Last fall’s ARTELPHX, the third iteration of the multi-night mash-up of visual and performance art founded in 2013 by Tara Sharpe, was fresh and funky. The event, held at The Clarendon Hotel, even earned our best arts festival praise. Still a relatively new enterprise, its foibles were easily construed as charming.
Never mind if an artist wasn’t quite ready when VIP night opened, or programs showing performance times weren’t available to event-goers. Such things could be overlooked, or deemed a reflection of the event’s creative spirit. But now, they’ve become downright annoying.
ARTELPHX should have matured by now, morphing from pop-up novelty to polished mainstay of the metro Phoenix art scene.
When VIP night launches, every installation should be up and running. Visitors should have a map showing what is happening where, and a single source of information about when time-specific shows are taking place. The whole wandering around thing is fun the first time around. But that was then, and this is now. And while some people relish spontaneity, others want information they can use to plan their experience.
Still, several of this year’s installations and performances were impressive. Aesthetically, the clear stand-outs were installations by Rafael Navarro and Holly Anderson, and by Daniel Funkhouser. The former illuminated cascading butterflies with blacklights. The latter built a cardboard dome with psychedelic stripes and playful cut-out vignettes. In each case, attention to detail and the judicious editing of ideas and materials was apparent.
Dance performance was prevalent this year, which is a good thing. The best dance offerings included “tiny dances” performed solo and in groups by dancers from Carley Conder's CONDER/dance company — who used small platforms for stages, an echo of this year's Breaking Ground Festival. One stage sat in a hotel room, the other in the hotel lobby.
During Saturday night’s first performance of The Heaping, a woman passing through the hotel lobby decided she’d jump right up on the platform and lay herself across the pile of five dancers. It was a blissful moment of ARTELPHX bravado.
Dancers who performed in the lobby were flanked by Peter Bugg’s curtain of hole-ridden tabloids and masks made by Lara Plecas. Both installations were simple and straightforward, yet rich with meaning.
Jenna Lyn Myers’ performance of Rise, a piece choreographed by 2015 Big Brain Award performing art finalist Angel Castro, was captivating. Danced on the hotel’s Sky Deck overlooking the city, it featured Myers sporting a corset as she danced seemingly tangled within red strips anchored to architecture on her left and right. By the time the dance concluded, she’d shed the corset and broken free.
Other dance stand-outs included pieces choreographed by Ryan Donovan-Schager and Tyler Hooten. The former created five solo dances, each inspired by one of the five stages of grief. The latter created a work for two dancers whose only illumination in a dark room was their cell phones.
The poolside bed used in a piece choreographed by Candy Jimenez was a distraction at best. The site really calls for a larger, more commanding piece of theater, dance, or music performance.
The combo installation and performance built by Kenny Barrett and choreographed by Liliana Gomez suffered a bit in the execution department. Newspapers located along the pathway leading to and from the installation conveyed a sloppy vibe rather than enhancing the visitor experience. Still, their risk-taking beat the heck out of blander alternatives. Let's hope those two keep at it — and that others follow suit.
ARTELPHX included a nice variety of programming this time around, although puppetry and improvisational theater offerings didn't particularly stand out. Still, they served to highlight the tremendous potential for including additional types of work in future ARTELPHX events. Electric violin. Spit poetry. Short plays like those Rising Youth Theatre developed for the Light Rail. All would make ARTELPHX a more interesting affair, as did music done poolside by Lauren Sarah Hayes.
Finding a large corner space empty near an elevator (like the space that featured Valyntina Grenier's gun-themed piece, but on a different floor) when it could have been used for another installation or performance was disappointing. Imagine what could fill that space at a future event: human statues, live mural painting, neon sculptures, an art-making activity for event-goers. So many lost opportunities there this time around, especially given the space’s mirrored wall.
The pool was a pretty cool place to be during ARTELPHX, thanks in part to Brian Maxwell’s suspended columns of ceramic orbs and Rachel Olsen-Veal’s hanging walls of multi-color geometric shapes. Projections onto a four-story wall adjacent to the pool, the work of Mark Hughes and Katharine Leigh Simpson, beautifully signaled the hotel’s transformation into a creative canvas. Perhaps the popularity of Simpson parading around the hotel as a flowing white bird will prompt more participation by additional costumed types strolling through event spaces.
Overall, this year’s ARTELPHX was a mixed bag. There was some good art, but some merely meh art, too. And while most people are perfectly fond of the artists who’ve done more than one ARTELPHX event, it might be nice to see fewer repeat participants and more fresh faces in the mix next time around. It’s time to stress quality over quantity as well. The novelty of merely doing something artsy in a hotel environment is wearing off.
It’d be nice to up the frequency of performances, too – which would make it easier for ARTELPHX attendees to see every performance in a single night, and result in smaller audiences for each showing. Crowding into a hotel doorway with dozens of other people trying to see the same show is, at best, only fun the first time you do it. Finding some artists posting performance times outside their rooms only to change them with Post-It notes is equally frustrating.
Sharpe plans to organize ARTELSHOW events in other cities. But the ARTEL model has yet to be perfected here. It still needs basics like event programs noting artist names, titles of works, installation locations, and performance times. The show needs artist statements, too — prominently displayed near featured installations and performances.
Until those things happen, it's difficult to imagine the event expanding beyond Phoenix.