RIVERSIDE, Calif. - After a performance, Jennifer Doyle wants the audience to walk away with intense emotions.
And the live performance she is guest-curating at The Broad contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, “Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy, Automatism and Discernment” is not the exception.
“I want people to have an experience that they will always remember. That is really important,” said Doyle, a professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. “Sometimes for me, a part of that is surprising people with what art can be.”
On Jan. 25, the art comes to life as Ron Athey, an experimental body artist who has been performing for more than two decades, leads a team of artists to help narrate his autobiography. “Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy, Automatism and Discernment” is a layered story that unfolds in an opera-style presentation by composer Sean Griffin.
This human installation includes 16 writers, six typists, a hypnotist, vocalists, and musicians, who come together with one common goal: to complete Athey’s memoir. It’s an implicit way of allowing the community to collaborate in the narrative, Doyle said. The performance will be at the deconsecrated St. Vibiana Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles.
Among the performers is UCR English graduate student Mackenzie Gregg. Gregg performs as a hypnotized typist, guided by Griffin’s orchestration. Gregg, who is conducting her research on Victorian literature with a focus on queer writers and artists of the 19th century, said she has been involved with theater and music in the past, but that working with artists such as Athey is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It means a lot because I’ve admired Ron’s work for a long time. It’s been a great opportunity for me to work with them,” she said.
Using her research funds, Doyle will have video documentation of the performance and will use it at UCR to support scholarly engagement. The documentation will include a video of the performance, as well as sound records which the artists intend to develop into new work. Doyle guest-curated a feminist performance art series, “The Tip of Her Tongue,” for The Broad from 2015 until 2017.
Athey, a self-taught artist, draws deep to tell the story of his life as a gay, HIV-positive man, who was born into a Pentecostal family. In his writing, Athey describes that period of his childhood as being raised “as a living saint within an environment of abuse.” Athey has been working on his memoir since 1980, when he stepped away from the Pentecostal and spiritualist practices. Doyle first collaborated with Athey in 2009, when they collaborated on a performance art workshop and performance at UCR.
“Not all of our stories are all our own. We know ourselves through each other. And it’s an incredible feeling when you dissolve into that community of people,” Doyle said.
At UCR, Doyle’s research and teaching includes visual and performance studies, contemporary art history and gender studies. She is the author of several books, including “Campus Sex/Campus Security,” published in 2015, and “Hold it Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art,” published in 2013.
If You Go:
“Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy, Automatism and Discernment”
When: Thursday, Jan. 25
Where: St. Vibiana Cathedral, 214 S. Main St., Los Angeles
Time: 7 p.m.; 9 p.m.
Tickets: $25. You can purchase them online at The Broad.