Review: Kirstin Mitchell’s “Miecznikowski” performance
Kirstin Mitchell’s “Miecznikowski’, titled after her late father, is hosted by MOCA GA and on view until September 8th, 2018. On a Monday evening august 14th, the gallery filled with guests awaiting her performance. Micthell is well-known for her work as “Kiki Blood”, an alter-ego who performed in the vein of feminist actionism, however this performance was by Kirstin Mitchell as herself. This was my first in-person viewing, although I’ve read about her previous work as having a sardonic way of making death, sex, and darker topics humorous.
Mitchell entered the room wearing a painted canvas as a cloak over her head exposing only her legs in tights. She stood upon a small stool, rearranged her headdress a few times, and faced the audience without movement for the length of a classic pop song. This stillness made me laugh—not in an uncomfortable “laugh at funerals” kind of way—but rather at myself and the other onlookers because we immediately assumed the pensive, seriousness expected of an art-watching audience. At the transition of the next song, Mitchell took off her veil and turned to the large-scale, dark royal purple painting behind her. With a razor she sliced the sides and top edges of the painting creating a flap which she pulled down to the ground, revealing a school-bus yellow splotch on the back of the canvas. Pausing for only a moment, she then lifted the splayed painting off the wall, flipped, and re-hung it to reveal a black cross pained on the wood stretcher bars. Concluding this act, Mitchell re-adorned her canvas headpiece and lying on the ground, exited the room in a half army-crawl half inch worm maneuver. The crowd jostled around the crawling Mitchell to get a better angle for their Intsagram story videos—myself included.
Without much pre-disposed knowledge of the exhibition, my immediate interpretation was of the classic, struggling-artist trope (nothing evokes struggle like writhing on the floor or ripping up your art!) Maybe her canvas headdress was an intentional dunce cap and her motionless stance was in defiance of the “dance, monkey!” objectification viewers expect of artists and performers. Mitchell literally put herself upon a pedestal as an art object and stood still just long enough that our attention was pulled from her to our awareness of ourselves as an audience. The artist talk afterward informed us that the purple painting she cut open was dedicated to her father, which gives a more poignant, sober feeling to the performance, but the comedy was evident.
The artist talk was anything but formal—Mitchell spoke about the exhibition in a distracted, stream-of-consciousness style, and I felt as if I was sharing a late night conversation with Kirstin on her studio couch. She spoke mostly of her emotionally unavailable father who had recently passed, and she repeated the word “longing” throughout describing the works in the room. Excluding the grouping of painted objects in one corner of the room, the exhibition is mostly comprised of large gradient paintings in combination with objects. There is a sunset pink and blue painting pierced in the middle with an arrow which is referential to identity—both to her childhood extracurricular of archery and the translation of her father’s polish last name Miecznikowski meaning spear huntsman. There are two rectangular platform-like structures on the ground accompanying the paintings in the room which I felt identified immediately as coffins once Mitchell spoke of her father's passing. The purple painting was dedicated specifically to her father and she spoke of the corner of the room where she performed the flaying of that canvas as being “dark” before the performance. There was a moment during the talk where she asked the audience if we could all take a moment to laugh at death. I hate saying phrases like “emotional journey” because it sounds so trite, but Mitchell's work is process-oriented, and the way she speaks about her work is earnest and emotionally vulnerable. Mitchell's answers to audience questions were either deeply insightful or somewhat flippant in a matter-of-fact way.
When asked to explain a small circular painting hidden high above the doorway to the gallery, Mitchell answered, "I did acid in the 90's one summer!"