By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
For Pittsburgh Performance Art Festival (PGHPAF) founder Abigail Beddall, her grand dream of Performance Art Festival bringing together a multitude of like-minded performance artists began in college at Penn State when she says the type of performance artwork she was doing she felt wasn’t being taken seriously in that academic setting.
That grand idea finally came to fruition in lesser form several years later when the Washington, D.C. born, State College, Pennsylvania bred Beddall made her way to Pittsburgh and co-founded Bunker Projects, an artist-run non-profit residency and experimental gallery. The Penn Avenue gallery played host to the first PGHPAF in 2015, a one-day event featuring a group of East Coast performance artists.
Now in its fifth year, PGHPAF has grown to include a plethora of local, national and international artist/performers. The FREE, weekend-long event (containing nudity and adult content) will take place August 30 & 31 at the festival’s new location in Millvale with site-specific performances and art interventions at accessible venues including Ton Pottery, Panza Gallery, Millvale Community Library, Millvale Moose and the Gardens of Millvale.
Beddall defines performance art as “using the body to activate a space as your work.” From there she says the sky is the limit on how that is manifested. Performance artists can use instruments, props, dance, music, the environment around them and even the audience in their art. “In my experience, it is the most effective and invasive art medium,” says Beddall. “Everyone has a body and can relate to a body. So to see the body in motion or in certain situations it can raise a lot of internal emotions and reactions [as a viewer] to how we interact with each other and the world.”
2019’s PGHPAF will run that gambit of performance art offerings that will both challenge and entertain audiences. Here is a brief look at what’s on tap (For the full festival schedule visit https://www.pghpaf.com):
Friday, August 30 (10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.)
Award-winning multidisciplinary artist Vesna Mačković (Croatia) will present the video installation Salute. It includes a video performance by fellow project collaborator Ana Opalić filmed in the abandoned iron factory “Željezara Sisak” in Croatia. Says the work’s description: The City of Sisak could be any city. I could have been born in any city. But growing up couldn’t be the same in any city… it had no air. Pittsburgh-based composer, performer and installation artist Samir Gangwani will present a work reacting to the U.S.’s current social and political climate in which he will build a brick wall in Millvale’s GAPP Park and then climb it before it settles only to have it will fall on top of him.
In conceptual Chinese artist Xu Han’s video installation Cocooned, the piece chronicles Han’s wearing of a “cocoon” she knitted for 21 Days in April and May of 2019. Says Han, she ate, traveled and slept in the cocoon forbidding herself to speak for the three weeks and kept a diary of her experiences.
Affaction Research Center (ARC) is the title of Missouri performance artist Esther Neff’s mobile, one-on-one performance that she describes as using “multiple forms of interview and diagramming to chart and materialize individual and social senses of ‘protagony’ in a narrative.”
San Francisco-based artist working in drag, dance, and performance, Miss Silk Worm will present Bottom Bride, “an uncanny wedding toast” monologue in which Silk Worm toasts the groom who left her hanging at the altar.
Also on Friday will be performances by Zadig Cartwheel (PA) in SCAN AND DESTROY; Benjamin Lundberg Torres Sánchez (RI) in Ancestors/Ancestrxs; Pittsburgh’s Hudson Rush’s Greek tragedy meets performance art piece Bitter Suite Manifesto; Jessica Flax and Maria Cecilia Azar’s (CA/Argentina) work Emotional Weight; a gender experimentation work by Tuba player, performance artist, and composer Sean Kennedy (NM); An adaptation of Canada’s Marie Segolene’s queer power play What’s in the throat of Apple Boy?; Pittsburgh’s BOOM Concepts video reel If I Die: Renew Recycle Release; plus performances by Vatic Kuumba (FL) and Trevor C. Miles (PGH).
Saturday, August 31 (10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.)
Festival featured artists Vivian Chinasa Ezugha (Nigeria/England), Quinn Hunter (Charlotte, NC) and Pittsburgh’s Gia Fagnelli highlight the final jam-packed day of PGHPAF. Ezugha’s Uro (clay) is about the weight of depression and rebirth. In it the artist manipulates and molds a body-sized mound of clay as her medium.
In her work Untitled, Hunter attaches her hair to a cinder block and attempts to move it around the space only by pulling it with her hair. Says Hunter: “The attachment of the Black female body by her hair to an object that is a symbol that is foundational and institutional.”
Fagnelli’s Super Combo Chef Special is the name self-described “extraterrestrial” artist Fagnelli has given her compilation of pieces cut together especially for this year’s PGHPAF. The 25-minute piece, set to a soundtrack by Emily Afton, BjORDAN and Moody Ting says Fagnelli, “is a fresh opportunity to showcase the projection work I’ve been experimenting within live and video recorded performances for the past year.” The work features sacred queer bodies in motion including local artists The Childlike Empress, Iris, Princess Jafar, and Fagnelli, as well as West Coast artist Jamila @taj_jamil (on ig).
Also on Saturday will be Brooklyn-based Adrian Jevicki’s meditation on presence vis-a-vis Western the traditions of fatherhood, The understudy, an evolving experimental multimedia performance piece by Julia Vering (KC), New York artist Nicole Goodwin’s body-performance project Ain’t I a Woman (?/!), Pittsburgh artists Dave English in The Beggars, a performance using two marionettes, Nick M. Daniels & DANA Movement in excerpts from Folkdances of a Nucleic Village, Anna Azizzy in For Retired Gymnast, a work depicting “a fictional gymnastics team, their coach, and their moms, all of whom struggle with sexual shame, queerness, and the urge to keep their true identities secret,” plus works by Whitney Vangrin (CA), Shey Rivera (PR) and Pittsburghers Tara Fay Coleman, Bebe Beretta, Ryan M. McKelvey and much more.