headlands: Poetry, Art, Nature -- and Simulated Sex in a Latrine

Posted By on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Nothing starts a day of experimental art like parsley. - HEIDI DE VRIES
  • Heidi De Vries
  • Nothing starts a day of experimental art like parsley.

The Headlands Center for the Arts is committed to nurturing adventurous artists, for emphasizing process over product in its residency programs. It takes risks in its own programming too, and Sunday it staged an on-site art walk as part of its current exhibition, "Breaking Ranks: Human/Nature." Attendees were guided to various points both inside and out of the Headlands' small network of buildings where a variety of readings and performances were presented. There were many sublime moments, though the afternoon was not without a head-scratcher or two as well.

The crowd congregated in the Mess Hall for a free-form investigation by writer Anisse Gross into parsley. While Gross sketched out some intriguing parsley history and her often-humorous encounters with parsley lovers and haters in Facebook groups and online forums, small shots of juiced parsley were handed out to energize us for the afternoon ahead. The pungent green liquid taken alongside Gross's keen observations were an apt reminder not to take for granted even the most humble herbage in the Headlands landscape as we traipsed through it.

HEIDI DE VRIES
  • Heidi De Vries
And traipse we did, up the steep slope to Building 961. Christian Nagler and Cassie Thornton led the charge, giving the group a list of simple options for how to proceed along the way such as walking, waiting, falling/failing, signaling, assisting, and pretending not to notice. Some performed a variety of the tasks with gusto, while others stuck to the basic task of walking uphill. Or maybe they were actively pretending not to notice the signals and the falling, as instructed.

Christian Nagler and Cassie Thornton lead the way. - HEIDI DE VRIES
  • Heidi De Vries
  • Christian Nagler and Cassie Thornton lead the way.
Organizers made a last-minute decision to skip the trip to the cliff-side Battery Wallace, so alas no breathtaking views of the coast on this particular day. Instead Sarah Fran Wisby read three pieces of her "conversational poetry" inside the barn-like space of Building 961, illuminated by chandelier. Wisby has a wonderfully dry delivery that suited her work about stolen cow hearts (in honor of Valentine's Day) and a missed connection on the way to JFK, and she often had the audience laughing out loud. Matt Runkle's post-modern tale of a collective called The Taco Group and its attempts to invent an artistically oriented, functional city was slightly less successful, if only because the surrealism of his story did not quite translate in that environment. Elise Baldwin was able to use the space to full effect, however, mesmerizing the room with her live projections that melded a glitchtastic electronic soundtrack to archival footage of wildlife layered on top of a real time video capture of small dioramas of grass and trees that she spun on an old record player. The results were truly magical.

Then we headed down the hill to the Headlands Gym, as poetry rained down on us from a hillside courtesy of Jesse Nathan and his megaphone. In the gym a Tyvek-clad Alex Nichols read her deliciously creepy short story about contamination and containment, accompanied by a video repeating endlessly behind her of an anonymous individual struggling with a safety suit. In the same space, but decidedly less effective, was Denise Leto's presentation, the beauty of her ecological and feminist poetry diminished by distracting staging that included a strobe light, female figures standing as if caged, and a soundtrack of multiple competing voices.

Fake sex, real latrine. - HEIDI DE VRIES
  • Heidi De Vries
  • Fake sex, real latrine.
The last stop was the Headlands latrine where Qilo Matzen and a small army of fellow performers explored issues around water as they filled buckets in the showers and rattled stall doors that had been decorated with statistics about usage and waste. They saucily mixed in some simulated queer sex as well, the most blatant reference all day to the building's history as a former military barracks. It was a fitting end to an event rich with experimentation, memorable even if somewhat hit-and-miss in spots.

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Heidi De Vries

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