Several features can characterize works of Performance Art. One is duration. Performance artists often (not always) push the boundaries of their audience’s patience, creating a corner in time that proceeds according to the work’s inner tempo. The artist’s stamina can also be pushed – to exhaustion. Another feature that can so easily accompany works of performance art is a binary dynamic created between two participants. Here I think of the works of Gilbert and George, Abramavic and Ulay, Valie Export and Peter Weibel, Chris Burden and his anonymous assistant.
Such was the case on Friday evening (March 21st) at Artspace, where Kristina Lenzi and Gretchen Reynolds sat at opposing easles, drawing each other for over six hours during Gallery Stroll. Facing each other at 180 degree angles, one could have assumed that the easels were attached to each other. In fact, the artists studied each other’s faces through a small gap between the boards and, with charcoal, graphite, colored and highlighter chalk undertook facial studies of each other – drawing eachother.
The resulting drawings were displayed on adjacent walls behind each artist, serving as a backdrop to the central action. The results varied from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some achieved such life-like naturalism, that the subjects almost started breathing. Others were rendered with simple contour drawings, or the grand gestures of Willem deKooning. Some placed a realistic eye squarely in the middle of a nest of scribbles, barely decipherable as the structure of a face. And towards the end of the marathon, meditative concentration dissolved into childsplay and portraits descended into charicatures, revealing disfigured proportions and Picasso-like monsters.
Forays into these drawing styles demonstrated the range of each artist, both of whom have taught drawing for several years at institutions throughout the valley.
The results also invited comparison. Who was more skilled? Who posessed a steadier hand? Who was the master of naturalism, who was quicker to abandon the torch and embrace the lighter side of the discipline?
While some observers are trained “not to judge” the dynamic of one artist pitted against another invariably emerged for this critic. Did the coupling mirror a scenario of rivalry, which can so easily emerge between partners of any kind? Was this a competition? Or, was this a paean to cooperation, of working in tandem and symbiosis, in the true spirit of partnership? As much as the arrangment was a ‘closed system’, it was also entirely complementary, as the personal styles of each artist quietly unfolded, while spectators meandered through the event. Perhaps in this sense, the performance more closely approximated M.C.Escher’s iconic work from 1948 Drawing Hands.