Bayou City

Performance Art Gone Awry Raises a Big Stink at AvantGarden

Some performances at AvantGarden can get pretty far out there, but nothing like what happened last Friday.
Some performances at AvantGarden can get pretty far out there, but nothing like what happened last Friday. Photo by Ed Schipul via Flickr Commons
Last Friday night, Montrose’s beloved AvantGarden was besieged by a pair of “performance artists” who turned a well-intentioned benefit show into a scatological catastrophe of nearly Biblical proportions.

The duo, Sonic Rabbit Hole, readied to perform their set for Zoning Out over a Bowl of Ice Cream Benefit Show #1, a charity event open to the public that featured live music, face painting, vendors, raffle prizes and performance art to support a local artist's fight with cancer. Instead of an improvised set of experimental music, the audience witnessed one of Sonic Rabbit Hole's members, Michael Clemmons, perform a “muscle-milk enema” onstage. Soon after he evacuated himself, the audience did too by fleeing the scene.

“I received a text message on WhatsApp that my staff and I use, and I see a text from one of my bartenders saying, ‘It stinks here. What’s going on? Somebody smells. Please find him,'” says Mariana Lemesoff, AvantGarden’s owner. “We go to look at what’s going [on], and we see that he’s defecating on the stage.”

According to Lemesoff, one of the venue’s bartenders confronted Clemmons and bandmate William Foisy and immediately attempted to kick them out of the venue. An argument ensued, and as the band left the venue, one of them allegedly broke the window with his amplifier. Someone in the crowd called the police, but they did not arrive until long after the duo had left.

In addition to feces being stepped on and spread across not only the stage but the floor, a set of the venue’s speakers went missing too. The bar had to shut down early, so Sonic Rabbit Hole’s scatological prank caused AvantGarden and its bartenders to lose money that evening.

“Because it stunk so badly, we closed too early for a Friday night. There was no way to continue on with the charity event,” Lemesoff laments. “Their disgusting performance took money out of my staff’s pockets. It also took money away from all who were involved, including who the benefit was for.”

According to Lemesoff, the AvantGarden staff stayed to clean up the mess long after the members of Sonic Rabbit Hole fled the scene. Inside the bathroom, several staff members found parts of the enema kit in the trash and in the sink; fecal matter covered the bathroom floor and was splattered against the wall. “My staff stayed and cleaned up their disgusting mess until four in the morning,” she says.

When asked if the band had mentioned to the staff their intent to showcase their performance art, Mariana sternly replies, “Never. They never mentioned to anyone in our staff — to me, to the barbacks — that they were going to do performance art. And if they had, there is no way that I would let them do what they did.”

The Houston Press contacted Sonic Rabbit Hole’s Clemmons for comment. In a telephone interview, he explained that he and Sonic Rabbit Hole had done performance art before at other venues, but nothing to this degree. When he was asked the impetus and theme behind Friday night’s fiasco, his answer was matter-of-fact.

“We have this faux-bro weightlifter culture sort of thing going on that we were sort of trying to make fun of," Clemmons says. "And we started our set like a normal jam. We had gotten booked as a band, but we told them that we were doing performance art, and they said that was perfectly okay. We had this sort of piece that we’d been sort of joking around [with] for a while. So we decided to make that a reality.”

Clemmons claims that he did not know it was a benefit until several hours beforehand, but that did not deter him from going through with his chocolate muscle milk enema theater.

“When I set my mind to do something, I do it,” he says.

Clemmons also claims that he never “evacuated” onstage. “A slight tear appeared on the enema bag, causing the bag to leak," he says. "I then ran to the bathroom and evacuated in the bathroom and threw [it] away in the trash.”

As to the smell, Clemmons alleges that someone let off a stink bomb in the venue.

While Clemmons was cleaning up in the bathroom, he says, he heard an argument between one of the bartenders and Foisy and hurried out of the bathroom to remedy the situation, grabbing the band’s equipment and immediately leaving the premises.

When asked how the venue’s window was broken, Clemmons attributes that to an argument he and Foisy had with the next act.

“The guy in the next band was cursing at us and tried to grab the amplifier out of my hand, and that’s when the window was broken,” he claims.

“He’s lying," replies Lemesoff. "Would you like to talk to the barback who had to go home and take a shower because he had fecal matter all over his clothes? Briana, the bartender, witnessed the entire act. What is the point of putting [on] a performance so edgy and then [denying] it?”

Because the benefit was cut short, it fell far short of their projected donations. Feel free to donate to the Gofundme page here.
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Stephan Wyatt