November 27, 2019
It is often the case that politically charged work is shown to people who already agree with it, resulting in a redundant sort of feedback loop with no impetus to move beyond itself. Alternatively, however, the notion that an artist with a message might be able to gather an audience of the people for whom it is intended is just as nonsensical. Patti Bradshaw finds a satisfying compromise between these issues in a way that is more enjoyable to its audience and more respectful of that to which it ostensibly reacts. Fools in plein air: fermented rain speaks to environmental concerns by presenting a construction of behaviors that are just familiar enough to be considered anew.
Much of this construction is derived from three particular sources: author Robert Walser, and visual artists Marc Chagall and Jean-François Millet. While the artists inform the scenography, a Walser poem is nestled in the work like a gem in a pendant, flanked by Walser-influenced texts by Bradshaw. The resulting texture is an existential pensiveness sprawling within pastoral reveries.
Garments, hung on a clothesline from Dixon Place’s mezzanine, each receive a projected cow before they are worn by the core ensemble of four. Bradshaw, who maintains outfit consistency, later performs a delightful bit of percolation within a box of magnified Walser microscript along with and in reaction to a video of Transylvanian cows marching from some point A to some point B, shot with great patience by Adam Gurvitch.
Valerie Striar, in her boundless length, bends herself cowishly to a voiceover on grazing, written by Bradshaw. Most reverent, though, is Marie-Hélène Brabant’s devotion to her tchotchkes – cow effigies of varied miniature statures. She dotes on them to a John Cage score, which, if you listen hard enough, moos.
Later, the group holds branches as a forested amphitheater in which Lissy Vomacka swirls and settles into position for a baroque sarabande of leafy prosthetics, orchestrated by Caroline Copeland. Among embodiments of cattle and forestation, humanity bookends the piece with a line of swirling hands and flirtatious flashes of beveled heels, from which Patrick Gallagher soars away and faithfully rejoins.
Bradshaw performs another gestural solo to Walser’s “Basta,” whose speaker yearns for a thoughtless existence. This time, however, we are very much in a human space. To see Bradshaw’s witty physical ramblings connect to both a species bestowed with a great deal of responsibility and one that can consciously seek to be rid of it reveals the central problem – opportunistic identification superseding true empathy and action.
We need cows to be mindless, or else they wouldn’t put up with us; trees must do nothing but breathe for our lives to transpire. We can admire the Zen aspects of these existences, but with so much subservient to us, it is on us all the more to protect these resources, rather than permitting our egocentric projections to destroy them.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews