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SIGHTS AROUND TOWN : Performance Piece : The artists of Moda-Viv merge traditions in a way that enlightens and tickles.

October 15, 1992|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Performance art arose out of a need to explore and lurk in a new mediumistic territory between the existing realms of studio art-making, theater, music.

It was also an opportunity to counteract the inevitable detachment between artist and viewer in the art world. To confront a live audience, in real time. The possibilities were endless. The results of the liberation have been decidedly mixed.

In Ventura group Moda-Viv's cheeky performance piece, several lines of media are crossed and blurred. Moda-Viv is a performance entity involving dancers Pamela Pilkenton, Melissa Fair, Yvonne Konneker, painter/sculptor Girard Louis Drouillard and composer Jim Connolly.

The piece has been performed at various places in town--at art openings and the old Ventura courthouse. But last weekend, Drouillard and gang took the act down the road apiece, to the Artexpo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The expo is a sizable trade show specializing in commercial goods, not the stuff of crossed boundaries and audacious displays. The cutting edge is nowhere in sight.

Even Drouillard's own two-dimensional art, shown at his booth on the floor, is fairly safe. It appropriates abstract expressionist impulses and creates visual bombasts that are tidier than their huge scale might imply.

But he has a good time in real time.

At the Convention Center, a swollen throng of passerby gathered around the stage space next to Drouillard's booth. The performance was premiered there on Thursday and, by Saturday afternoon's performance, word of mouth had spread.

In the performance, dancers enter the stage area stiff as mannequins, carried onto the stage by a faceless "workman." Jim Connolly's techno-primitive musical urgings begin with a drone, building into a strangely propulsive rhythmic bed.

The dancers respond with appropriate writhing--although working within the constraints of their skintight garments and connected sleeves. Or else they remain stationary--looking literally statue-esque on pedestals.

Enter the artist, arms flailing, flinging sweeping brush strokes of primary color on these bodily "canvases." Without much deliberation, Drouillard attends to each dancer/canvas, swiping or splattering them with varying densities of paint.

Within 15 minutes, the affair is complete. The once-pristine white dancers have been surreally subjected to live-action painting and are carried off by the straight-faced workman. The artist has gotten his fingernails and shoes dirty.

The crowd goes wild. The artist bows--how often can a painter bow after an act of painting?

The performance is clever, accessible and entertaining. It provides one theatrical answer to the nagging question: How does painting hope to compete with the hypersensory, hyperkinetic buzz of the electronic and mass media?

In simple terms, Moda-Viv's performance merges traditions in a way that enlightens and tickles.

ALL-AMERICANA DEPARTMENT: The current show called "An Artist's View of Ventura County" at the Santa Paula Depot Gallery is one dripping with the kind of Americana we haven't seen since, well, since the Ventura County Fair.

Such an impression is enhanced by the gallery that houses the show. The refurbished Depot is a place of no small rustic charm, with red exterior and stained wood floors and walls. The structure itself is gently depicted in Dorine Little-Lunceford's watercolor.

Standing in the gallery, especially with these paintings, you might imagine yourself as being somewhere in the Midwest rather than a spit away from the Los Angeles jungle. A strong scent of Americana blows through the space, and urbanity seems far away.

Even the bird's-eye view of California 126 in Bob King's "Lemons and Oleanders" is idyllic. Vehicles are warm splotches of color and the roadway is a gray grid passing through the vibrant fields to either side.

Red barns, those timeless icons of farm life, are celebrated by Linda Gruber and Jean Warnes, while Thelma Dickenson focuses on the proverbial "Little Red Schoolhouse" of our actual and collective memory.

Elva Kauer's "San Buenaventura Cross" depicts the Ventura hillside monument bathed in sunset magenta, and looking like something out of a dream or a four-color religious tract.

Some of the best paintings are by Madeleine Ricards, who has a nice, loose style that nods in the direction of Cezanne. In her paintings, senses seem lost in thickets of vegetation, making for an art more evocative than descriptive.

On the other hand, another noteworthy artist here is all about descriptive exactitude. Ann Hyun's pencil work--often of Fillmore's architecture--relies on fine attention to detail and setting, lending her work a reportorial edge.

Hyun's art can also currently be seen at the Blanchard Community Library, where the sharp, clear architectural drawings are mixed with less engaging Western lore.

The "Best of Show" award goes to Linda Gruber's "Beach Belle," but the seaside scenes in the show seem somehow more generic, and less appealing than the rural scenes. Maybe they're inherently less interesting because of familiarity.

Agriculture, on the other hand, and the nostalgic American associations that go with it, is ever an endangered species. Recognizing that preciousness, we love it while we can.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"An Artist's View of Ventura County," at the Santa Paula Depot Gallery, 963 Santa Barbara St. in Santa Paula, through Oct. 31. Info: 525-1104.

Pencil drawings by Ann Hyun at the Blanchard Community Library, 119 N. 8th St. in Santa Paula, through Oct. 29. Info: 525-3625.

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