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Claude Wampler

The performance artist plays with the audience at DiverseWorks

The guy in the bear suit — DW operations manager John Read — appeared in person, sans bear head, and adjusted the instruments and knocked down the screen to reveal a guitar. Then the musicians appeared in person and finally played through the whole, now completely annoying, song. A plant stood up on the front row and started to dance in place. The highlight was seeing DiverseWorks' own Gina Sonderegger having a great time as the drummer.

In the end, the performance would have been really good had it been condensed. Too often artists think duration somehow leads to transcendence, but maybe in this case it's just Wampler being jerky. A review of her New York performance reveals that it had a lot of obvious audience plants that probably kept people from getting bored. Other than the dancing girl, the only other one I heard about was some OCD person in the audience. Also, the New York audience was moved to a standing ovation when the band finally played in person, so I'm thinking that that band was way better. (The DiverseWorks group was a pickup band that had barely played together.)

Of course, audiences do differ, and that does change the experience. I hit the 8 p.m. show, but according to DiverseWorks director Diane Barber and Sonderegger, the 10 p.m. show was pretty crazy, with people calling for an encore and someone — not a plant — going on stage and dancing around with the bear head from Read's costume. (I'm thinking the late-nighters were a pretty boozy crowd.) Barber also revealed another element. Those who attended the performance will receive a link to a video clip of a curtain call for the cast. Apparently there were 19 audience plants. I thought most of them were just the usual performance art fan suspects, a guy in biker gear among them. Barber said there was also a plant that was passing out beer all through the performance. Why the hell didn't I sit next to that guy?

The thick fog reflecting ghostly images made it hard to breathe.
Courtesy of DiverseWorks
The thick fog reflecting ghostly images made it hard to breathe.

Ultimately, Wampler is exploring some interesting ideas, but I question her motives. There's a certain nastiness of tone toward her audience that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. While "Rehearsal Reversal" was actually pleasant, that was because the work was created for a restaurant, an artsy restaurant, but a restaurant. People have no hesitations about leaving a restaurant if the food sucks or they're having a bad time. But there's something sadly dutiful about performance art viewers. Wampler wants to exploit that. Or if you want to give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she wants to change that. It would be good if people were as intolerant of bad art as they are of bad food.

If you missed the performance — and fog poisoning — you can get a small taste of it in Wampler's installation in the Main Gallery, on view through December 15. A tiny video of the band and a little fog machine are running behind the wall printed with text.

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