unearth – Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019
unearth, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019.
Multi channel video, live sound, dance, performance, lighting sculpture, printed curtain, and costumes.
They never found a thing.
At the turn of the century miners in the hills above Welches, Oregon were hoping to extract value from the rock. For the better part of twenty years, they tirelessly chased glints of “gold” in subterranean caves of their own making. Digging deeper into the mountain, which like a body are made up of lodes or veins filled with minerals. Searching for gold they found little more than pyrite, just as glittery, maybe even more so, but not a sustaining force. Mistaking it as real bounty and entranced by their discovery – they toiled on, only learning then fatefully years later of their own deception. As Charles Dickens famously said, “Blood cannot be obtained from stone.”
In many ways Peter Simensky’s project unearthattempts to approximate the space of these caves as sites for desire, seduction, misled adventure, obsession and a certain distance from reality. The darkness of these spaces also alludes to the violent histories that followed this period of excavation… colonization, land grabbing, and the commodification of greed. This belief in gold as the most important mineral, one that struck at the hearts of men, cemented its place as the basis for material culture and the measure of wealth and value to this day.
Simensky has made his own pilgrimages to a cave in the region returning many times, to stage performances, recordings and actions with his collaborators, including releasing pyrite dust into the air, recording video with Ruben García Marrufo, sound with Jesse Mejía, and shooting photographs of the cave walls animated with colored flashlights. These dazzling theatrics have now been brought to life here in the space of the black box theater.
The black box like the mines relies on a certain suspension of disbelief and allows for Simensky to play with the content and context of both spaces. In recording the dimensionality of the cave Simensky, Marrufo and Mejíafill the rooms empty volume with the presence of absence. Across two screens in conversation with one another… billowing clouds of shimmering dust cling to light shafts creating specter like forms. These gold ghosts are accompanied by a live score performed by Mejíacomprised of pops and sizzles, mic’d disco lamps and whizzing motors that snap and lull the audience in and out of consciousness. In unearth light is a kind of MC and Maggie Heath signals shifts in the space with illumination, fade and color. The cave curtain hanging before us acts as a soft boundary, a thin veil bifurcating the theater, audience on one side and a cast of shadowy “players” on the other. A thing meant for us to push through.
In this new space, part stage, part cave, part dance club… we are to be seduced by the conflicting but entrancing gestalt of sound, light, image, illusion and movement. Simultaneously rich and hollow visual and aural effects are accompanied by sequined covered appendages performed by Allie Hankins and a cast of acting agents*. Their hands and fingers dance in auto erotic syncopation and brilliant ASMR shimmer. Together they call out to us, questioning the value in pursuing that shiny thing we desire, as if to say To what end…
To what end?
Kristan Kennedy, Artistic Director, Curator of Visual Art
Live Sound Design: Jesse Mejía
Hand Dance: Allie Hankins
Camera, Editing, and Spotlight:Ruben García Marrufo