By MARTY CLEAR
The Ringling International Arts Festival had great moments this year, but they were sparser than in years past. One reason, officials of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art say, was that the museum will feature more performance events throughout the year, so they weren't cramming everything into one short festival.
Last week, they let us in on what they have in mind, when they unveiled a new event they're calling "NowHERE."
The idea of "NowHERE' -- pronounced as "now, here," but with an obvious play on "nowhere" -- is to present performance-based works by contemporary artists. The works are intentionally immediate and ephemeral, meant only for that audience at that time in that place, and ignore the artificial imposed by categorization.
"It's pretty ambitious," said Dwight Currie, the museum's curator of performance. "You can use all the dumb words, you can call it multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary - I don't know what the difference is -- but it's really about engagement, about becoming engaged with the artist."
"NowHERE" will take up an entire season, starting at the winter solstice (Dec. 21) and running through the vernal equinox (March 22). There are 17 performances -- "encounters," they're called -- involving 100 artists.
There's the first-ever gallery museum of the work of R. Luke DuBois, a "new media artist." There's a performance by a company called Lostwax Multimedia Dance that has projectors on mobile devices following dancers around the stage projecting abstract images on them. There's a performance by 99 percussionists playing in and around the Ringling Courtyard that will provide a different auditory experience depending on where each audience member chooses to stand or sit.
There's a dance company called the Foundry that went around to shopping malls and biker bars, asking people to dance for them and with them, recorded the results and then added live choreographed performance to the video presentation.
A lot of the "encounters" are kind of hard to explain in traditional terms, Currie said, and that's part of the point. Contemporary artists increasingly com
bine and ignore genres, which makes the traditional taxonomy of museums impossible and irrelevant. In fact, there's a panel discussion called "Genre Creates Ghetto: Curating in a Post-Genre World."
But Currie sees no problem presenting this kind of work in a museum known for its elegant and sophisticated works of traditional art.
"The great thing about doing this as a museum is we don't have to lose anything," he said. "If a performing arts company takes a new direction, they have to stop doing what they had been doing. For us this is just an enhancement."
Currie said people who haven't experienced this kind of work may be intimidated by it. They're sometimes afraid they won't understand it.
"People think they didn't get the secret decoder ring," he said. "They think everyone else around them knows something they don't. But it's all about 'Experience the art in the moment.'"
Some of the artistic ideas in "NowHERE" may seem radical to traditionalists, Currie said, but presenting them is anything but radical.
"This is just one program in a multifaceted museum," he said.
You can find out more at www.ringling.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.