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Although Portland performer Kelly Nesbitt could be called a number of things — including a clown, a writer, a designer, performance artist, a mover and a shaker — she likes the term "dabbler." And she’s in good company. One of over a dozen artists who will amaze and entertain you in the sixth annual WORKNOT, the two-month-long installation of genre-contorting art and performance housed at the SPACE Gallery, she and her comrades do a lot of wacky things, in a slew of artistic disciplines. Like Nesbitt, the local and national artists in the multi-task-force that brings us WORKNOT have their hands in a lot of different jars.
These are high times for the dabbling sensibility, says WORKNOT’s curator, the Portland printmaker and Cerberus Shoal musician Colleen Kinsella. "We live in a kind of Renaissance age right now," she says, "when everyone has to know how to do a lot of different things in order to get the work done." The work that WORKNOT will get done throughout January and February, as SPACE’s third annual Artists Curating Artists Series, is all about enlivening collaboration. January 6th’s gala opened the two-part exhibit’s first wave, which brings together the wild puppetry and other performance kicks by Beth Nixon and Nesbitt (January 12), the music of Tarpigh and Micah Blue Smaldone (January 20), along with paintings by Sara Crall, printed works by Jungil Hong and Erin Rosenthal, and poetry/art by Rover Nomad. The WORKNOT clan encourages an adventurous recipe for the treat that is art. Exults Nixon, "These are people who say, ‘Oh, you want to creep through the opening as bandits and bash open a dinosaur with a spaghetti squash inside it? Ok, that’s great!’"
The iconoclastic and all-embracing spirit of WORKNOT was first channeled in a communal house in South Portland, where the pan-artistic household includes members of Tarpigh and Cerberus Shoal. These artists began with what they called "Story Nights" — once-a-month gatherings in their living room to share new stories, songs, poems, or acts less easily defined. They became the performers and celebrants of the first WORKNOT when, in 2000, an exhibit planned by Kinsella was reneged upon by the gallery in question, and she and the crew decided to take over an alternative space. This first WORKNOT spanned three September Saturdays in the Bakery building, bringing people out and back each week for mutually enhancing visual art and performances that actively engaged their audience and challenged artistic boundaries on all sides.
Six years later, that sentiment remains the core of WORKNOT’s collaborative and interactive ethos. Kinsella took great care in pairing the visual artists and performers of WORKNOT, so that their works would not just complement but elevate each other. "All the visual artists in the space are very emotive, and work intuitively," she says. "Their pieces really lend themselves to performance; they’re very vivid and active." Indeed, Jungil Hong’s bold colors and ravens are strangely kinetic, and Sara Crall’s lovely paintings, in antique shades of beige, present rooms at once whimsical and intensely dynamic. Her simple lines shimmer a little, as if reflected from somewhere or miraged in the heat of something else; as if the portal to her painted rooms could be easily penetrated.
Under the stimulation of each other, WORKNOT’s artists and art works are, in a sense, pulled through disciplinary looking glasses. Beth Nixon considers herself predominantly a puppeteer, and was dazzled to hear people referring to her piñatas, which hang from SPACE’s high ceilings, as "sculptures." She’s never had a traditional "art opening," being more used to kinesis and action, making papier mache and cardboard open up to spill or speak. "I love the idea of having my art hanging there without me manipulating it," she says.
But there will be plenty of manipulation, too. Nixon and her puppets will join forces with Nesbitt and a couple of alter egos this Thursday, the 12th, with their performance Face on Fire. Expect a visit from Gladys and Barbara, characters they developed during street performing shenanigans across Europe on their way to the International Festival of Woman Clowns in Andorra, as well as some solo puppet madness by Nixon and a recycling of Nesbitt’s famous "Dumpster piece" from Reclaiming the Space.
Their newest collaborative act is probably still evolving even as your read this, and won’t get its finishing touches until it’s met by the engaged reception of you, dear reader. And since WORKNOT seeks to bring both its artists and its audience into collaboration, you should do a little dabbling, too.
Megan Grumbling can be reached at email@example.com
Issue Date: January 13 - 19, 2006
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