Monday, March 19, 2007

GRADUALLY







A Performance by Butch Merigoni
New Orleans, March 8, 2007

A New York artist, originally from New Orleans, Butch Merigoni returned to New Orleans with a relatively rare visual arts performance. Not that art performance has disappeared, but unlike the seeming heyday for this medium in New Orleans when I arrived in the late 1970s and 1980s, it seems too long absent. Many of us remember the CAC and even the New Orleans Museum presenting performances.

Butch’s intent was that this piece serve as a combination of his reaction to the post-Katrina world of New Orleans and an empathetic response to the artists and others still living with that rather surreal reality. One knows that, in fact, the artist’s ability to focus significant light on, or aid in overcoming the insanity of, such a social, economic and political collapse is likely to be minor. However, each of us speaks with the power of the media we are competent in. It seems as well, that an art performance may be pretty much as successful as all the documentaries, political visits, and editorializing that has already taken place. In any event, Butch appeared to realize that, as artist do, he was speaking to the audience in attendance and expressing his need to comment. That is sufficient.

In short, Merigoni, dressed in a rather insubstantial white pair of pants and t-shirt, without shoes, stood in the empty streets of Gentilly at night and pelted himself with 144 (twelve dozen, a gross) raw eggs. After this painfully extended process, he removed his soiled cloths and poured water over himself to cleanse his body, dressed and left. The whole process took approximately 30 minutes.

Two of the essential decisions made in such art acts became the key to the success of this piece – pace and place. A three dozen egg performance was not an option. As with all of us who have endured the barrage of small and large blows for over 18 months by institutions, contractors, and thoughtless talking heads, too much seems never enough. For thirty minutes the central sound in that once bustling Gentilly neighborhood was that of eggs breaking over and over and over on the artists body. The tension built as the blows continued and the performer, shaking in the cold night air, persisted well past our grasping of what he “meant” to say. His slow, deliberate and trance-like countenance was mesmerizing and not a little painful to us all.

Place counted on two other levels. This near empty and almost silent part of New Orleans was a companion performer, but so was the fact that Merigoni stood on a sewer cover where the detritus of the eggs mounted under his bare feet. The performance was lit by twelve participants each holding a flashlight. Each had some power to control what was focused on. It was not incidental that such temporary lighting was for so long part of our mode of survival. (I won’t try to impose my interpretation of the possible rationale for persistence of the number 12 in the piece, but it clearly has symbolic power)

As I mentioned afterwards to the artist, the phrase “You have to break some eggs to make an omelet” kept coming to mind. However, as did he, we all seem to just wash off the muck, start the next day, and have long given up the idea that an omelet will ever be forthcoming.

Gerald L. Cannon

Video: Patricia Sills

5 comments:

courtney said...

FYI here's some info about Butch from the invitation to the event:

Butch Merigoni was born and raised in Metairie, Louisiana. He went to Loyola University and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2000. In 2005 he received his Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, New York. Since then he has continued to live and create in New York City. Recently, Butch conducted a performance in New York that he will perform here, in Gentilly. The performance will be dedicated to the people of our city who are still unable to reclaim the neighborhoods and the homes to which they were once so connected.

On the night of Thursday, March 8th at 8 pm I will be conducting a performance entitled 'Gradually'. This work, in which I am the only performer, will take place on Prentiss Avenue, on the street itself. The directions provided will help you get there. The piece will run for approximately 30 minutes. It will involve a progressive process of building and acquiring intensity. The intensity will grow through a repeated action to a certain degree. When that degree is reached, a cleansing process will begin.

I will give flashlights to 12 viewers which they will shine on the performance so that it can be illuminated. Although the audience will be involved passively, I see them as vital to the piece. They will be as much apart of this as I am.

This work is for and about the people of this city who still have not been able to return to their homes. Therefore, performing this piece in an area like Gentilly is more appropriate than in a white-walled gallery space.

Through this performance I hope to express my empathy and compassion for our city and its people, as well as my own sense of belonging to New Orleans.

Thank you,
Butch Merigoni

Editor B said...

Sorry I missed it, this looks like it was interesting.

Anonymous said...

All zen and no action

A comment about the Butch Merigoni piece. It felt very dated and lack luster. He didn’t really pelt himself; he seemed to unenthusiastically wash his hair with eggs from Styrofoam cartons. It feels as though it may not have been thought out well. Should the audience have thrown the eggs as the problems were not self-inflicted but one after another from several other places namely government, crime, legislation, etc. And Butch should have used the flashlight himself symbolically to shine on the audience or ‘thrower’ as to expose the problems and pains that followed Katrina. Fragility, the yolk burden, washing away: These are good sentiments, but I feel people need action not more contemplation because there is still much work to do and the eggs have not stopped being thrown locally and federally and its almost two years later. I do admire the passion but I feel its too lofty or ‘artsy’ looking to encourage community dialogue. This is the first I’ve heard anyone talk about it since it took place a week in a half ago, so it makes me question the power of this potentially very influential piece.

Anonymous said...

Butch,
what an intentional preformance. The loss felt with breaking of each egg, the continuous pounding, the vulnerability... I was left with a feeling of innocenece lost...

Bravo-
Shannon G.

courtney said...

I want to thank those people who left comments. this is a good example of what we hope continues at this site. also, while the option of stating your opinion anonymously is left open, I want to encourage people to put a face on their comments -sign them with your name - when you can.