Right: One of Ellsworth's sister wives toting a machine gun in honor of Valerie Export's "Action Pants: Genital Panic" (1969)
It was during last night's ridiculously crowded opening where Ellsworth, known not only for her ever-morphing paintings, drawings and sculpture, but for her amazing performance work, wove her most provocative magic. Sette's gallery walls were lined with small, simply framed white paper napkins she had hand-embroidered in black thread with sketchy scenes taken from stills of landmark art performance works from the 1960s, 70s and 80s by famous women performance artists.
Channeling polygamist Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, Ellsworth not only admires these ground-breaking artists, but appears to love and worship them so much that she's taken them as "sister wives," a la the notorious Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. And to underscore her reverence and passion for these seminal, avant-garde artists, she had mingling in the crowd, both inside and outside the gallery, lovely, young women dressed in classic pastel, FLDS-style granny dresses, set off by running shoes and the sect's now weirdly chic front pouf hairstyle with braids flowing down their backs.
"Sister Wife Annie (Public Cervix Announcement), 1989" (2008), black thread drawing on napkin by Angela Ellsworth
Moving like zombies through the throngs of gallery visitors, each sister wife was armed with an object taken from one of the performance pieces illustrated by Ellsworth's embroidered drawings and would act out salient parts of the old performance pieces. Unsuspecting passersby were completely stunned and confused when they would happen upon a sister wife delicately clutching a knife or machine gun or stuffing a rag in her mouth, all of which objects were black. God only knows what they thought when one would slowly lift her dress and squat, while another would shine a flashlight into her crotch, reminiscent of Annie Sprinkles' 1989 "Public Cervix Announcement," during which the fearless artist invited people to celebrate the female body by using a flashlight and speculum to see her cervix (see a video of the performance artists).
"Seer Bonnets I and II" (2008), 11,448 and 16,120 pearl corsage pins, respectively, and fabric by Angela Ellsworth
Reactions to elegant white pearl-encrusted, old-fashioned bonnets, whose interiors and chin ribbons were lined with thousands of shiny, but lethal, straight pins were equally as befuddled. Ellsworth's pointed take on servile domesticity is beautifully inescapable.
Angela Ellsworth's drawings capture some of the most memorable and controversial feminist performance pieces ever created. For example, we see enshrined Adrian Piper in "Catalysis III" (1970) sitting on a bus with a rag billowing forth from stuffed cheeks next to curious onlookers. Piper's undertaking was meant to measure public reaction to the odd or repulsive person. Then there's Marina Abramovic in her "Seven Easy Pieces" of 2005, pretending to be Joseph Beuys in "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare" (1965), a performance in which Beuys covered his head with honey and gold leaf and cradled a dead rabbit, to which he would show pictures and softly whisper explanations. Some of Ellsworth's sister wives' squatting action during the opening was definitely replicating Shigeko Kubota's "Vagina Painting" performance of 1965, during which she would paint on paper or canvas afixed to the ground with a brush lodged in her vagina.
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Ain't art history grand?
Those really were the good old days. And with Ellsworth around the Valley, we won't soon forget them. I've made sure I won't by taking photos and video of highlights of the evening's performance, which you can see by clicking here.
For more on Angela Ellsworth's past performance pieces, take a look at this review of Ellsworth's 2000 ASUAM performance piece, "Club Extra," and a description of her performance-based boot drawings appearing in 2003's "You Still Draw Like a Girl".