Playing with art
MÁNÁS exhibit asks—and answers—the question: ‘Where’s the magic?’
The wiry, heavily tattooed man angles his body toward a viewer. He is grinning, lurching forward; his large, wooden clog shoes are making careful, wide steps directly into her space. Before he crashes into her he switches directions, swerves to focus his attention on another, his pace deliberate and comically slow. He appears to be hitting a gong-drum, slung across his chest, with a stuffed-animal fish. His gait and posture contort, and he keeps up a constant stream of incantatory babble. With his patched leather and cloth attire, and wild, roaming eyes, he manifests as a vividly alive hallucinogenic flash. He is a mixture of fantasy and human, a chimera sprung into the flesh before our own shifting view.
This portion of a performance given by David “Dragonboy” Sutherland at the recent opening of his new art gallery and venue, MÁNÁS, marked the tone of the inaugural collective show, Honey Moon Baby Blanket. It was warm, unruly and overwhelming, rich in sensory experience.
Dragonboy’s moniker suits him well; there is a precocious and sweet boyishness to his performances, but they’re persistently accompanied by fire-breathing qualities that tip them toward wicked. His gestures come so close to intimidating, but they mean, rather, to evoke and impart healing. He reminds one of mythological figures like the Slavic folklore archetype Baba Yaga, in some incarnations a cantankerous wretch, in others a holder of wisdom and direction. As he soon explained, the performance mimicked particular cultural rituals where hitting a gong with a fish would “clear bad chi.” This gesture was offered freely to his viewers, alongside a poem performance asking the troubled question “What happened to the magic?” Honey Moon and the launching of MÁNÁS may well be seen as endeavors to find, create and provide magic for the local art audience.
MÁNÁS is a collaborative and collective effort, one opening itself to the public in particular forms. As the brainchild of Sutherland and lovely art socialite Christine “Seamonster” Fulton, the project is a bit fanciful and idiosyncratic. The back patio of the multi-room south Chico space (also home to the Rise Yoga Movement studio) boasts “the largest outdoor chalkboard in the North State,” with a large brick wall painted over in blackboard paint. Gallery-goers were happily taking advantage of it at the opening, contributing their own chalky illustrations, marking and embedding their individualized presence, even temporarily.
Creating a task that can be taken up and responded to by the viewer is often a tactic of art that places itself in the tradition of “social-practice art,” whereby the kinetic and emotional investments of the public are seen as essential elements to art “working.” An alignment with this tradition becomes particularly apparent at a booth where “Bags of Junk” were being sold for $5 apiece. The bags, hosting varied contents culled from the private possessions of Dragonboy, Seamonster and friends, can be purchased throughout the run of the show and patrons are encouraged to use the items within to make an art object which will be displayed in the gallery at a forthcoming exhibition.
In the “Bags of Junk” project, and the varied works on display, many elements enter into play: a delicate mix of private and public possession; finding and making; and the activity of the artist’s hand. How much imagination or activity is required for anyone to enter into art’s particular languages? How responsible should anyone be to participate?
With performance, sculpture, photography and public-reliant pieces, Honey Moon Baby Blanket—a title that evokes the power of the sensual and spills out as a list of random meaninglessness—submits much for our consideration. But it may also inspire one to participate, to varying degrees, in the special world-making happening in this new, exceptional, imaginative place.