Through a barrage of repeated clichés ping-ponging between two performers, an entire, highly distilled affair builds and breaks in a scant 2.5 minutes. This is just one scene from Ape, whose performers are bound—by the rule of lauded UK conceptual artist Gary Stevens—to copy each other’s words and actions. Played out with rapid-fire delivery and comedic timing reminiscent of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine, instantly familiar scenarios swiftly unravel into heady slapstick, and human behavior devolves into absurd, not-quite-human forms. Drawing on a tradition of British humor, Stevens exploits the snowball effect of repetitious physical comedy through calculated, highly crafted theater. Even as they stubbornly ape each other, performers Julian Maynard Smith (Station House Opera) and Wendy Houstoun (an acclaimed performance artist in her own right), along with Stevens himself, also attempt to distinguish themselves—and even gain the upper hand. But Stevens’ newest live performance work is more intricate than its simple format and stark staging might at first suggest.
Presented by the Walker Art Center
, Ape will be performed on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, March 18, 20, and 21, at 8 pm at a different venue each evening: Wednesday at the Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 West Lake Street, Minneapolis; Friday at Red Eye, 15 West 14th Street, Minneapolis; and Saturday at Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 East 24th Street, Minneapolis.
By showcasing a noted international artist on several smaller-scale stages around Minneapolis, the Walker pays tribute to its long-standing partnerships with Twin Cities’ performing arts venues. These partnerships developed during the years before the Walker’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater was built, and helped foster exchanges between the local community and out-of-town artists. In that vein, each performance on Ape’s Minneapolis mini-tour—an exclusive U.S. engagement—is followed by wine and a Q&A session with the audience, aimed at unpacking the psychological, linguistic, and behavioral nuances of Stevens’ work.
Stevens, an artist who creates performances and video installations, has worked with a wide range of visual artists and performers from diverse backgrounds. His solo and ensemble works have been presented internationally in galleries, theaters, festivals, and public spaces. His major live work, since 1984, is the result of long, practical, and material development; the structure, which often includes an elaborate text, grows out of this process. His unique use of text and speech in a visual art context is formal, yet seems casual. It describes and defines a fictive space and situation but the conspicuous invention confronts us with something real. The work is also about modes of thought; a psychology is often alien or animal and at odds with the audience/spectators and performer's states of mind. It is critical and funny. The staging and productions are simple and stark, but the structures are rich, compelling, and complex.
Stevens received the Paul Hamlyn Award for Visual Arts (1998), a Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts Award (New York) in 1996, and a One to One grant from the Live Art Development Agency (2005). He has taught in many art schools as a visiting visual art and performance tutor, including: Byam Shaw, Goldsmith's, Middlesex, and Wimbledon. He is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford, and is external examiner at the Slade School of Fine Art, London University BA Fine Art, Media. In 1999 he created, and continues to run, the Performance Lab at Artsadmin. Stevens was a writer for the UK television series Teletubbies, and he collaborated with that show’s creator, Andrew Davenport, on several live performances.
Recent works include Slow Life, which was commissioned and first shown at Matt's Gallery, London, in 2003. It has toured internationally to Artefiera, Bologna, Melbourne Festival, Australia (2004), as part of to be continued…/jaktuu, Helsinki Photography Festival (2005) and was recently shown in the house at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge (2005–2006) and Southampton City Art Gallery (2006). Touring smaller and solo pieces include Thread and Not Tony; larger group and ensemble pieces such as Flock, recently seen at Proarte Festival in St Petersburg, Russia (2005), and at Variety, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea (2005), are being developed.