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April 2011, Justin Hoover @ Performance Art Institute

Justin Hoover, Forms That I Know For Sure, performance view at Performance Art Institute, San Francisco, 2011
Courtesy of the artist and Performance Art Institute

The Performance Art of Justin Hoover

Justin Hoover is currently artist-in-residence at the Performance Art Institute, San Francisco. It is also useful to note that he is the curator and gallery director at Smarts Cultural Center. He is an accomplished martial artist and is trained in a Shaolin based Chinese Kung-fu style known as Choy-Li-Fit. It is considered one of the premiere application-based martial arts in the world. It is a style that begins in wide and long forms and becomes increasingly tight and condensed as the practitioner works through the flow of progressive movements. The practice of Choy-Li-Fit, which constituted a substantial part of the performance, is considered the spectral opposite to Tai Chi Chuan. However, as the practitioner increasingly masters the style, the two disciplines become very similar when executed at the highest level. This martial art form is situated in the harmonization of internal and external practices, and aspires to balancing and developing the body, its strength, structure and connection, with one’s internal chi, breath, and centeredness. A fundamental component of this practice is a dedication to cultivating a mind of compassion and non-violence, even in the wake of seemingly violent actions and chaos. Hoover recently presented Forms That I Know For Sure, a performance piece described by the gallery as “a series of meditation structures and spaces designed for the manifestation of active energy." The gallery goes on to note, "These structures will capture the human scale residue of what Hoover terms definitive actions; focused movement meditations, physical trainings, and centering practices.”

On the night of the performance (March 18, 2011) the gallery was occupied by a long runway of white butcher paper. Three drawings on a sidewall appeared to be formed by graphite footprint marks, which seemed to evidence foot movements that formed the structure and content of the drawings. The room was filled with spectators who had come to witness the performance, which began when Hoover entered through a rear window in the gallery — much like a cat burglar —wearing a white satin jumpsuit with a hood, which conjured a mix of associations situated between 1970’s glamour rock, MC Hammer, and a Las Vegas theatrical ninja outfit. He poised himself at the head of the runway, loosened up, settled into himself briefly, and then began to execute some martial art forms. The execution of the Choy-Li-Fit aspect of the performance was dominated by a series of strikes, kicks, and sweeps that progressed down the length of the white paper runway. Once he got to the end of the path, he moved into an adjacent gallery space and into a small room that I assume was constructed to house the second part of the performance. As the crowd moved to the next room, I noticed that the paper ramp had tears, smudges, creases, and wrinkles that evidenced his body movements through the space in time, the “residue” manifest by active energy captured on the paper in the performance space.

Justin Hoover, Forms That I Know For Sure, performance view at Performance Art Institute, San Francisco, 2011
Courtesy of the artist and Performance Art Institute

As the performance moved to the room constructed for the presentation, Hoover sat on a small cushion in front of a 4"x8" block of wood, with a small hammer and a tape recorder. After a brief period of focused meditation, he picked up the hammer and began to bang on the wood block, with a steady rhythm and cadence. The sound of the hammer resonated in the room, and left an impression in the wood, and, one assumes, was documented with the recorder. After a brief interlude he repeated this action again, and again, and again. The subsequent result was a splintering indentation in the wood block, which resulted in a change in pitch made by the impact. This necessitated a progressive descent down the surface of the block to maintain the original tone of the hammer hitting the wood. Similarly, it also progressively changed the texture of the surface of the block, leaving — as with the paper — evidentiary marks from the body’s interaction with the tools and materials over the course of the performance.

In physically engaging the gallery space, of central significance was the interdependency of the artist and the audience in constituting a circuit of meaning for the work, and the implication of the audience in the interactive process of interpretation. Here, the use of the body movements in space and time, in a ritual centered in an integration of art and life — by means of blurring designations such as martial art, performance art, theater, visual art — served to interrogate these terms as nebulous, fluid and contingent on the nature of the situated practices. This from my perspective seemed to comment on and relate a certain truth, that art and its significance are culturally defined by ongoing labor processes that are based in the body’s transformative interaction with ideas, languages, and materials in spaces, which bring about new and ever-changing realities based in social engagement and signification.

Justin Hoover, Forms That I Know For Sure, performance view at Performance Art Institute, San Francisco, 2011
Courtesy of the artist and Performance Art Institute


Anthony Torres

Anthony Torres is an independent scholar, art writer, and art appraiser. He has curated and traveled numerous exhibitions, and published extensively in Artweek, New Art Examiner, Art Papers and others. Additionally he researched and wrote the “Illustrated Chronology” and essay “Negotiating Space: The Sketch Books,” for the book, Frank Lobdell: The Art of Making and Meaning (2003).   

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