“I, Bear,” a week of performances at CANADA Gallery on the Lower East Side, is a musical series with video, or more precisely, a leisurely party with video and, eventually, some music.
The performances occur in the gallery’s back room, where looped video is projected on one wall as well as on a piece of fabric suspended from the ceiling. The video includes footage by Black Dice, Young Chung, Cecilia Dougherty, Leah Gilliam, EE Miller & Bernardine Mellis, Aimee Worms Hirschberg, My Barbarian, Nguyen Tan Hoang and Tony Stinkmetal. A set of Stinkmetal’s videos are also being shown in the front room.
The atmosphere is comfortably downtown: friendly artists making connections and having a can of Budweiser ($2 each, but otherwise a free party). The dim lighting accommodates the video projections and the festive atmosphere. On the floor in the performance room, the seating consists of moving blankets.
No one’s in a hurry here. Over an hour after the start time on Tuesday (7 PM), the first evening of the performances, the closest thing to the performances to be found was a printed program listing the week’s offerings. On the second night, things got started a little earlier, about an hour into the program.
The idea of the series, as explained by a gallery representative, is that the performers will respond to the videos by improvising music. Though there was a little bit of fun to be had, the one thing that was not happening was a response to the video. However, the first performers of the night, Sarah Magenheimer ( of the group WOOM) and Sadie Laska (of the band Growing), basically ignored the video. Instead, they were extremely focused on a table full of machinery with which they produced sounds that sometimes felt like semi-composed dance music (basically rhythm) and sometimes like performance art (heavily distorted speaking, whooping and hissing into microphones). Some of the material may have had words, but none could be distinguished in the mix. In a loose black frock with insets evoking kimono patterns, Magenheimer bopped up and down a little as she pushed the buttons. Laska, in narrowly tailored white trousers and a shirt, remained immobile, glued to the soundboards.
Malik Gaines, one of the members in the performance collective My Barbarian, did a lounge act. Playing an electric keyboard with a mushy reverb, Gaines sang a few songs, apparently his own invention. “I’m Dr. Malik Gaines, and these are just, like, some songs,” he said twice, by way of introduction. At times, Gaines’s set longed for the happy hour at a Holiday Inn cocktail lounge; at others, it veered in promising directions. Some twitchingly bad love lyrics (“It’s the way that I’m feeling, I just can’t deny it”) and the song “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz gave way to “Songspiel” lifted from the memoires of a Black Panther about the image and role of women and homosexuals in the Panthers and a ditty quoting from the promotional literature of the union that represents teachers and faculty at CUNY.
Though Gaines had positioned himself indifferently to the video and only once seemed to include it in his act, one nice fortuitous moment occurred as images of shirtless and half-naked men from Nguyen Tan Hoang’s video look-im-azn (2011) played behind him as he sang about the Panther attitude toward homosexuals.
The series continues through Saturday, Dec. 17.