The body in the room, the shaman and other tales — 2014 London Biennale: Pollination in Las Vegas

Shelbi Schroeder performs in her live still life installation during the 2014 London Biennale in Las Vegas, a satellite site for the biennale, Sunday, June 15, 2014.
Photo: Yasmina Chavez

Artist Jevijoe Vitug is mixing a concoction of pharmaceuticals, dropping tablets and capsules into a mixture of gin and Red Bull before a wincing audience of 20 sitting in a Downtown backyard. A hot tub gurgles nearby as he quietly announces each ingredient—allergy medicine, aspirin, cough syrup and mental acuity—then downs the contents of the glass.

There are several mysteries at play here, but one could surmise that the evening’s biggest might be what to tell the arriving paramedics should something go wrong, rather than whether or not something will go wrong.

But nothing of it. Wrapping himself in a Mylar survival blanket and matching headpiece, Vitug leads a poolside procession, gold whistle in mouth, through narrow corridors formed by artist Anthony Bondi’s large-scale, tactile works.

A JK Russ inspired interactive collage is seen during the 2014 London Biennale in Las Vegas, a satellite site for the biennale, Sunday, June 15, 2014.

A projection of artist Scott Grow’s helium-filled party balloon launch plays on a wall above the pool. The balloons carry five works on paper into the sky, destination unknown. Titled “Lift Off, A Private Collection for an Unknown Person,” the collection's future is as much a mystery as its possible someday discovery.

Vitug, it seems, is fine. By now he’s in the hot tub. His performance, built on the idea of a Filipino shaman in contemporary Las Vegas, is over. Some are left to consider ritualism and the parallels of altered consciousness in religions and pharmaceuticals while meandering Bondi’s interactive works (made over the years following the photographer's decision to build sculpture for Black Rock Desert).

The group will reconvene the next night, pursuing the events—themed Maps, Mazes and Mysteries—in the 2014 London Biennale: Pollination in Las Vegas. It’s part of an artist-based effort (launched by David Medalla in 1998) that responds to the large, corporate-sponsored biennales with all inclusive DIY events. This year, Las Vegas organizers went full DIY, taking the events directly into artists’ homes and studios.

Jevijoe Vitug performs during the 2014 London Biennale in Las Vegas, a satellite site for the biennale, Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Visual artists do performance work (alongside performances artists), taking themselves out of their own traditional realms. And so the next night, we find photographer Shelbi Schroeder lying naked on the shag rug of a small Downtown apartment. There’s a Louis XV chair in the corner, a lamp on the floor and twilight coming in through the window. With lace fabric covering her face and her body extending along black-and-white Victorian wallpaper, she is a photograph come to life, an artist bringing the viewer physically into the work.

The performance/installation appears David Lynchian, particularly with the loose socializing (and group collage making) taking place in the same space as her cordoned-off and mostly motionless body.

Whether they know it or not, the visitors are part of the work. This is what Vitug wanted from the event—participants as collaborators. Their very arrival at the destinations requires maze-like journeying: The addresses are not public; they’re only provided when visitors RSVP.

Matthew Couper performs during the 2014 London Biennale in Las Vegas, a satellite site for the biennale, Sunday, June 15, 2014.

The path to Schroeder, an MFA candidate at UNLV with an interest in patterns, interiors and bodies, is marked with collages constructed by artist JK Russ on the apartment’s exterior walls. Artist Matthew Couper (who, along with Vitug, organized this year’s Biennale), creates a labyrinth in a dirt lot next door, carving its walls into the ground and filling them with soil. It’s a seamless integration of ideas, styles and media under the umbrella of maps, mazes and mysteries. Next up: map works by Justin Favela and David Ryan, an interactive maze performance by Yasmina Chavez and Javier Sanchez, and mysteries by Kady Monroe-Tracey, Cara Seymour and Giorgio Guidi.

2014 London Biennale: Pollination in Las Vegas June 21, 7-9 p.m. & June 22, 5-9 p.m. Various locations,

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Kristen Peterson

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