Need a ride to somewhere in Minneapolis or St. Paul sometime between now and the end of July? Performance artists Sam Johns and George McConnell might be able to help you out.
In the tradition of Marina Abramovic, Chris Burden, and others who have experimented in durational performance, Johns and McConnell are exploring private and public space through the confines of a white 1994 Volvo station wagon in a piece called car.sick.
It initially started as a joke. The two had an idea that they would spend 1,000 hours in the car. Johns, as a prank, put it up on their website to see if McConnell would notice. "She couldn't hold the joke in," McConnell says. "She told me, and I was like, 'Let's do it.' Because we try to say yes to everything."
Much of McConnell and Johns's work has to do with not knowing what it's going to be. They aim to "see what surprises us, or see what comes up that we couldn't have predicted," he says.
The only rule for the project is that cumulatively they need to spend 1,000 hours in the car over the course of two months. They don't need to be driving, so George has been sleeping in the car. They also don't need to be together, although they do sometimes take trips at the same time where they both get to count hours.
Originally, they were going to make a devised piece this summer, but they didn't get a grant for it. However, car.sick explores some of the themes they had wanted to investigate, such as the idea of private and public space. "This is already doing that, because a car is a strange mix of that at all times," McConnell says. "You have your own little bubble, but you're out in public, so you can't really have privacy."
The Volvo is pretty beat up. They purchased it from director Lisa Channer of Theatre Novi Most, who inherited the car from her mother who passed away last fall. The radio doesn't work, but there's a tape deck, so they play music from a cassette which has funk one one side and blues on the other. There's also a dog in the car, named Rabbit.
So far, they've driven one friend to a film shoot, another to the Bedlam 10 Minute Play Festival, and another to an art opening. Their friend Tom Lloyd, a local actor, had McConnell and Johns drive him around Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun. Lloyd gave them a tour of all the different spots that he used to hang out at when he was in high school. "It was beautiful," McConnell says.
Unlike The Car, a 2000 performance by the local company Skewed Visions that took place in cars driven by actors with the audience as passengers, car.sick isn't really a performance that you watch. Instead, you are one of the main actors in it. It might not seem any different from just getting a ride from someone in a non-art context. After confirming in advance your beginning and ending points, McConnell or Johns (or both) will pick you up and take you where you need to go. You might have your picture taken. You might talk. You're not really watching a performance so much as riding in a car with someone, and being aware of that fact.
McConnell has noticed that people who sit in the passenger seat tend to talk a lot, "so the project in a way becomes an interesting performance in listening to somebody," he says.
The two artists log in and log out every time they use the car, and always take a photo of themselves for each shift, as well as of others in the car. They've been shooting random video, too. They hope to show some of the documentation eventually.
McConnell and Johns met each other while they were both at the University of Minnesota. Johns was in the undergraduate program and McConnell was pursuing his PhD. "I stalked her," he says. After seeing a play she had worked on, The Phantom Tollbooth, he became interested in her directing. He also saw her work in You're no Fun, and Johns asked him to be a replacement actor when they remounted it for the Fringe Festival. "Then I got to see her directing from the inside, and I thought, 'Oh, this is definitely somebody I want to work with.'"
At the time, McConnell was getting burnt out, and wanted to tap into a young person who still really cared about theater so he could "leach off her energy."
"We worked on that for a year and a half," he says. "We art dated." They gave each other gifts that would prompt responses, and discovered each others' aesthetic. "We learned how to talk to each other," McConnell says. "The two directors thing is not a common practice. We spent a year and a half figuring out how to work with each other."
While the two have never dated, their collaborative working relationship is more than a friendship. "We make art together; it's this super intimate thing," says McConnell. While they're not an official company, they have a website together and do work on a project by project basis with other collaborators. There's no current plans for a future project, but McConnell says he's sure they probably will soon.
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