by Maggie Grabmeier
On the walls of the gallery space in Addams Hall are what looks to be the expected mishmash of individual art pieces from the very diverse artists of Penn’s MFA program. Sculptures next to videos next to drawings and other more surprising media seem to all find a home in the art building if for no other reason than that their creators are also students, encouraged to take risks and carve their own space within the program. However, these already engaging works are mere remnants of last Friday night’s performance art show entitled, “Pay What You Owe Me and Vomit What You Ate”.
The title is a quote from the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s most famous folk-tale novel The Palm Wine Drinkard, and the poster still hanging on the door of Addams Hall advertises that the evening was inspired by Tutuola’s work. I had heard about the event, but I had no way of learning the details of the show before I got there. Even wandering around the noisy gallery, I got the sense that the show was marketed only to people who knew the artists and wouldn’t have needed any wall text or maybe a brochure (considering there was none). That being said, the show certainly was intimate.
My first impression walking in was of a running monologue by artist Lydia Rosenberg standing in front of an alcove. Her clothing and posture were not unusual, and a bottle of water stood at her feet. The monologue was a stream of conscious blur of insecurities and dream-like stories told at a relative monotone. This sound stretched throughout the gallery and created the only soundtrack besides the hissing of opening beer bottles and quiet chatter.
One of the pieces that in its current state might not engage visually as much as the others was the absolute star of the performances. When I walked to the far right wall of the space, the walls were painted up and down with swashes of mud, and a girl (Ava Hassinger) in a white shirt and pants was holding a bowl of dirt. She walked up to the wall, took a deep breath and popped a handful of the dirt in her mouth. She walked the length of the wall spitting the dirt onto the wet mud, using her own breath to spray-paint, in a way. Admittedly, this piece might have touched me the most because it was the most visceral, and it affected a very physical reaction for me. The shock factor alone merited its memorability, and I will let it remain so in its boldness.
In their final states, many of the pieces still highlight the shadow of effort. As a spectator going through the exhibition now, I can see the creation in the static quiet of the works. The stillness stems only from performance, and the action of last Friday screams from the pieces as they now stand. “Pay What You Owe Me and Vomit What You Ate” will be on view until November 15.