Art group explodes traditional art forms with week of events

Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A solitary, sneakered flautist plays slow and mournful tones on the side of an informal stage. Nearby, nine barefoot students contort their bodies and weave through each other.
Though their movements are improvised, at times the students are eerily in-sync. Two floodlights provide a warm glow in the nearly empty black-box theater in Production Workshop’s Upspace.

Twenty-three hours later, nine students writhe and bend on the same stage. But this isn’t a repeat performance — it is the same show, finally coming to an end.

These performances were part of a continuous 24-hour show produced by the Brown University Movement Experiments. Founded last year, the experimental student performance group coordinates events involving music, visual art and dance — sometimes all three simultaneously. Last week, BUME combined the three in a series of events — a collaborative trash sculpture, a “playground happening” and a day-long show — attracting questions, wonder and, sometimes, no notice at all.

Trading trash for treats
BUME (its members pronounce the name “boom”) started off the week’s events last Tuesday by producing a collaborative trash sculpture on the Main Green, said Sam Tarakajian ’10, the event’s coordinator.

BUME members began by building a wooden scaffold in the morning, he said. They asked bewildered onlookers to trade their trash for cookies and added the collected items onto the wooden skeleton throughout the day.

Cables, Ratty containers and a high-voltage switch were among the items that people traded in, Tarakajian said, adding that he kept the switch. Some donors simply emptied pockets full of loose candy wrappers and papers, and others went to their rooms or offices to bring back garbage, he said — a box of micropipettes, for instance.

The initial construction and eventual dismantling of the sculpture took just under 12 hours, according to Tarakajian.

The sculpture, he said, was commonly mistaken for some sort of protest.
“I just like sculpture,” he said.

A creative connection
The next night, a more ambitious creative undertaking began at 9 p.m. — and ended on Thursday, after 24 hours of performances.

The concept for the event, titled “and” by its coordinator Alina Kung ’12, was inspired by a 24-hour piano performance by experimental musician John Cage. Kung wanted to plan a similar performance for BUME, she said, and for practicality, divided the event into hour-long time slots.

The hour-long acts included cooking, break-dancing, even improvised jazz. Sock and Buskin, a student theater group, even held their board meeting in the space.

About a quarter of the performers were BUME members, while the others were simply students who heard about the show through word of mouth and the Internet. One act featured RISD students that Kung approached on the street because they were carrying guitars, she said.

At each hour’s end, performers sculpted a lump of clay and recorded one-minute reactions to represent their on-stage experience.

The clay and the audio recordings were meant to provide continuity and communication between the different acts, said BUME founder Annie Rose London ’11.

London chose to divide her time slot equally between cooking and sculpture, two activities that she said “affected (her) humors differently.” She shared her sauteed zucchini, beans and eggs with the only two people then in attendance, she said.

Audience size at the performances varied. Sometimes, performers found themselves alone in the room, while other events, like spoken word, drew larger audiences. In his recorded reflection, one performer said that he slept during the show, but joked that no one could know because he had been the only one there.

When BUME member Josh Kopin ’11 began his hour, no one was in the audience until some of his friends showed up partway through, he said. His performance involved improvising “electro-acoustic” music, recording himself while he read “esoteric” philosophy and ripping and scattering construction paper, he said.

The size of the audience affected performances, Kopin said, but a small, or even non-existent, audience didn’t hurt the artists’ projects. “I was alone in the room, but I was definitely still performing,” he said.

Kung, who spent a total of 19 non-consecutive hours at the space, recalled that she had been the sole audience member at Paulina Pagan ’11’s “beautiful” 5 a.m. dance performance. “I felt so selfish having her all to myself,” she said.

But Stephen Higa GS, a self-described “BUME accomplice,” placed little importance on the number of people he performed for, calling the event an example of “performance for performance’s sake rather than anybody else’s.”

Playground jamming
On Monday, a small group of BUME members wrapped up their week of events by bringing their whimsical exuberance to India Point Park Playground.

In contrast to the strict schedule of “and,” there was no official beginning to the event. The four students who had been chatting in a clump minutes earlier slowly drifted apart.

One student began tapping out a rhythm on a plastic trash bin. Another experimented with the squeak of the swing set. A third student, perched atop a slide, read slowly from a small, leather-bound book.

One by one, they each casually moved on to something new. A few left, and others arrived. One girl, sitting in a sandbox, began to paint.

The event was conceived as a curious, individual exploration of space and other individuals, said Rosalie Elkinton ‘11.5, the event’s coordinator. She chose the playground because its structures are perfect for “exploring gravity” and “the limitations of dance,” she said.

BUME has had “jams” in the past, including one that took place across the street from the Sciences Library last spring, Kopin said. “We just played and danced for at least two hours,” drawing a curious crowd, he said.

Just artsy enough
Though BUME is often highly experimental, Kopin and London stressed that the group works to make its type of art accessible.

“We’re open to doing really esoteric crazy stuff, but we always try to temper it with accessibility,” Kopin said.

In experimental art, people worry, “Am I artsy enough to understand?” London said. But BUME is meant to provide a comfortable community of performers, she emphasized.
London said she wants to see more BUME events. “We want to be doing stuff all the time,” she said.

For one day last week, BUME did fill a stage non-stop.

By the 23rd hour of “and,” several half-eaten snacks littered the room — evidence of the performance’s marathon nature. At 8:59 p.m., several students gathered around a cell phone’s clock display, waiting for the 24-hour mark toarrive.

“This is the longest minute of my life,” Kung said.

The seconds ticked by. When the clock struck 9 p.m., Kung went back to cleaning the room. It was time to take down the clock that had stood propped on a music stand throughout the entire 24 hours, a quiet reminder of the project’s ambitious scope.

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