BY Beth Comery
One never knows what to expect from performance art, partly because the artists themselves tend to be fairly vague on what they have planned. The audience at today’s Assembly: Performance — part of Locally Made’s One Room at the RISD Museum — pinned their hopes on the following description: “DIN — A performance that explores appetite, the sonic clatter of mealtime, and the coordination of dining etiquette.” Oh . . . and the opening of lobsters with both (two?) hands tied behind their back.
Local artists and real-life sisters Glenna and Willa Van Nostrand entered the stage conjoined, wearing a single, largish black dress — four legs, two heads, but only two arms — a mythical dream-date chimera conjured up by Ray Harryhausen. They then set to polishing off an enormous New England lobster dinner. That they did this in total silence and with such dispatch, and without making a mess, made the endeavor all the more remarkable.
Opening a bottle of champagne and negotiating the corn on the cob were certainly impressive displays of dexterity, but the Chekhov’s gun on the stage were those two lobsters. As the sisters plowed through the various apps and sides, I think many in the audience were thinking — they’re not actually going to do the lobsters! And then they did just that, cracked ‘em open and picked ‘em clean from stem to stern . . . even poking out the knuckle meat. Remember, this was Willa’s right hand and Glenna’s left. The above-mentioned coordination — the cracking and twisting, the serving, the cutting — was executed with such ease that you almost forgot to be impressed. (Continued after the jump.)
Performance artists don’t want you to watch a show but be part of an event, in real time. Consequently, there were no shortcuts; we watched an hour of eating. Happily the overhead screen often showed moments of slightly discomfiting intimacy as the sisters fed each other in closeup, wiping their mouths, plucking bits of shell off the tongue, even picking teeth clean of that pesky corn. (Do not try this at home — that this wasn’t grotesque and unpleasant is a testament to the ethereal beauty of the sisters Van Nostrand.) Adding to the visual confusion: Willa and Glenna were wearing the same nail polish, often creating in those closeups the illusion of one woman standing behind another, watching her eat. The performance was always amusing and mysterious and strange. You have missed this particular moment but check out any future Van Nostrand projects.
And by the way, those gals can eat.