Performance artist and installationist Esther Hernandez concerns herself with the inner workings of the creative mind — subtle dynamics that pass through us like a breeze as we struggle to keep ahead in a demanding world. In a way, she forces these stories by personally channeling their effects; it’s raw and brave work, and — in the case of Making Time, an exhibition for which she’s collaborated with ArtLab youth interns at PlatteForum — an invitation to audiences to examine their human impulses and distractions in slow motion.
Making Time, a two-part show with perspectives both visual and performative, is first a display of what Hernandez calls “living portraits”: multi-generational casted faces implanted with growing things both animate and inanimate, to represent how we turn things around in our minds during the creative process. The exhibit opens on Thursday, October 25, at PlatteForum.
“All the parts are time-based,” Hernandez continues. “Two sculptures are technically alive because there are mushrooms growing out of them. I’ve captured their growth in time-lapse, which you can watch on a screen when you come into the gallery. Then you can see whatever they ended up looking like by the end of October. I don’t know if they’ll be shriveled up or still growing. And because it takes time for things to crystallize, I’m growing crystals on other heads.”
Hernandez and her students also created an in-the-moment hands-on challenge to wake up viewers to ways in which they waste creative energy. “It’s also a performance — that’s most of what we’ve worked on — and in a sense, it’s allowing people to come in and be bored,” she adds. “We ask them to do a phone-check when they come in, and then their phones will be taken away to a space we’ve set up.
“We’ll take good care of the phones inside: They’ll be placed on a miniature g-scale electric train that goes around the room while [their owners] sit in a waiting room and wait. When each person’s number is called, they eventually get to go into the room where the performance is happening.”
There’s method to this madness, in how it affects both audience members and youth mentees. “The performance is meant to give people space and time to just be bored and not have a phone — to see what they glean from experience,” Hernandez notes. “Also, I want them to realize what happens when they’re addicted to their phones — how often they do reach for the phone in uncomfortable situations. The uncomfortability factor is something they have to deal with, like the anxiety of not having a phone in an art gallery, where one obviously wants to take pictures. In a way, we're toying with viewers.”
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For the art students, it’s been a different kind of learning process. For one thing, they’re already in on the joke, having had to face their own phone addictions in order to understand their roles. “I’m endlessly surprised at how creative they are. It takes time for them to warm up to them, but when it happens, I love the group dynamics,” Hernandez says. “Part of it is about making time, having the mental space to allow the creative brain to turn on. We’re so busy, all the time: media, cell phones; kids have jobs, school and extracurricular activities.”
As part of her residency, Hernandez gave them free rein to experiment with performance: “They’ve come up with their own boring performances and have written the scripts themselves.
“I wanted to give them an opportunity to see what it’s like to orchestrate situations and work in a large group," she explains. "It’s also a chance to perform and to understand conceptually what we’re doing. I want them to have a feel for the process. Ideas don’t come easily when you want them to. You have to give them time to grow with you.”
Join Esther Hernandez and ArtLab interns for Making Time, an installation and participatory performance on Thursday, October 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. at PlatteForum, 2400 Curtis Street at the Temple; admission is free. The installation remains on view through October 25. Learn more online.