Whitehot Magazine

June 2011, Epic Pain @ Little Berlin

John Sinclair (Philadelphia, PA), All the Love You Can Take (2011), performance installation
Shion Aikawa. Courtesy, the artist and Little Berlin

Epic Pain

Little Berlin
Viking Mill
Boston St. at Coral St.
2430 Coral St. Philadelphia, PA 19125
3, through 25 June, 2011


Miranda July’s collection of short stories No-one Belongs Here More Than You (2007) steps with awkward intimacy around our need for acceptance. A teenage girl, seduced by a (possibly) imaginary, dark being, spends her adult life seeking “Steve” in human outsiders; a beautiful fifteen year old resolves to have a disfiguring port wine stain removed from her face, tired of the ways strangers seem to measure themselves against her polarised appearance.

This difficult and intensely sensual negotiation of relationships, resonating throughout adulthood, is the subject of wild play and sophisticated analysis in Epic Pain, an exhibition curated by performance artist Leslie Rogers. Framed as a show informed by pre-institutional (read: pre-art school) creativity, the exhibition features objects made by artists during their teens; artist reflections on youthful experience; an actor’s first gallery outing; and a spontaneous “performance” by a teenage boy captured on YouTube.

Vabianna Santos (San Diego, CA), My Beloved Singers, Dead Before I Heard Their Voices (2011)
Photographic prints on fabric, shag rug, mixed media
Photo: Shion Aikawa. Courtesy, the artist and Little Berlin

In an area littered with cut paper, letterman jackets, takeaway food and colourful, high school art projects, pushed together classroom tables, chairs and an overhead projector display the aftermath of Vincent Finazzo’s performance Art 1 (2011). The artist’s opening night reconstruction of his high school art class experience even included jocks showing up late, scribbling cocks on his bright collages and generally harassing the hell out of him. Hannah Walsh’s understated and beautiful short video, An Awesome (2010), uses just one motif - the lithe, wavering body at the top of the pyramid - to stand in for similar anxieties around ambition, isolation and trust in an All Star cheerleading context.

John Sinclair, who brings his theatrical background to the work, constructs an iconic environment – battered two-seater couch, junk snacks, rom-coms on a bulky TV set, gawky silences - in which to recapture an earlier subjectivity housed in the clumsily tender world of teenage romantic experience. All the Love You Can Take (2011) is billed as an attempt to seduce the participant. In doing so, he uses remembered and appropriated language and gesture (shy shrugging, “never mind”) and reports some success. When asked if the performance’s purpose might be triggering or uncomfortable for some viewers, Sinclair explained that he is acting in deliberate antithesis to the typical private view pick-up. Rather, by incorporating goofy lines written by local schoolchildren into his dialogue, the artist seeks to question and to soften traditional, and perhaps threatening, masculinities.


 Jonathan Santoro & Leslie Rogers (Philadelphia, PA), Untitled (detail, 2011)
Towels, benzoyl peroxide, hair dye
Photo: Shion Aikawa. Courtesy, the artist and Little Berlin


 A formally captivating painting is constructed from two bathroom towels diagonally spliced together, with cosmetics standing in as pigment. The orange-grey segments bear a rough (face-scale) ellipse bleached with artist Jonathan Santoro’s acne medication; gestural rainbow colours on a fluffy white ground emanate from Rogers’ bright hair dye. The cut fabric recalls Lucio Fontana’s 1950s form-destroying gestures, while the juxtaposition of joyful and shameful aesthetic products augment the piece with a socially concerned look at the potentially disastrous, or liberating, effects of appearance. Vabianna Santos’ models and videos also reflect on a need for acceptance and community, this time in an almost spiritual embrace with the effigies long dead rock music icons.

To continue the comparison with Miranda July's work, while July is a well-known champion of finding art in unusual, non-institutional locations, one such place being the secret sliver of space under the bed, as illuminated by a camera flash, her stories more often highlight the hidden institutions (gender, class, family, work, age) that govern our daily behaviour. In a similar way, by deliberately peeling away the framework of fine art, Rogers doesn’t so much open a space for “pre-institutional experience” as show that however far back we turn the clock, there are guidelines and social codes to observe. As Sinclair’s piece meditates on gender performance, and Finazzo’s on issues of class background in shaping our social role, so each work in Epic Pain is also structured closely around being American – national identity being one of the most pervasive constructs we absorb.

To this British reviewer, an accidental performance sums it up: ripped from YouTube, Jeremy Fry is an enthusiastically dorky fifteen year old whose zany lip-synching and dancing to Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer (1986) is captured on the Jumbotron live feed at a Boston Celtics game. Those in the seats around him, who jump up to hug, shake hands and sing along, clearly know the rules of that specific moment and love to play along.

Vince Finazzo (Philadelphia, PA), Art I (2011)
Performance installation
Photo: Shion Aikawa. Courtesy, the artist and Little Berlin

Jonathan Santoro & Leslie Rogers (Philadelphia, PA), Untitled (detail, 2011)
Towels, benzoyl peroxide, hair dye
Photo: Shion Aikawa. Courtesy, the artist and Little Berlin


Sophie White (Philadelphia, PA), Lil’ Wayne (2011)
Paper mache votive statue
Photo: Shion Aikawa. Courtesy, the artist and Little Berlin

Vabianna Santos (San Diego, CA), Bloody (2005)
Digital print, shot at commercial portrait studio
Photo: Shion Aikawa. Courtesy, the artist and Little Berlin

Becky Hunter

Becky Hunter is a writer based in London and Durham, UK. She is Assistant Editor for Whitehot Magazine.

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