ORGANIZED BY ELSPETH WALKER
ELSPETH WALKER / DAVID ARMACOST / JORDAN BERNIER / STEVEN RIDDLE
“Organized by Elspeth Walker” was a three-part program at sophiajacob consisting of a gallery residency, performance event, and subsequent publication that became an exercise in secrecy, deviance and exploitation.
I transformed the white-wall gallery into a nocturnal environment and staged an anonymous group show that exploited ten artists to flesh out the Puppetmaster’s living room. The Puppetmaster was an elusive persona designed to synchronize submissions and generate a mythology surrounding the project. The gallery became a hosting place to a cult without ideology, endowing anonymous objects with the weight of private ritual. These objects became keys into a queer logic of personal space.
The goal was for this “show” to erupt out of nowhere as an entity that could not be traced back to any singular artistic vision. The experiment extended from a critical interest in amateur performance. Artists were required to submit highly personal work but were also required to mask, hide, or subvert their identity. Participants were encouraged to use the gallery as a place to “work through demons”; to execute private rituals or conduct simple performative actions.
Materials in the Puppetmaster’s living room included a spinning torso emitting a soft light from an interior pasted obsessively with male cutouts, a haunting testimonial interview from a naked, clinically diagnosed narcissist, an empty mandala and private prayer/contemplation room, an OCD patterned lipstick-drawing silk altar, a video of intimate medical procedures, and a living human embedded in the wall for duration of the opening reception. Objects created for The Puppetmaster became performative as they relinquished their identity in the service of the fake cult. What this cult was dedicated to was never revealed, and the living room remained full of the potential for some kind of dark meeting which never occurred—or did it?
Adjacent to the living room was a one-night “happening” of ten performers at Baltimore showspace Floristree. We collaborated here on a different kind of queer space—one that was easily dismantled, temporary, utopic and unsustainable. The constructed landscape featured live performance, durational action, recorded film and streaming video from Chicago of live rituals performed on cam4. In contrast to the top secrecy of the living room, the Floristree event exploited the persona of the artist as a highly visible presence. The three elements of this overarching performative residency were designed to trouble the notion of the authenticity of authorship.