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Two Performance Artists book by Scotch Wichmann
Two Performance Artists Kidnap Their Boss And Do Things With Him
Inspired by my crazy adventures as a performer on the road, this is the story of two performance artists who cook up the ultimate performance: to kidnap their billionaire boss...and turn him into the wildest performance artist the world's ever seen.

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Crawling Across Broken Glass With Chris Burden
July 30, 2015 10:17 pm

Scotch Wichmann crawling through broken glass with Chris Burden

I was 16 when I discovered performance artist (or really, über artist) Chris Burden. I’d opened a library book to a black-and-white photo of a young, shirtless man crawling across a nighttime parking lot that was covered in glittering, broken glass. Arms behind his back. Rolling side to side. Getting cut up. My god, I thought.

I turned the page. Another photo: the same man nailed to the back of a Volkswagen. Then another: the man in an art gallery after being shot in the arm by a .22 caliber rifle. Artist Chris Burden, the book said. Something clicked in my brain; at that moment, my idea of what art was—what it could be—was never the same.

I had read some of Conceptual Art’s history, but obviously not much about Performance Art, so the discovery of Chris Burden was a revelation. His work was the first time I’d encountered the idea of a body doing something uncodified—that is, not Dance, Drama, Oratory, Circus, but Other—as art. Chris Burden had, I realized, made up his own art form, and not just once, but over and over again. There was no precedent for his pieces; they’d fallen from the sky, alien, unpredictable, dangerous, primal, silent.

For me, his performances were about suffering. In every photo, Burden was alone, without an audience, and his face was neutral. Nothing forced. No emotional mask. Placid. An Everyman, with whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling suppressed, held captive. This resonated with me, with my own childhood cycles of pain—separation, dispair, guilt, pennance. Burden had been called a Body Artist, but in truth he was a Pain Artist: his suffering encouraged the projection of our pain, our sympathy, even our empathy, onto his waiting countenance.

Burden’s death on May 10, 2015 was a terrible blow, the loss of a hero. I never wanted to emulate him—his work was too perfect and unthinkably painful to emulate—but I chose the same alma mater as his, in part to be “near” him and his history—to perform in the same school art galleries where he had quietly bled, suffocated, cried, and discovered, alone.

When the John White Gallery invited me to perform at Ventura Art Walk in July, 2015, I decided to crawl shirtless across broken windshield glass, just as Burden had in his 1973 piece, Through The Night Softly. Despite my love of his work, I had never done a piece that would be intentionally damaging to me physically—but I needed to know firsthand something of what he had felt, of what he had experienced in his pain.

My wife KayDee and I drove to Ventura, laid out a 12-foot-long swath of broken glass in the gallery’s parking lot, and then lined it on both sides with Matchbox cars—an homage to Burden’s many car-related performances and sculptures.

It was a hot day—about 91 degrees. Sun was blazing.

The piece began. I came running out from behind the gallery and sprinted across the parking lot with a 100-pound steel car door over my head. I used the door as an umbrella, then a racetrack, a seesaw, a drum, and then a stage. I climbed onto it wearing three white tanktops, which I pulled off one by one and threw into the sky like birds, chanting “BURD, BURD, BURD.”

As I chanted “BURD” and pulled off the last shirt, a white seagull landed behind me on the asphalt. The audience and I were stunned. Time slowed. It was Burden, I know it was, in feathered psychopomp regalia.

I walked to the start of the glass farthest from the audience, lay down, and begin to crawl. The asphalt was searing—I later learned it had been between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit—and the grinding of the glass shards was unbearable. I have multiple tattoos, so I know something about persisting through enduring pain, but this was like nothing I had experienced. My chest was being grinded, stabbed, burned—I was on fire with tunnel vision. I had wanted to keep a placid Burden face, but it was impossible, so I submitted to animal cries as I pushed forward, crawling but unable to use my hands on the melting asphalt, the glass cutting my chest like ribbons, brain screaming for me to stop. The white seagull watched me silently from the gallery roof—it was my confessional and our communion. Sweat ran into my eyes and my hands were shaking like crazy. More animal cries escaped—they were uncontrollable, cries for Burden, the cries he had refused to let out back in 1973.

When I reached the last of the glass, I crawled across asphalt, through the car door’s empty window, and emerged out the other side. I stood up, dizzy and weak and shaking from adrenaline. My chest was bright red, mottled, and cut from the asphalt and glass. I looked down and saw glittering shards sticking out of ribs and a line of blood streaming from my elbow.

I picked up a goodbye Matchbox car, kissed it, and chucked it onto the gallery’s roof—but I was too spent. The throw was short—the car rained down from the roof and landed back on the asphalt. I walked to it, kissed it, and threw it again. Again, too short. My arms and legs were rubber. I picked it up once more. Kissed it. Threw it. It flew up and over the roof’s peripet—then nothing. Silence. None of us heard the car land. It never came down—flown into the heavens.

Thank you, Chris Burden. April 11, 1946—May 10, 2015.

Photos of the glass crawl here.

And see a great recap of the piece on The Polina Hryn Show here.

Filed under Los Angeles, Performance art, Violence, Weird | 2 Comments | Permalink
 
 
Film Review of Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament: A Performance Art Dream
May 10, 2015 5:44 pm

Scotch Wichmann reviews Matthew Barney's film, River of Fundament

Last Saturday I attended UCLA’s West Coast unveiling of Matthew Barney‘s River of Fundament, a 6-hour death-and-reincarnation tale of a writer caught up with Egyptian gods that was inspired by Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings.

Fundament is is an orgiastic adventure in every sense of the term. Egyptian shades of Kenneth Anger, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Luis Buñuel, Joseph Beuys, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Carolee Schneeman, The Kipper Kids, and The X-Files are smelted down into molten imagination that comes running out of every human orifice to drench viewers in color, carcass, and fuckable cars before a noxious, farting pantheon of dug-up-and-still-decaying Egyptian-god-cadavers eagerly lapping up the leftovers.

The story—whose summary could easily expand to fill a novel all its own—sets a dead Mailer to reincarnate himself three times into different human bodies through the womb of his wife, possibly in a veiled examination of his own success and failings as a writer. Each reincarnation starts with Norman surfacing in an underground sewage river of “fundament.” Soaked in feces, he emerges to slosh up a staircase to his Brooklyn apartment above, where his own funeral wake is in full swing with New York literary types, improvising musicians, and caterers.

Each ascent of the staircase finds the wake winding down further, if not decaying; the party’s culinary centerpiece—a roast pig on a spit, whose tongue is devoured by a sickly-pale Paul Giamatti—is polished off by maggots at the end, while remaining guests fall under hypnagogic spells that have them moaning and chanting, perhaps as a byproduct of the Egyptian magic all around. Meanwhile, the river-and-apartment storyline is paralleled by a second tale, in which Norman is imagined as three automobiles, each of which undergoes its own magnificent transfiguration about town.

Both narratives are interwoven with Egyptian lore, with Norman’s cohorts mapping to Isis, Osiris, Horus, and other gods, and symbolism that is layered impossibly deep: ibises, serpents, vultures, beetles, was scepters, hieroglyphs and cartouches, belled pectorals, daggers, Hathorian cattle and horns, hidden passages both vaginal and excretory, stairwells joining heaven to a shitty hell, and of course, phalli in every shape appear against walls of gold, avalanches of fire, and heads of lettuce.

Mobs of Ph.D. candidates have no doubt already trashed all previous dissertation ideas in favor being the first to publish on Fundament, even though, sadly, not enough has been written about Barney’s latest opus in the press.

Nearly all critics agree that the work is epic in scope, with moments of beauty that match or rival—even if only fleetingly—the most gorgeous and unique imagery ever set to avant-garde celluloid. In the same breath, many also dismiss the film as simply too long, or too inaccessible—even more so, some say, than Barney’s earlier Cremaster Cycle—or that the brown rivers of offal, shit-encrusted gods, and fetid sex with puckering anuses pressed against the lens are too unappetizing to digest.

I haven’t read Mailer’s Ancient Evenings yet, so I can’t attest to Fundament‘s fidelity there, but I can say that critics who evaluate Barney’s new effort only against rubrics that dictate films must be linear, or only make literal sense, or feature less noxious scenes, or tie up endings with tidy totalizing ribbons, have embarked on the journey with a fatal first misstep that nearly guarantees they’ll miss the film’s performative and pedagogic qualities.

(These same critics would probably render similar judgments against Un Chien Andalou—even though Buñuel’s masterpiece admittedly soothes by being five and a half hours shorter in length—and should therefore save their ink when it comes to surrealist works they don’t seem to want to understand ab initio, since digging for structure, meaning, relevance, and art history context is strenuous).

But it doesn’t matter, because, really, how can anyone criticize what amounts to a dream?

Scotch Wichmann reviews Matthew Barney's film, River of Fundament

And a dream Fundament is—a performance art dream. Sure, it’s interspersed with some of narrative film’s familiar codes, but even those codes break down. The “narrative” of “normal” guests attending a wake collapses into chaotic scenes of their moaning, drooling, and being generally oblivious to the scatological Norman-narrative being draped across them, so even “normal” finds itself touched by Egyptian magic, which brings spontaneous opera, object-making, and occasionally violent delusions to anyone in its vicinity.

Freud marvels in his Der Dichter und Phantasiere at the writer’s magical ability to dissolve his/her identity into a work—to become all of the characters and the spaces in-between—and Barney manages this in spades, especially with regard to the in-between. Distinctions between performance art and film, object and subject, and the utilitarian and symbolic dissolve, just like the apartment walls in Fundament that double as membranes for gods to penetrate. In a page right out of a J.G. Ballard map, Barney pushes through into supposedly empty, useless areas—our primordial shit, our intellectual detritus, our industrial graveyards, our dead—using self-made vehicles that are in-between themselves, since that’s the kind of magic required to cross the river from the hell of rigid symbolism and (re)tired modes of thinking into imaginary places that are new.

Read around, and you may come to agree that many reviewers don’t know what to do with Fundament so far, even though the film provides the answer: namely, that critics need to create their own analytical and expressive vehicles appropriate to what they’re reviewing—especially when it’s experimental—rather than relying on punctilious categories of genre and medium that are easily off(al)ended. Perhaps we should hire performance artists for the job, since their art specializes in reconciling and synthesizing the surreal with the waking; ask one what we should do with Barney’s all-seeing anuses, foil-wrapped cocks, and cars leaking silvery sperm, and I bet answers won’t be long in coming.

Images © 2014 Matthew Barney. Text © 2015 Scotch Wichmann.

Filed under Film/Video, Los Angeles, Weird, Writing | 1 Comment | Permalink
 
 
Two Performance Artists Wins Silver at 2015 IBPA Awards!
April 21, 2015 11:19 am

Hilarious dark comedy Two Performance Artists novel by Scotch Wichmann wins 2015 IBPA Best New Voice in FictionAlmost exactly one year since its debut, Two Performance Artists just tied for Silver in the Best New Voice category of the 2015 Independent Book Publishers Awards held in Austin, Texas last week, and copies are flying off the shelves! THANK YOU for this fantastic honor, IBPA! If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet, visit your local indie bookstore, or hit up Amazon! If you’d like a signed copy, we can make that happen, too—just drop me a line.

In other news, I’ve started work on a one-man show I hope to debut in galleries and fringe festivals starting in 2016, then maybe onto the road. It’s part performance art, part filmic, and very autobiographical, with surreal characters dredged from my unconscious, secrets of my day job as a computer hacker, conspiratorial theories, tales of ghosts, shamans, and more. That sounds like a lot, I know, and it is; I’m hoping to go meta with this in a kind of grand unifying theory of creatives, especially performance artists and their ilk. I’ve wanted to do a feature-length solo show forever, and cannot wait to unleash what’s been brewing.

Next: If you’re in the area of Ventura, California on May 1, 2015, come to the Namba Performing Arts Space for its 5x5x5 Show, where I’ll be unveiling a brand new performance art piece alongside famed performance artist John White, and many others. FREE! Located at 47 S. Oak St.

Filed under Book Tour, Performance art, Writing | 5 Comments | Permalink
 
 
Two Performance Artists Nominated for Best New Voice in Fiction!
March 19, 2015 11:37 am

Two Performance Artists Named Finalist for Best New Voice in Fiction for 2015OMG, I am freaking out: Two Performance Artists was just named a top-3 Finalist in the 2015 Independent Book Publishers Association Awards for Best New Voice in Fiction! IBPA is the largest indie book publishing association in the U.S.—maybe even the universe!— so this is an incredible honor. Thank you, IBPA!

I’m cooking up more performances and shows for 2015, but I’ll admit it’s been a slow start, thanks to my starting graduate school in January. My creative stamina is slowly returning; it took a couple of months of getting accustomed to having a 2-foot stack of schoolbooks sitting on my desk at all times (my wife loves it!), but I’m almost back to normal.

When I haven’t had my nose buried in school assignments, I’ve been devouring everything I can find on pataphysics, which is giving me new perspective and ideas on performance. If you have any favorite links, or wanna discuss, post away!

Filed under Book Tour, Performance art, Writing | 1 Comment | Permalink
 
 
A Performance Artist’s Year of the Sheep
January 5, 2015 3:31 pm

Performance artist Scotch Wichmann performing DOPPLEGANGER in Ventura, CA, 2015

Performance artists (like standup comedians) believe that performing within a day of January 1st is mandatory if you want to ensure good luck for the coming year.

I can’t remember who first handed me this superstition, but I obey it religiously, though, I’ll admit, sometimes with a last-minute scramble to find an available stage or mic with the year’s final hours dwindling. It doesn’t have to be a pro venue, mind you; performing three minutes in a watering hole or an alley for a few drunken cohorts earns you the Karma.

My 2015 started with a healthy dose of luck: the photo above was taken during Doppleganger, a performance to celebrate Year of the Sheep at the beautiful new ALoft Gallery in Ventura, California on January 2nd.

(I don’t always perform in front of mirrors, but when I do, I like to scribble WOLF on my back and dress up like a Dutch girl covered in cottonballs).

For me, the Sheep arrives right on time as a reminder of the Bruegel parades of blind leading the blind, with the most glaring example perhaps being the screaming pitch of shitty throwaway culture and memes now born, mindlessly traded, and then discarded at terrifying Internet speeds—and I’m as culpable as anyone for adding to the bright-n-shiny baubles that increasingly distract us from digging in to become something greater.

Forget mere loss of spirituality; I’m talking about the forgetting of something far more primal: what it feels like to be a living alien creature, evolved but still part animal, now imbued with the potential to imagine and dream, inventing rituals as we go, conversing with plants and stars, on a planet spinning through cold, empty space. Maybe I’m not alone. Do you feel it? Your primordial ancestors beckoning to you through your DNA to remember what magic feels like? The call to invent from the gaping maw of nothing instead of just consume?

I drove to Arizona last month. At the risk of sounding like a mid-life-crisis Burner cliché, the time I spent in that rugged expanse of desert emptiness pried me open with an irresistible call to reconnect with my primality and instincts that have been rendered barely detectable beneath the raging din of commercial, political, technological, and dilettante clutter.

Your list of resolutions for 2015 may be long, but if you’re inclined, maybe scribble somewhere near the top:

    Alone in the dirt with a drum and a bone.

Filed under Los Angeles, Magic, Performance art, Writing | 2 Comments | Permalink
 
 
Publisher’s Weekly Reviews Two Performance Artists
December 22, 2014 11:14 am

Oh. My. God. Industry heavyweight Publisher’s Weekly just reviewed Two Performance Artists!

“Bright and capacious fiction… madcap… the chaos, danger, absurdity, and insanity keep ratcheting up.”

I wouldn’t change a word! Read the whole review here.

Filed under Performance art, Writing | 1 Comment | Permalink
 
 
Inspired By Matt Damon: DICKTEMP!
November 1, 2014 9:51 am

I’m crazy-excited to announce DICKTEMP, an art experiment to measure the temperature and humidity in my underwear 24/7 for the 30 days of November! Inspired by a dream I had about Matt Damon, check out DICKTEMP.COM for the current weather in my pants, or compare the daily graphs! And be sure to follow me on Twitter for the latest updates—it’s gonna be insane! #dicktemp


*** UPDATE: I just heard back from The Smithsonian—apparently the museum does not want to include my #dicktemp thermometer in its American Art collection. Maybe next time! ;)

*** UPDATE #2: Dicktemp is complete! What a crazy 30 days! Catch all the action in my #dicktemp video logs:
#dicktemp by Scotch Wichmann #dicktemp Day 10 by Scotch Wichmann #dicktemp Day 20 by Scotch Wichmann #dicktemp Day 30 by Scotch Wichmann
Intro Day 10 Day 20 Day 30

I might’ve gotten a little carried away on Day 20 with all of that amazing fannybag fashion…hahaha. Here’s the greenscreen supercut just for you!

Filed under Funny, Los Angeles, Performance art, Sex, Weird | 7 Comments | Permalink
 
 
Preparing To Remember The Future
September 22, 2014 8:59 pm

When I look back on 2014, all I see is a blur.

My wife and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. My novel Two Performance Artists was finally published, closing a chapter on a surreal 15-year journey. Our cross-country book tour from LA to NY was a success, with encouraging bookstore turnouts, performances in 18 cities, and 2 book awards along the way. “Kidnapping As Art,” my survey of artists who’ve kidnapped audiences as performance art, was picked up by MIT Press’s Journal of Performance And Art for publication in January of 2015. Headlining the final 5x5x5 show at the Sylvia White Gallery in Ventura—one of California’s longest-running performance art series in recent memory—was a humbling honor. And of course, learning I’d been plagiarized by Shia LaBeouf—and then having my revenge—was the most wild ride of all.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more busy—and yet, somehow I’ve still got that nagging feeling that this train is only just starting to pick up speed—that all of the dreams that came true in 2014 are the wood I now need to be shoveling like crazy into the firebox, stoking the flames even harder than before to maintain momentum. But with the past year feeling ephemeral and so long ago already, the wood vanishes like smoke on my shovel, and fear sets in that the engine could start to slow.

Filed under Book Tour, Confessions, Performance art, Writing | 1 Comment | Permalink
 
 
Feeling Like Writing, Feeling Like Performance Art
June 26, 2014 10:40 am

While on the book tour, I had the chance to chat with Heather Kapplow, a journalist and artist writing for the Boston art journal Big Red & Shiny. She asked: how are my modes of writing and performance different from each other? Does writing feel different from making performance? Do these modes ever interact?

I’d never considered these questions before. My partial answer:

I feel like a writer when writing articles, short stories and the like, with a focus on delivering clear throughlines of thought on the page with the typical grammar, syntax, and structures expected by readers.  When I’m working on a performance art piece, by contrast, I don’t ‘feel’ like a writer; I don’t really think of the writing as separate from the other elements in the performance—the use of objects, sound, physical movement, etc.  Words are used for their literal meaning, but also for their formal qualities.  In that mode, I see myself as ‘generating’ text (as opposed to crafting it), which feels no different than, say, choreographing how I might drag a fish across the floor. I don’t hold myself to any strict grammatical, syntactical, or stylistic rules, except for whatever is appropriate for the piece, freeing me up to allow the elements to inform each other, and hold dialogs with my subconscious.  The hissssss of a fish being dragged across concrete might suddenly seem to contrast best with text that’s heavily assonant—that is, the physical action helps ‘write’ what text should accompany it.

Heather’s piece breaks new ground in the liminal realm where feeling, intuition, writing, and performance intersect. For the whole article, plus more of her interview with me, head over to Big Red & Shiny.

Finally, I had the chance to perform Ouroboros, a new work at the Sylvia White Gallery in Ventura before the gallery shuts its doors for good this summer. The space has been home to the 5x5x5, an incredible performance series that’s featured diverse performance artists and others from around the world for the past 5 years, all curated by performance art luminary John M. White. The game-for-anything Ventura audiences always came out in force—sometimes 50, 100, 150 at a time, packing the gallery to the gills—with many spectators being artists, musicians, writers, poets, critics, or curators themselves. The 5x5x5′s final show was a real marathon, featuring almost 20 performers with a record turnout, proving handily that performance art ain’t dead.

. . . Which is why I’m excited to write that John has found a new home for the 5x5x5! It’ll start up again in September, 2014 at a new Ventura art space. If you’re a performance artist and would like to apply for a 5-minute slot, contact me with your info!

Performance artist Scotch Wichmann performing 'Ouroboros' at the Sylvia White Gallery in Ventura
Performance artist Scotch Wichmann with John White and Pete Ippel at the 5x5x5 performance series in Ventura

Filed under Performance art, Writing | 2 Comments | Permalink
 
 
NYC to Chicago…and Beyond
June 13, 2014 9:40 am

WHAT A TOUR! Even though we have more dates planned for later this year, it’s hard to believe this leg’s really over. Where’d it all go?? 17 appearances in 14 cities flew by. And though the hotels began to all look the same (by the third Holiday Inn in a row, I could no longer remember where my room was), the people we met were unforgettable. To all of the artists, bibliophiles, writers, booksellers, publishers, promoters, librarians, friends, and fans: thank you for making this trip so incredible!!!

Freakshow Books’ booth at the BookExpo America show in NYC was a madhouse. By the time we arrived, word had already spread that Two Performance Artists had won a bronze medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, so there was a steady stream of reporters, booksellers, librarians, and film scouts running up and grabbing copies. Here’s a view from our booth in the calm just minutes before the doors opened and we were (lovingly) mobbed—gotta love that sea of blue and purple tradeshow carpet, eh?
Freakshow Books booth in NYC, 2014

From NY we drove 535 miles to Columbus for a reading at Kafe Kerouac, an ironic venue because in the novel’s first chapter, protagonist Larry attacks a poet who tries to pass off his reading of a Kerouac poem as performance art. Kafe’s bartender, who was pouring drinks right next to a big-ass Kerouac poster, gave me a scowl when I read the chapter aloud, but I just grinned at him and read on.

Cleveland was next, where a raucous crowd showed up at the city’s hip & edgy Visible Voice bookstore to see what crazy stunts I’d pull with my fish:
Scotch Wichmann performing in Cleveland, OHScotch Wichmann performance art with fish in Cleveland, 2014

And oh man, SO MANY FISH! I don’t want to give away too much, but most of the readings involved my manipulating a real fish—usually a 1-pound Branzino or trout—which meant the moment we arrived in a new city, we had to scramble to hunt down a fish of just the right proportions, which turned out to be harder than it sounds.
Scotch Wichmann searching for performance art fish in Cleveland, OH, 2014

Some cities just don’t carry whole fish—and for some reason, a few markets (looking at you, Portland) think “whole” means a fish with the bones still in and the head chopped off. What are they doing with all those heads??

And here’s a pro tip: if you’re gonna keep a fish in your underwear, the razor-sharp fins will shred your panties (manties?) to ribbons after 17 performances, so take precautions to protect your junk:
Scotch Wichmann's black manties shredded by 17 performances with fish

Our next and final stop was at Chicago’s Printers Row lit festival, where mayor Rahm Emanuel was kind enough to stop by:
Scotch Wichmann's Two Performance Artists with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel

But even better, we got to hug Rose Laws, Chicago’s oldest and most notorious madam (she’s retired, though you wouldn’t know it by the way she flirted and tried to slip me some of the Popov she was nursing):
Two Performance Artists author Scotch Wichmann with Chicago's notorious madam Rose Laws

The festival was packed, we sold tons of books, met fans who were already devouring the novel, and were surprised by all of the performance artists who said hello—many had just graduated from Chicago’s Art Institute. I loved hearing their dreams of what might lie ahead, and offered encouragement and advice where I could.
The Freakshow Books booth at Chicago's Printers Row literary festival
Two Performance Artists author Scotch Wichmann signs for fans at Chicago's Printers Row literary Festival

What an insanely fun adventure—but it ain’t over! We’ve already begun planning the next leg, so let me know if you represent a bookstore, gallery, college, or other space that might be interested in hosting a reading or performance!

Also, we’ve already started getting some interest over the novel’s film rights, so if you know an executive producer, director, or celeb who might be interested, please have him/her contact me or the publisher. (JAMES FRANCO: THIS NOVEL WAS MADE FOR YOU!)

And yes, thanks for all the fish.

Filed under Book Tour, Performance art, Writing | 1 Comment | Permalink