Portraits in oppression

German artistVaago Weiland registers physically like an extra in a Jean-Claude Van Damme film: a charismatic fireplug with a jaw as wide and likely to pop out at you as a cash-register drawer. He’s convincing as a pumped-up Hitler, a Son of Dixie, and an American soldier — roles he cycled quickly through at Friday night’s conclusion to Exist/Resist: Metamorphosis of Destruction at Fl!ght Gallery.

Since the show’s August Second Saturday opening, wooden shelving filled with opaque white vases encased in chicken wire held out the promise of a visceral evening, and Weiland didn’t disappoint the audience that packed into the small gallery for the performance. Each of the 40-odd vases was crudely labeled in black with a value held dear by contemporary humans: safety, creativity, identity, God, land, peace. And each of Weiland’s historical oppressors shattered several of them while mocking the audience’s fragile idealism and inaction in the face of tyranny. God went early, love and justice held on till the end. Left standing alone when Weiland’s metal poker had done its work was both a warning and a moral: You.

The vases were strong performers, some of them shattering like fragile bird shells on pavement, others dropping like stones, reminding us that human sentiment is a resource against oppression: More than one observer noted that the “love” vase didn’t break and could be retrieved whole from the rest of the detritus.

The piece was inspired during the artist’s recent travel to the U.S., when he was subjected to some of the more stringent search methods employed post 9-11. What offended him most was the lack of humanity with which he was treated — the cage he was kept in seemed particularly outrageous in a country that pretends to uphold the dignity of the individual. “This situation created an internal conflict with his excitement of presenting his work in the United States,” reads a gallery statement. “Later, as he was sitting in the airplane he was thinking about Hitler’s Germany and how this system disregarded human values ... It’s all about power and not about respect.”

Accordingly, the performance sought to embody historical instances when the will to power overcame our ideals. As a concept it’s solid and of course timely, but as live theater it suffered from being recently conceived. Weiland starts strong as the German dictator, and successfully holds the thread through the Civil War period and our contemporary immigration conflict, but each characterization was less compelling than the previous — not because the charges don’t stick, but because the artist, for all of his aggression, seemed to assume that he’d have a sympathetic audience and didn’t provide much in the way of narrative to help us understand the connections between these ugly periods in history. It was cathartic, but not enlightening. Weakest of all, and perhaps most important if Weiland hopes to reach choirs that aren’t already singing along, is the final Taliban character. The artist succeeded in making the religious zealot frightening, but not as real or as comprehensible as his previous oppressors.

If the purpose was simply to remind the audience that U.S. behavior appears no more rational or humane than the Taliban’s to many international observers, job done, but the performance would be more original and richer if it examined the similarities and differences more thoroughly. With any luck, Friday night’s audience saw an early incarnation of a future great performance-art piece. Judging by the accompanying show of mixed-media collage paintings on view at one9zero6 last month, Weiland’s capable of it. Exploiting the fine line between commercialism and propaganda, Weiland created miniature billboards for a mongrel society in which ideologies compete with material goods for dominance, and like the current slate of U.S. presidential candidates, none is wholly appealing.

The Art Capades weekend planner

Friday, Sep 7
6 -9 p.m.

tA Quiet: J.R. Bruce, Nate Cassie, Alex Lopez, Karen Mahaffy, Sarah Moore, Denny Renshaw
UTSA Satellite Space, 115 Blue Star,
(210) 212-7146

There are plenty of reasons to anticipate this group show; my top two are: 1) It’s curated by new Blue Star Gallery Preparateur Brian Jobe, who’s shown innovative sculpture at Joan Grona and Three Walls. 2) Two of the six artists are two of SA’s most accomplished and continuously surprising artists: Karen Mahaffy and Nate Cassie. Cassie gets away from the canvas again for A Quiet with ceramic beehives.

6-9 p.m.
Win, Lose or Draw: Marlys Dietrick

Three Walls, 106D Blue Star Art Complex, Building B, (210) 212-7185
Plastic Parasite: Dan Sutherland

Cactus Bra, 106C Blue Star Art Complex,
Building B, (210) 226-6688

Dietrick reimagines the standard playing-card deck as a universe inhabited by strange yet endearing mutants. Perhaps they’re escapees from Sutherland’s lovely nightmares on paper.

6-9 p.m.
Fotoseptiembre USA

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center,
119 Blue Star, (210) 227-6960

Lilly Wei curates Photo Plus, one of three tantalizing FotoSeptiembre shows at Blue Star that finally make the name “Contemporary Art Center” seem apt. Wei’s set includes former Artpace resident Oliver Herring in an exploration of photography as art tool rather than medium. 6-Pack features a half-dozen Mexico City photographers, and Gallery Four will be filled with a 10-year retrospective of San Antonio native Bryan Rindfuss’s work.

7-10 p.m.
4 X 4 (Photography): Adriana Garcia, Gabriel Guzman Medina, Raymond Rojas, Jorge

Gallery 118, 118 Broadway, (210) 225-5877
Art is galvanizing; work off the adrenaline at this newish downtown hot spot to a soundtrack of Chicago House music by DJ GQVelasquez.

Saturday, Sep 8
8 p.m.

Theatre ASAP
San Pedro Playhouse, 800 W. Ashby,
(210) 779-6782

Witness the results of 24 hours of theater madness at the fourth annual TheatreASAP showdown. Yes, these short plays are written, rehearsed, designed, and performed within a 24-hour period, but the directors, playwrights, and actors are pros, nominated and selected by their peers. $15 general; $10 SATCO members.


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