Katrina Schaag (left) is performing "Osmium, Tungsten, Dionaea, Lavandula" at Indie Coffee as part of <i>Café Allongé</i>.
Local performance-art pair Spatula&Barcode are taking their Wisconsin Triennial contribution, Café Allongé, beyond the walls of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art through Jan. 4. For this "tabletop theater" project, they recruited local artists to perform at independent coffee shops across the city. Designed for one to five people, each performance is personalized, with topics ranging from death to seduction to breastfeeding. I attended Katrina Schaag's "Osmium, Tungsten, Dionaea, Lavandula" at Indie Coffee last week.
Described as "multimedia, multisensory, shining glimmering fading beneath your eyelids in the dark," the piece began with stories and eventually looked into personal desires, fears and memories. Schaag -- a textual, visual, sound, performance and installation artist -- is also a UW Ph.D. student studying English literature and researching performativity, which concerns the ways speech and gestures help build and communicate identity.
The performance fed on her research and experiences as well as my own. She set up in a corner of the coffee shop, placing a small recording device on the windowsill, taping some bits of paper to the window, and laying a mossy-looking piece of fabric across the center of the table.
Her work involved a series of questions and monologues designed to produce feelings of nostalgia, anxiety, happiness and expectation. Enticing her audience with goodies like hot apple cider and cowboy cookies, Schaag began by bringing about feelings of slight discomfort, then finished on a high note by weaving details she learned from participants into a blissful story.
What resonated most was Schaag's devotion to her performance. It is common to not look strangers in the eye, but her concentration never broke and her words never faltered. The story came together slowly, with props popping up throughout the half-hour period. Though it was a little confusing at first, the experience felt peaceful and fulfilling by the end, like drinking a hot beverage on a cool fall day.
Café Allongé continues through the end of the year; anybody interested in attending must sign up online for a specific scheduled performance time at one of the participating coffee shop venues.