SiteWorks: San Francisco performance 1969-85

Ruins of Playland at the Beach on Great Highway, now Cabrillo and Balboa Streets

Darryl Sapien (The Performance Foundation), Portrait of the Artist X 3 (8.30pm, 1st September 1979)



Taking place amongst the ruins of a demolished amusement park this three part performance drew a portrait of the artist at three crucial stages of development. The learning stage where the artist masters his skills, the middle period of hard work and monumental effort, and the final period of entrapment, escape, and renewal. The audience wandered through the vast sandy landscape of broken concrete and jutting abutments to view the three performances which were running simultaneously. (Sapien 2013)

The Perfomance Foundation, under Sapien’s direction, produced a three part evening performance at the ruins of Playland at the Beach. Those in attendance walked form location to location as if on a tour, encountering the performances along the way.

Performance Foundation members are Michael Hinton, Jeff Vaughan, Cyd Gibson, Brian carter, Henry Bridges, Horace Washington, and Bill Seaman.

Portrait of the Artist 3 was staged in the dump-like ruins of Playland at the Beach, Saturday night, September 1. To get to it, the viewer climbed down a steep, sandy hill covered with broken bottles. Loud, percussive-sounding electronic music (by Bill Seaman) filled the air.

Three groups of male performers (all members of the Performance Foundation) simultaneously performed in three different locations. Michael Hinton, Henry Bridges and Jamal constructed a tall, phallic tower from sandbags. Cyd Gibson and Horace Washington used blow torches to inscribe geometric forms on a tar-covered wall on which geometric images by Jeff Vaughan were projected. Darryl Sapien and Brian Carter performed in the ruins of a cylindrical, high-walled building. Within it was a central pit lit a hellish red. One performer typed in the pit while the other manipulated the discarded lumber and junk littering the larger arena (I found this the most engrossing of the three performances). Sapien and Carter were futuristically garbed in white, and a dark primitive and corporeal energy pulsated throughout the surreal, Fellini-esque environment.

Despite the sometimes spectacular visual imagery, Portrait of the Artist X 3 seemed overwhelmed by heavy handed symbolism. The piece begged for literary interpretation – from the Joycean title to Sapien’s dramatic escape form the pit. Imagine a marriage of Hemingway’s macho heroics and Camus’ existential treadmill, the Mythical Sisyphus – tempered by Kierkegaard’s belief in a leap beyond rational understanding – and you begin to get the picture. Despair was the order of the day, (blind) action the only solution for (the real) man. (Atkins 1979)

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