As a small school, it makes sense that Lawrence has a limited number of academic departments, but the possibility exists for an endless variety of majors. With each academic department taught by a versatile faculty, many students at Lawrence take advantage of the opportunity to design their own majors.Senior Kelly Shaw Willman created her own major in Performance Art. She explained, “By its very nature, [performance art] embraces a multitude of art media,” including the study of “poetry, sculpture, digital media, performance, dance, yoga, music, dreaming, bookmaking, graphic design, installation art, and basic studio art elements.”
In order to get the most out of her major, Willman takes the hands-on approach and performs at least once per term. Reflecting on past performance experiences, Willman recalled a performance that took place this past spring in the amphitheatre, where she “collaborated with a percussion ensemble, several costumed women and a 13-foot yellow python named Lemon!”
This past Friday evening, Willman put on another sensuous performance titled “/regard/” after a poem she wrote about “viewing the body from the inside out. Pumping organs, streams of flowing blood, muscles.” However, Willman explained that aside from its original literary purpose, as the title for her performance art piece, “‘/regard/’ can mean whatever it needs to mean for the individual who experiences the performance.”
Differing from the normal experience of visual art, “/regard/” as a performance was, as Willman described, “alive with forms of literal movement and literal noise,” through the combination of video, music, poetry, and visual art.
Presenting the multimedia work involved artistic collaborators that Willman hand-picked “because they are all involved in the arts and they are all brilliant.” Jess Holz created a video and electronic sounds, Harjinder Bedi was the multi-instrumentalist, and Wilmer Chan contributed on bass guitar.
Willman said that this combination of media “works to stimulate the senses on many levels . performance brings several forms of art to life in one art body, which is an amazing concept to me.” Audience, Willman explained, is essential to performance art.
In “/regard/,” Willman involved her audience by passing out rose petals and packets of glitter. She explained that she had not originally intended to pass out the materials during her performance and had no idea that everyone in the audience would participate. She also tossed handfuls of glitter at the audience, which left each audience member donning both a piece of her performance and experimental vision upon departure.
Participation at public events can often yield uneasiness, but Willman explained that she works “to break down the boundaries between artist and audience by literally bringing my performance into their space.”
Even without direct interaction between Willman and the audience, each was a part of the artistic experience in the intimate Mudd Gallery. She added, “My intentions are not invasive, and I intuit that the audience is aware of this. In my performance experiences, there is a feeling of reciprocity, curiosity, and warmth between artist and audience, which makes interaction appropriate.”
In her own space, Willman said she is “interested in expressing magic, or that which is ethereal and sensual.” She leaves the audience to indulge in the multi-sensory experience or come to their own conclusions.
Many parallels of the organic could be seen in the videos of pumping muscles, swaying branches and the rose petals, versus the artificiality of glitter. Audience member Lindsey Ahlen commented on Willman’s rolling on the floor in the midst of rose petals and glitter, which allowed the audience to see the action as the artist becoming one with her art.
Another perspective came from Zach Becker, who picked up on indications of birth and rebirth.
Willman described herself as an “experimental artist working from a contemporary space” because she is a “ceaseless bundle of change” and interested in all forms of art. Anyone who has ever seen one of her intriguing performances would surely agree.