Elizabeth Rhodes
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Experimental Action Brings Performance Art to the Forefront

Experimental Action Brings Performance Art to the Forefront
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Chun Hua Catherine Dong. Photo: Tongyu Zhao


Under the direction of performance artists and organizers Julia Claire Wallace and Evan McCarley, Experimental Action emerges as Houston’s newest and most unique festival. The three-day international performance art festival showcases groundbreaking artists who hail from the local community as well as from across the globe.


“We’re bringing in people from all over the world to perform next to local artists,” says Wallace. “One of the main focuses for us about the community we’re creating. We’ve made sure to have communal meals, communal living space, so that all the participating artists can connect and work together in the future.”


“From our experience working with festivals in the past, something we learned was that having these local artists meet with these people from all over really opens up a dialogue,” says McCarley. “There are people that went out and worked together at other events in other countries because they met each other here. That’s something we really wanted to expound on and put at the forefront of this project.”


Wallace recollects her experience with Lone Star Explosion — a biennial performance art festival that she’s helped organize in the past — and how it led to her work being shown in Washington D.C., as well as allowing other local artists to show their work in cities across the nation. “There were more than 10 amazing shows that came out of that, so we made that a big focus,” she adds.


While it’s quite the undertaking to host a three-day festival with artists from around the globe, the duo says that the festival is entirely funded by private donations. “It gives us a lot of freedom, which is really exciting,” Wallace says. Supporters can donate to the Experimental Action Indiegogo campaign to help promote the festival and performance art in Houston.


Peter Clough, Peter (Happy Faggot) Photo by Margit Selsjord_1

Peter Clough. Photo: Margit Selsjord


“We’re definitely focusing on edgier works,” Wallace adds. “[Participating artist] Abel Azcona was even sued in Spain for his artwork in a Catholic church. He secretly collected a bunch of communion wafers and used them to spell out a word related to pedophilia and the church sued him. He’s incredibly controversial.”


Wallace and McCarley note that many of the artists’ work relates to identity, sexuality and social norms. In addition to Azcona, incoming artists include Chun Hua Catherine Dong (Canada), Marta Jovanovic (Bosnia), Vincent Tiley (New York City), Christian Cruz (Dallas/Mexico), Peter Clough (New York City), Miao Jiaxin (New York City/China), Amanda Gregory (Los Angeles), Ryan Hawk (Austin) and Michael Anthony Garcia (Austin).


Featured locals include an array of talent such as Jim Pirtle, Celestina Billington, Nestor Topchy, Brittani Broussard, Cat Scott, Clay Zapalac, Eric Thayer, Agnes Yit, David Graeve, Emmanuel Nuno Arambula, Raindawg, Z’maji, Michael Clemmons, Clockpole and Chris Stevens.



Another dynamic of the festival has been the #ShiaShowUp campaign. “It started out as a marketing concept that is a performance art piece unto itself,” says Wallace. “It’s all about attracting Shia LaBeouf to our festival. It really did start out pretty lighthearted, but looking at his artwork, it became more and more meaningful to me personally, and I think to other people as well. It’s become very complex.”


“It’s been interesting to see how different people have really taken this idea of having him show up and what they would want to do if that happens,” McCarley says. “I ask people, ‘If he came, what would you do? What would you want to engage with him about?’ For me it’s opened up a discussion about if someone’s artwork is less valid because of something they’ve done. This is an idea, for me, that permeates performance art. Just because it’s not something that you’ve seen before, does it mean it’s any less valuable? I’ve been taking it that way, that it’s opened up all of these conversations.”


Whether LaBeouf shows up is still up in the air, but you’ll clearly have to find out for yourself.


The festival runs from February 23 to 25 and features ticketed events on Thursday from 8 pm to late at Notsuoh (314 Main), Friday from 8 pm to late at The Secret Group (2101 Polk) and Saturday from 8 pm to late at Walter’s Downtown (1120 Naylor), as well as a free symposium at the Contemporary Arts Museum (5216 Montrose) on Saturday from 2 to 4 pm. Tickets are $12 per night or $30 for the entire run of the festival.