In the new era of social distancing, performance art seems at once both anachronistic and a symbol of the human desire for connection and intimacy. It was thus a bittersweet occasion when on March 6, the 1009 Arts organization unveiled the performance piece “/wilt/” at the Vulpes Bastille Gallery in the East Crossroads.
Conceived as a “Kansas City collective dedicated to creating collaborative, performance-based art,” 1009 Arts has been a part of the region’s creative community for the last five years. The group’s first major production, “Trench Warfare,” was held at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in January 2018.
Although “/wilt/” does not address a specific historical event, it is a high impact and emotionally resonant performance. Under the leadership of art director Michaela Knittel, the apparent simplicity of the piece belied its masterful choreography and passion. Two male performers, Aj Hopes-Pflumm and Brock Maze, clad in nondescript white garments, had the run of the exhibit space, which in this case was a square layer of fine dirt.
According to Charlie Weitkamp, who served as producer and set builder, the team strives to “produce technically impressive and provocative pieces,” and they certainly met their mark with this performance. As the artists began traversing the stage, their movements were tentative — almost infantile. And while it would be too reductive to interpret the piece solely as a metaphor for birth, aging, life and death, this inexorable narrative of the human condition certainly informs the art. Growing more confident and deliberate in their agency, the performers began to interact with one another and move like acrobats, albeit still within an ambience of confusion.
The experience of “/wilt/” is arresting, a testament not only to the performers but also the live orchestra whose melodic machinations accompanied the piece. Composed by Tim J. Harte, the score enlivens, but never eclipses, the visual energy of the artwork. To further affirm the timelessness of the project’s themes, the musical element offers a sense of quaint familiarity, harkening to the days of live musicians playing alongside cinema. The fellowship and intimacy this evokes are powerful heirlooms of “/wilt/.”
And although the synchronicity amidst the music and the performance evolves with organic fluidity, Weitkamp notes that the “the relationship between the musicians and dancers” was a challenging aspect of the production, and he credits both Harte and the choreographer, Katarina Fitzpatrick, with the success of this dynamic.
As the performance unfolded, the artists grew increasingly distracted by their environment. Their movements literally marked the stage, and at times they deliberately manipulated the ground, rending order into chaos. Yet despite the greater urgency of the latter half of “/wilt/,” the action never felt destructive; rather it demonstrated the extent to which people, even when pursuing independence and individualism, still affect the world around them.
Ultimately, “/wilt/” is about the infinite ways that humans resolve and express their yearning for companionship and social expression. In these alienating times, that message is as uplifting and welcome as ever.
With the short-term future of public art exhibitions and performances remaining uncertain, 1009 Arts remains optimistic about the potential to keep connecting with the community. Acknowledging that “sometimes our work strays closer to theater,” Weitkamp is thrilled with the reception of “/wilt/” and, he says, “hopeful for what it portends.”
“/wilt/” premiered at the Vulpes Bastille Gallery, 1317 Locust St. on March 6. See a recording of the performance on 1009 Arts’ YouTube channel.