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all words+photos: Rachel Eisley

Saturday evening, Conner Contemporary filled with patrons of the arts who, upon entering the gallery, were welcomed into an immediately immersive environment, the first room appearing starkly different from the usual opening at Conner characterized by bright lights and conversations galore.

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First, visitors stepped into surreal darkness punctuated by vibrant screens buzzing with stark and buoyant imagery in a multi and single channel video installation by New York based artist Janet Biggs, titled “Kawah Ijen” and “A Step On the Sun.” Navigating extreme weather conditions to create site specific video, Biggs shot footage in the East Java province of Indonesia, focusing on the hardships overcome by a sulfur miner in the Ijen volcano.

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At times the multiple screens cause disorientation as their colors pierce the room’s darkness, and the score, created by sounds from within the volcano combined with cello and violin passages commissioned by the artist, lends a further eerie and disorienting element.

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After passing through the video installation, guests entered a thick black curtain to experience the next part of the exhibit. The room was hushed with onlookers singly focused on the performance art of Wilmer Wilson IV, who delivered a three-hour  performance titled “From My Paper Bag Colored Heart” which involved Wilson covering himself with puffed-up brown paper bags, blown up by himself one-by-one, and tied onto his body from his feet up with twine, until he was entirely covered.

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The environment of the room was palpably tense, as gallery patrons watched. Wilson’s methodically repeated motions became oddly soothing to witness, and the dynamic energy of the room surrounded his actions with palpable wonder and curiosity. Dealing with the social implications of the paper bag (bag lunches, shrouding alcohol in public) as well as their intended similarity in color to Wilson’s own skin, the installation of bags in the gallery as well as Wilson’s eventual bag exoskeleton maintained a familiar yet ominous presence. Just approaching the three hour mark, Wilson moved towards the audience, suddenly slapping his arms down on the inflated bags which made huge popping noises which were certainly startling. Then Wilson began cutting off the twine and bags one by one until he stood naked before the audience. The piece was then finished and he took a bow before making his exit to great applause. His entire performance was documented by video and still photography, the photographers clearly taking pains to get their shots without being disruptive, yet their dance alongside Wilson added another level of voyeurism to his bold and masterfully executed performance, especially considering that after “From My Paper Bag Colored Heart” was concluded, all that will remain is the documentation.

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