I have not been standing outside the electrodes watching Alison Crocetta and Peter Reese perform for more than five minutes before I start feeling the pain of stillness. Peter Reese is suspended in front of me, and as I shift my weight I am focused on his mouth trying to see the words I know he is singing. I am not very good at reading lips and the street is so loud that I give up and take my gaze elsewhere.
Their hands and feet betray the calm demeanor of their faces. I can see the slight movements—adjustments made to ease the pain of standing straight for so long. I see their matching uniforms, the forwardness of their gaze, the little interaction they have with each other and not the audience. They are focused on their task. The title “Load and Effort” begins to make more sense the longer I watch them.
I am one of the first viewers to walk to the black curtain behind Crocetta and Reese so I can hear what they are singing. The performance becomes powerful in a new way as I hear with astounding clarity the harmony of their voices as they repeat the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” I cannot see their faces anymore so as I listen I look around the space they are occupying. That is when I notice that the performers are suspended by a pulley system. They have been balancing each other’s weight the whole time. The performance lasts for three hours. During their exit, I watch from behind as volunteers assist their shaking bodies off the platforms.
The next day, I think about all the layers of the performance I saw as Crocetta and Reese talk to me about their piece. They tell me that their partnership is relatively new, but their mutual interest in durational performance, themes of work and labor, and stillness allows them to work well together.
When we talk about the pulley system, Crocetta emphasizes the need for two people. She says that the performance requires performers that work in tandem, but never touch. It creates a sense of longing in the piece that was echoed in their singing. The lyrics to the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” originally were directions sung to people who would perform a dance together. The Shakers were a religious sect that believed in the equality of the sexes, but their society was built on a foundation of connection and distance. The community came together through work and labor, but they were all celibate and frowned upon those who were married or had families. Physical intimacy with the opposite sex was the ultimate form of sin.
However, Crocetta and Reese’s performance is more invested in issues of space, how the body operates within a specified environment, and how bodies interact with one another. The hymn is just one means to express those themes through history and sound. I look forward to what the duo creates in the future as they continue to explore and expand upon their ideas and mutual interests.
RP14 performance photo by Emerson Sigman.
Chelsie Niemi is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor with a focus in Art History and English. She is currently the archive intern at the Defibrillator Gallery. Her passion for learning and writing about performance art has inspired her to develop her own work. She is planning to write and create performances throughout the next year in order to apply for a MA and MFA graduate program.