Artist Rob Hessler is stepping outside his comfort zone for the performance piece he's producing April 6 as part of Sulfur Studios' On::View Artist in Residency Program. Hessler is known for his meticulous pen and ink drawings depicting what he calls The Other Side of the World, an alternate universe where notable events in our world are reinterpreted through various visual metaphors and symbolism.
The performance this Friday is connected to that universe and it's something he's never attempted before, but he's inspired by its possibilities.
Within the past year or so, Hessler began incorporating elements of performance at his exhibition openings and artist talks with a physical manifestation of a recurring character in his drawings that he calls “The One in the Duck Feather Cloak.” The character suggests a sort of mystic connection between our world and his alternate universe, and this Friday will represent the most fully realized live-action performance Hessler has undertaken so far.
“I'm feeling more motivated to push myself further and further with everything that I'm doing,” says Hessler. “This project is completely out of my comfort zone... and that's exactly what an artist should be doing.”
The performance will be in the front window space of Sulfur Studios during its Spring Street Fair and First Friday Open Studios. The performance is based around the Hindenburg disaster and is part of a series of works that focus on historical moments that connect humanity through a shared experience, like the eruption of Krakatoa, which happened during the era of the telegraph, the Challenger disaster, which happened during the age of television, and 9/11, which happened during the internet age.
The Hindenburg disaster was broadcast over radio and through extensive research, Hessler has recreated a living room from 1937 for Friday's performance. Each prop is period appropriate and includes genuine antiques, like the old radio that will re-broadcast the original transmission from the day of the disaster.
“The main focus of my work is to do pieces that have an impact and that actually make people think, maybe change their perspective or make connections they weren't making before,” says Hessler.
Hessler points out that the average gallery goer only spends a few seconds in front of any given artwork on a wall, so this project allows him to engage viewers in a more intimate and prolonged way.
“I feel like there's so much more opportunity to do something different and unique and interesting within this type of work,” he says. “There's so much variety and things you can do with performance art or installation pieces that go well beyond the rectangle.”
There will be two performances April 6 lasting less than 10 minutes each, at 8 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Spectators can witness the performance by standing on the sidewalk outside Sulfur Studios and watching the mini-drama unfold as though looking through a gigantic magic mirror. The performance will include scripted actors, music, audio, video projection and a few mysterious surprises.
It's one of the most ambitious projects Hessler has embarked on that doesn't specifically include his preferred medium of drawing and if all goes as planned, this could be something people are talking long after the curtains close.