Bushwick-based Wild Torus’ baccanale at The Pharmacy (one of Satellite Art Fair’s 2015 Miami art week locations and an actual former pharmacy) culminated in 5-7 naked performers writhing and wrestling (lube, paint and flour-covered) on a square dance floor covered in garbage bag-like plastic tarp. Viewer-participants (participation is encouraged at Wild Torus happenings) were offered black trash bags to cover their art-fair finery so that they could stand at close range without being completely dusted by flour or splattered with paint and lube, which was being doled out in plastic wine glasses by two young men with shaved heads. These attendants were encouraging in spite of what could be read as an intimidating appearance: tall, wiry, shirtless and vaguely punk, wearing jean cutoff shorts. They encouraged viewers to pour the fluids over the wrestling, contact-improvisational knot of bodies on the mat. Flour and fluids: poured on by turns, lubing up the orgiastic mass and then powdering it down.
On the wall behind, a video projection of the live action spanned nearly from floor to ceiling, offering the option to experience the scene at hand as a mediated spectacle. This was Miami art week after all, and many of us who were visiting art fairs had spent plenty of time in recent days looking at and snapping shots of artworks through the screens of our smartphones. For a performance collective that specializes in viewer participation, the video projection was an apt comment on touristic looking vs. bodily engagement. Both were available modes of interaction with the work, though most viewers seemed to be compelled by the live action.
One might rightly question the relevance of Wild Torus’ work more than 50 years after Carolee Schneemann's Meat Joy, Allan Kaprow’s happenings and countless other examples of live art with multiple bodies. But for those of us too young to have attended these now historic performances, the relevance is that we get to experience such a performance in real time and in the flesh. It is one thing to know that such events have taken place in the history of art, and entirely another to negotiate the the social situation generated by the live action.
And in spite of the orgiastic, chaotic character of Wild Torus’ performance, it is the subtle social negotiations that make it interesting. Within our culture of internet pornography, media spectacle, and a half-century of body art, the shock value of coed naked wrestling is negligible. What remains potent is the negotiation between Wild Torus members and audience members as they are invited to participate in the performance ritual. Does one feel coerced, uncomfortable, excited by the invitation to pour flour and paint on the performers? Does one put on the garbage bag poncho so that one can stand close to the action, or does one keep one’s distance so that one’s clothes and shoes stay clean? Does one, in fact, jump into the action on the mat? These options are all available for the viewer / participant. Even more than the content or choreography of the Wild Torus performance, it was the exposition of these choices that was of interest. The performance highlighted the fact that we are constantly negotiating our engagement with other bodies in space and that the boundaries of this engagement are up to us. - Alexandra Hammond, Miami Art Week Correspondent for Performance Is Alive