By Michael Eilers
Arizona Daily Wildcat
"I started working with junk because it was free, but then as I went on I realized that the pieces force you to work with them," said Mat Bevel, performance artist and sculptor. "I don't come up with the ideas, the pieces tell me what to do."
Bevel's recent installation in the Joseph Gross Gallery reflects this tension between the world of ideas and the crude matter of cast-off junk. Assembled from materials as varied as bike frames, television parts, and coat hangers, his kinetic pieces put everyday objects in bizarre relationships with each other, producing stark and slightly grotesque creations.
Powered by motors, timer switches, and Bevel himself, these are not finished works of art, but the props and elements of an elaborate performance-art piece. The pieces are scattered about the floor in a pattern that creates the stage for Bevel's performances.
The props themselves are striking, slightly sinister assemblages. Dangling from a rusty metal frame, "Happy/Sad Boy" combines coat hangers, hooks, a wok, and work gloves to create a free-swinging sculpture that vibrates and wobbles, nodding its head erratically.
Standing next to this is "Jesus Chiquita," a monkey-like creation pinned to a cross of metal pipes. The structure is also a musical instrument, and has a set of four piano strings stretched over the framework which sound with a harsh, metallic tone.
The third part of this trinity is a haunting framework of metal parts and wires that forms "The Sleep Chair," an extremely uncomfortable- looking object topped by a dangling plaster face framed with wires.
Besides these three objects, the gallery space has several other creations and various costumes and hand props Bevel will use in his performance. All the motorized props move with jerky, irregular motions at intervals set by electronic timers.
"Things that move smoothly just aren't interesting," Bevel said, as he made adjustments to the pieces.
Instead of the comforting hum of machinery, his pieces generate a jarring, broken rhythm which draws attention to the tenuous relationship between the parts. Loose assemblages mounted with string, duct tape, and wire, his creations change radically with each installation, and transform with each performance. "I don't weld, and I don't go looking for parts," Bevel said, "things just come to me."
Bevel's creations are genuinely unsettling Ä their severe, skeletal frames suggest a world of chaos and hard edges. Yet the overall effect is very organic, and the line between "useful" and "useless" is blurred and subverted.
While these props are incomplete without the artist's performance skills, they are worth seeing simply for the ingenuity of their construction, and the disturbing effect created by forced relationships between everyday objects and the artist's vision.
When Bevel performs today at noon and again at 1 p.m., these creation will become "puppets" and characters in Bevel's performance, a piece combining music, poetry, acting, and interaction with the props.
Speaking of his upcoming performance, Bevel revealed a little of the insight and relentless punnery that permeates his work.
"One of the objects is called Hi-Hat, which is a mechanized helmet that sounds like a set of clashing cymbals," he said, hitting the switch to turn the prop on. Quoting from the performance, he said "What's that pounding on my head? Oh, that's symbolism!"
He emphasized that his show is not a static performance, but one that evolves from show to show, changing to suit the evolving complexity of his structures and story line.
"Letting the writing and the props evolve for reuse is very different than selling it as a commodity," Bevel said. "There's a sense of never having to reach an end, 'the show must go on.'"
"It's like the world has an infinite way of taking place, but we stand in the way of things Ä our ego and expectations get in the way of that natural path."
Mat Bevel, a.k.a. Ned Schaper, is a local performance artist/poet/musician. His creations will be on display in the Joseph Gross Gallery until Feb. 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. His free performance takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at noon and 1 p.m.
Call 621-1251 for details.
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