The Exercist

In Angela Ellsworth's "Club Extra," performance art is 90 percent perspiration

The performance artist admits that the quotes she's spliced to the driving beat of über-hip music often contradict themselves or may be incomprehensible. The idea for the tape originally came from conversations with other students during graduate school. "We were making so much artwork, but we were also required to read a lot of critical theory," she notes. "We kept saying, 'Wouldn't it be great if Derrida were on tape and we could make our work and get the theory in all at once -- like books on tape?'"

The artist was also inspired by "Show," a 1998 performance piece by Italian-born artist Vanessa Beecroft at New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Beecroft filled the museum with leggy female model-types dressed in designer bikinis who eventually took off their clothes and stood around like mannequins. "They were completely passive, like living sculpture," Ellsworth recalls. "Interesting, but why aren't they doing something? I just imagined them all doing jumping jacks in those swimming suits and getting really sweaty."

Ellsworth wants people who see her installation to become part of the work She hopes to rope in people who ordinarily wouldn't set foot in an art museum. To that end, she's advertised in Sweat (her ad, captioned "Art Meets Athletics," taunts the reader with "[t]hink your workouts are so great they should be an artform?"). She's also placed advertising on video and LCD monitors at The Q Sports Club in Tempe.

Sarah Kretz does her thing.
Paolo Vescia
Sarah Kretz does her thing.

The artist plans to create a second exercise tape and hold special "classes" specifically geared to participants in the Performance Studies International Conference, a performance art meeting to be held at ASU in March. Conference attendees will be invited into the space to work off what Ellsworth has dubbed "panel ass."

"On the second tape, I'd like to include quotes from work by some of the people who are actually going to be giving papers at the conference," says the artist.

By the end of Ellsworth's "Club Extra" opening, the heady perfume of burning machine oil from a treadmill on its last leg mingles with the yeasty stench of sweat from several hundred bodies. The strap on the fat-vibrating machine, now broken, hangs limply, a mute testament to better, pre-liposuction days. As people filter out of the museum space, the motley assortment of mismatched exercise machines left in their wake takes on the aura of strange sculpture, reminders of built-in obsolescence and castaway consumerism. Someone starts sweeping up pieces of rice cake that performance artist Ernest Lopez has been passing out, Mother Teresa-style, during the height of the action.

Is this art? You figure it out. Just remember: no pain, no gain.

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