Swimming in that old Mississippi
August 23, 2010
I've been swimming in the river as much as I am able. Yesterday, a bald eagle sat perched in an outlook - close at hand - yet high above me. Then there was the magic of turtles ploop, ploop. plooping off their logs into the river as I approached.
July 18, 2010
If you have to travel a distance for enlightenment, perhaps you aren't paying attention.
Kingly Duties Swimming Man Festival
July 10, 2010
The 2,367.4-mile Mississippi River Swim has made me the focus of some attention. The latest came in the form of a phone call from Poppa Neutrino. I was honored when he asked if I would serve as king of the first “Swimming Man Festival” in Burlington, VT. I asked what that meant. He said come to Burlington and perform. I said, “Okay.”
Margarita Baumann became queen. We motored from Winona, MN to Manitowoc, WI and boarded the SS Badger for a 4-hour Lake Michigan crossing landing at Ludington, MI. We took the bridge into Canada at Port Huron intending Toronto, but the border officials informed us of 500 arrests at the G-8 Conference. Not wanting to risk delays, we detoured down to Niagara Falls to become quite touristy. Then it was up to Montreal for a fine view of the St. Lawrence Seaway from Mount Royal. About 90 miles heading stateside and another, but much shorter, ferry crossing and we arrived in Burlington on June 30.
After a morning show interview on public radio, I joined Poppa Neutrino and helped put some finishing touches on the raft/stage. I joined the crew paddling it to North Beach. It turned into a two-day project with a bit of weather and waves slowing us down. I jumped in to recover my blown away Panama hat with good result. The Lake Champlain waters were refreshing even though I lost a pair of glasses.
Long-time-running musical partner, John Pendergast, drove in from New Haven, CT with his violin and guitar. We ended our “Swimming Man” set with the “River Rap” and I threw myself into the lake to bring the re-claiming the waters and its environmental statement home. There were too many other performers to keep straight – just let it be said – it was a great time. Aerialists from NYC flew above the raft twisting and turning down the red silks crowning the stage. The vessel had been strategically anchored at North Beach to take advantage of the large crowds that always gathered for the fireworks displays. The jugglers, dancers and all the players and performers joined together during a dance jam as the night sky exploded with color. We stayed over an extra night for my final kingly duties and a screening of “Swimming the Mississippi” and “Death Valley Desert Classic” at Radio Bean. I hung up my crown and became homeward bound, but the activities will continue all summer in Burlington. Check out a couple of images in the photo gallery and get on over there.
Swimming Man Festival
June 24, 2010
We are blasting off for Manitowoc, WI and the SS Badger across Lake Michigan. Then, it's a run through Canada and set down at the Swimming Man Festival in Burlington, VT over the 4th of July Week end. I'll be doing some solo music and performance art. On the 4th of July John Pendergast and I will re-unite as Amanita ( Check out our CD at CD Baby). Poppa Neutrino has been active organizing the festival, so chances are pretty good I will be sitting in on some of his sets - or he on mine - or whatever the heck you want to call it.
A Favorite Thing
June 21, 2010
Long ago, I had my blood drawn and spilled in an anti-war performance called “Bloodbath”. The site of the carnage was a small theatre (72 seat) in little old Winona, MN, USA. Dr. Dawn Perlmutter wrote a paper about the use of blood in art and included “Bloodbath”. Her words were published by the UCLA “Journal of Anthropoetics” as “The Sacrificial Aesthetic: Blood Rituals from Art to Murder”.
Years later, those words were re-born in “Euro-Arts” magazine. Earlier this year - and completely out of the blue - I was contacted by the features editor from a Chinese magazine and asked if there were any images available from “Bloodbath”. I dug through my archives, found and sent them off. “Bloodbath” appeared in the April issue of China’s “Vision” magazine. With each publication, it feels as though the work has been re-created. It’s found it’s way around 3 continents.
Probably like many artists, I have read about myself in a number of magazines in a number of languages. With my limited knowledge of western languages, I have often been able to figure out what was said.
I must say this is my very favorite article. I can’t figure out what the heck has been written. I can make out the title, my name and the names of my friends that helped make “Bloodbath” a reality because those items appear in English, but the rest is all Greek – oops! – I meant Chinese – to me.
Vision, April 2010, Youth Vision Magazine, Beijing, China, 2010
EuroArt, Issue 09, Winter 2009, EuroArt Web Magazine, Europe, 2009
Anthropoetics 5, no. 2, Fall 1999 / Winter 2000, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 1999
Swimming Man Festival
June 12, 2010
Burlington, VT is hosting its first Swimming Man Festival. They hope it will develop as a people's festival in much the same way as "Burning Man". They've set up a free camping area and plan for performances on rafts in Lake Champlain at a local theater and over their radio network. The grand adventurer, performance artist and musician, Poppa Neutrino, is among the organizers. They've selected me to be "King" of this first festival. I'm not sure what that means, but I'll be performing in July - dates etc. TBA.
April 7, 2010
New X premiered a new number, "Flying Monkeys Bit My Face", on March 25th. We planned to introduce it at Ed's (One of our favorite venues), but I found there was a Winona Arts Commission Public Forum at the City Hall. "Flying Monkeys" has to do with my recent diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by WAR.
After a slight break with reality, I designed a new wearable art work. It's a fully formal strait jacket with a lovely satin collar. I attended the Art's Commission Forum with saxophone great Steve Smith wielding a video camera and Dr. David Christenson, M.D. as my attendant.
After about 3 minutes of my ranting and raving about the condition of the arts in Winona, MN before an apparently somewhat baffled group of Arts Commissioners, Dr. David Christenson, M.D. approached from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. He administered several unidentifiable pills and secured me in the formal strait jacket.
I apologized to the entire room and was led off. There was laughter and applause. We went to Ed's and repeated the performance during an extended "Flying Monkeys Bit My Face". Go to my links for the video on You Tube.
March 24, 2010
I've been silent for awhile, but the band is at Ed's tomorrow night and we are introducing a new performative twist. It reminded me of my Futurist roots.
Here's a quote I thought you might enjoy:
"We Futurists have deeply loved and enjoyed the harmonies of the great masters. For many years Beethoven and Wagner shook our nerves and hearts. Now we are satiated and WE FIND MORE ENJOYMENT IN THE COMBINATION OF THE NOISES OF TRAMS, BACKFIRING MOTORS, CARRIAGES AND BAWLING CROWDS THAN IN REHEARING, for example, THE 'EROICA' OR THE 'PASTORAL'.
We cannot see that enormous apparatus of force that the modern orchestra represents without the most profound and total disillusion at the paltry acoustic results. Do you know of any sight more ridiculous than that of twenty men furiously bent on redoubling the mewing of a violin?"
From The Art Of Noises (extracts) 1913 Luigi Russolo A reply to press comment on lectures given by the writer at the 1912 Futurist exhibition in Brussels and Paris. These words once excited me - I hope they do you. Tanto amore.
January 25, 2010
I've updated everything, but here's an old review of the old Midnight Babylon:
"In 'Midnight Babylon" the audience looked on as the artist - awakened by a nightmare - spent a sleepless night recalling nightmares and ruminating on the horrors and humor of war, life and television.
The work was performed on the first evening of a three-day teach-in on U.S. policy in Central America. Billy Curmano shared the bill with singer/songwriter Country Joe McDonald. Because of the context the audience was not a typical one for a performance piece. However, the attentiveness, laughter and several interruptions of the performance by enthusiastic applause were proof that Curmano's writing and energetic performance were reaching everybody.
A vertical bed, a stool and a projection screen provided a stark setting that focused attention on Curmano, while reminding us that we were eavesdropping on an insomniacs monolog. Awakened by a nightmare and then frightened by a clothe-tree, Curmano recalled a nightmare containing both ridiculous and frightening symbolic images of war.
The lights faded and then returned to show Curmano sitting on a stool staring at his left wrist, his left hand bent back. A razor blade in his right hand remained poised in the air - almost forgotten - as he spoke of the pleasure of watching his pulse beat, feeling the blood flow through his body. Then he agonized over the frustrations of life and society, sometimes wanting to blow the whole thing up. But, like blood circulating, his soliloquy came full circle when he concluded, 'It don't mean nothing. It don't mean nothing at all.'
He described a television awards show, 'The Wammy Awards', for the top ten current wars. The description was interrupted for a word from the sponsor, Art Works USA, Curmano's studio in Rushford, Minnesota. Slides, music and recorded narration advertised three of his wearable sculptures: a pair of boots on small rockets, a vest adorned with sticks of 'dynamite' wired together and a strap-on pair of legs in the full-lotus posture.
Returning to the awards show Curmano became the master of ceremonies, joyfully announcing the death-count and a brief history of the top ten current wars. Religious fanatacism - of both the right and left - were credited for the honors. The Iran-Iraq War, with a half-million dead, was the winner. Curmano became the grateful recipient of the prize; his thanks included appreciation to the Reagan Administration for helping both sides accomplish the slaughter.
Suddenly Curmano realized the night was over. We were delivered from one surreal world to another: 'I gotta go. I gotta get to work. I'm almost late." - Reggie McCleod, "High Performance", Astro Artz, Los Angeles, Issue 38, 1987.
January 22, 2010
Billy X. Curmano brings "Midnight Babylon" to Ed's Bar, Third and Franklin St., for Winona's first Fringe Festival on January 29th at 5:00 p.m. The performance is an unusual blend of media, monologs and music featuring harmonica and ocean harp. It premiered at New York City's Cat Club and has evolved over the years as a personal response to War. The solo performance is a kind of when-will-we-ever-learn nightmarish journey into one soldier's post traumatic stress. It reminds us all to take care of those that have served. War, no matter how necessary or seemingly justifiable, never ends at the battlefield. "Midnight Babylon" sets the stage as America continues to welcome home its latest generation of warriors.
Billy X. is an award winning artist and performer that has toured just about every way imaginable including 6,200 miles and 15 cities in 45 days on a Greyhound Bus. He's teased audiences from the Dalai Lama's World festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles to Austria's Vienna Secession. He's been a "Pick of the Week" for the "L.A. Weekly" and on the "City Pages" "A List". He comes by his social justice themes honestly. He's witnessed the horrors of war on two continents, the inside of a jail house looking out and the poverty that grips our world. Journalists have dubbed him, “The Court Jester of Southeastern Minnesota” and compared him to the likes of P.T. Barnum, Andy Warhol and Marcel DuChamp.
Each Friday, artists and arty types meet at Ed's between 5 and 7 p.m. for Informal Art Forums. A weekly artists' gathering with no one in charge. Midnight Babylon will interrupt the smart art talk at about 5:30 p.m.
The Frozen River Film Festival anchors this weekend with great independent films. The Fringe Festival was added this year. Events will be taking place throughout the city of Winona. http://www.frff.org
December 1, 2009
Last month I added a new video to the You Tube site. We shot it during our westward journey to the Spiral Jetty. The Earth actually spoke to us and we've used the Terra Linguistic Institute of Art Works USA to provide a translation. I think you'll want to see it.
Don't forget, New X is at Ed's in Winona on Friday Dec. 4.
Can You Blame Me?
October 10, 2009
Okay, so I've been a little remiss about the journal. Couldn't spend the last of my summer and September in front of a keyboard. Can you blame me? Just busy trying to get settled in for the winter.
There will be a new CD coming out soon with Jerry Modjeski producing. It's a match up of New Xer's and a couple of free players from the early days of the Minneapolis free jazz scene. Should be interesting, but I'll save some details for a later post.
Kelly Coyle, Steve Smith and I will introduce a new trio at the Oct. 20 "Words and Music" gig at the Winona Arts Center. I'm looking forward to it. Sometimes, it's hard to find - space is the place - in the bigger units. I'll probably bring out some kind of surprise. There will also be slots for the "Ferrel Cats" and cellist Kathy McTavish throughout the evening. Maybe we'll all get together for a jam, if they don't shut it down to early.
One of my favorite gigs is coming up at the Minneapolis Art Institue on October 24. It's a morning thing. That kind of knocks me out - But it's solo "Incidental Music" in the Fountain Court which makes it all worth while.
I sit in a corner on my old Sears Silvertone amp and push any and all sounds out through an electric dulcimer with digital delay and a few other tricks. The sounds bounce around the polished stone room and flowing fountain with the art community all about chitting and chatting and carrying on. If you're a MN artist - come on out and vote.
August 10, 2009
Took a swim on the Mississippi. Carefully swam through some lilly pads to one of the beautiful lotus flowers. Gave it a sniff being careful not to suck the bee that was visiting it up my nose. Watched a couple of dragon flies romantically intertwined hover above the blooms.
Swam on to visit with some turtles before they took a dive. Life is good.
July 31, 2009
I've been a little remiss after travels West. Playing catch up with everything including life itself. After leaving Utah, we drove quickly to Fargo/Moorhead for the opening of the Midwestern Invitational. "Portrait of the artist as Someone Else" was reproduced in the Midwestern Invitational catalog for the Rourke Gallery Museum (See: Images).
We planned to drive on, but too much rain and champagne kept us in a motel. Then more hours behind the wheel and Winona for the SE MN Regional Art Exhibition. I wasn't in this one, but I helped organize it - so an appearance was in order.
Two hot shows with New X, first at Ed's in Winona and then The Root Note in La Crosse, followed. Now I'm working on the studio and gallery here in Witoka. Hopefully it will open to the public one day. Oh, by the way, my apple tree just gave me some sweet and crunchy apples.
Spiral Jetty (Act 1)
June 29, 2009
We traveled the Interstate to Utah and over-nighted in Brigham City. Early the next morning, we got onto bad to worse roads, crossed over 4 cattle guards and ended at the Great Salt Lake. Another 1/2 mile in on foot and we were at Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty". A 1,500 foot black basalt rock spiral jutting out and into the lake. His work influenced me as a young artist and I finally got to experience his most well-known piece.
The "Secret Mission" was this journey across thousands of miles to perform a greeting from the Mississippi River to the Great Salt Lake on the "Spiral Jetty". The performance was documented in a daily journal and on video. More will follow.
Secret Mission #10729
June 10, 2009
It's the infancy of my latest project. I'm not sure where it will lead me, so it must remain somewhat secretive for the time being.
Timeless or Only Time Will Tell
June 4, 2009
I was surfing the web and ran into an article in EuroArts that surprised me. It's from a 1984 live art performance in Winona, MN. It became part of an art historical document in UCLA's Journal of Anthropoetics in about 2000 and now it's been re-created in this 2009 article. Does that make it timeless or will time only tell? In any event here it is excerpted from:
"The Sacrificial Aesthetic: Blood Rituals from Art to Murder"
"The artist becomes or enacts the sacrifice, the stage represents sacred space, the performance is held in sacred time, and significantly the blood is fresh, crimson and free flowing. A classic example of performance art as blood sacrifice is a performance entitled "Bloodbath" by Minnesota Artist Billy Curmano. Press releases announced that "The artist’s own blood is shed in a human sacrifice intended to focus attention on global violence."(16) At the performance, which was symbolically held on Saint Valentine’s Day, Curmano was dressed in white and sitting next to a globe of the world; the audience was informed that his blood would be spilled as a sacrifice to ease the need for suffering and death."(17) Since Curmano had promised that he would supply his own blood for the sacrifice and would not mutilate himself on stage, a nurse sat next to him and extracted a dozen vials of blood by needle from Curmano’s arms as a drum beat in the background. During the ceremony Curmano opened each vial with his teeth and spilled his blood on the globe while a voice offstage announced the names of countries in conflict. (18) Although this encompasses all aspects of the use of blood in sacrifice, it is basically a non-violent performance." -Dawn Perlmutter
Billy X; New X at Winona Arts Center
May 30, 2009
The Winona Arts Center presents a screening of “live art” videos and free jazz in the main galleries on Fifth and Franklin Streets in downtown Winona at 7:30 p.m., June 6. The classic videos are culled from pioneering performance artist Billy X. Curmano and will include “Performance for the Dead” and several shorts followed and interspersed with free jazz from long time collaborators the New X Art Ensemble featuring the Amazing Tess Toster Tones.
The award-winning artist entered the international arena with universal subject matter. He was buried alive for 3 days with all the trimmings including an Italian wake, New Orleans-style jazz funeral and an international postal exhibition on the theme of death. He explored water issues with a trilogy that included swimming the length of the Mississippi River, fasting in Death Valley and traveling to the Arctic Circle on public transport.
The videos and other tracks from these performances have gone to major collections like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He’s been featured on the “City Pages A list” in Minneapolis and as Mary Beth Crain reported for a Los Angeles “LA Weekly Pick of the Week” article:
“Curmano calls 'Adventures with Billy' 'a slightly satirical journey documenting art as life and life as art.' I call it an uninhibited blend of courage, charisma and chutzpah, the sort of thing you either love or hate but definitely aren't allowed to regard with, God forbid, neutrality.”
D.L. Hunt, Steve Smith and Billy X. formed New X as a link between performance art, classical music and free jazz. It is arguably the longest running free jazz collective in the region. The unit expanded as other musicians were drawn to the artistic freedom New X offers. They don’t embalm jazz or play hug-your-bunny cute insipid pop. New X is an eclectic blend of music, sound and improvisation rapped around words and odd tones. Reviewers have compared them to Lionel Hampton, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Recession pricing: $5.00
Billy X: Live Art at the Forum
May 11, 2009
The Rouge Forum Conference at Eastern Michigan University presents “Billy X: Live Art at the Forum" Friday, May 15 at 5:00 p.m. in Ypsilanti. Billy X. Curmano shares a history of activism in troubled times through a solo intermedia performance featuring storytelling, video and live music. On Saturday, he offers a workshop, “How to Change Culture through Art”.
The Rouge Forum is a group of concerned educators, students, and parents intent on teaching against racism, national chauvinism and sexism in an increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic society. Curmano’s sometimes in your face brand of performance art has landed him on the world stage and occasionally behind bars. His often-humorous work is documented in numerous journals and collections including New York’s Museum of Modern Art Library.
The conference takes its name from the industrially polluted Rouge River that runs behind the Detroit Ford plant. Billy X. is especially known for extreme environmental, anti-war and social justice non-violent guerilla actions filtered through fine art. Appropriately in his most obsessive piece, he swam the length of the Mississippi River as a performance and environmental statement. A decorated veteran, he’s also worked with Vietnam Veterans Against the War since the late 60’s and authors “Oxy the Smart Bomb” for their national newspaper.
His workshop is sub-titled “Creativity of the people, for the people and the planet” and will focus on intentional art that has the power to touch people, affect their attitudes and ultimately their behavior for a better world. The conference theme is “Education, Empire, Economy & Ethics at a Crossroads” and includes the legendary activist, historian and lawyer Staughton Lynd, NCSS Defense of Academic Freedom Award recipient Greg Queen and eco-justice, educator and scholar Rebecca Martusewicz as keynote speakers.
Salt Lake City
May 10, 2009
Great times and great people. Water Week in Salt Lake City was extraordinary. I was honored to have a photo from the Mississippi River Swim Project chosen as the central image on all their posters, programs and even the city banner. Local artists under the umbrella of Brolly Arts converted a three-story warehouse and sites around the city into performance and gallery spaces with a water based theme. I screened video and performed at Brewvies Cinema Pub.
The rest of the week was mostly spent hiking streams, canyons and the Great Salt Lake doing research for a new project in the alpine desert environment. As it stands, I’m excited about the possibilities and the uniqueness and magic of the salt to fresh water environment.
I’ve only got a few days at home before Detroit and the Rouge Forum Conference with a Friday performance and Saturday workshop. With any luck, some of the progressive folks at the conference will spread across the country with fresh ideas on activism.
May 9, 2009
"Portrait of the artist as Someone Else" received an honorable mention in the 50th Midwestern Invitational at the Rourke Museum, Moorhead, MN It will be on display there from June 18th throughout the summer. I don't remember what I was thinking when I painted it, but there you have it.
It's reproduced in our images.
“Water Week”, Salt Lake City
April 28, 2009
For Immediate Release:
Billy X. Curmano launches his latest work with an appearance at “Water Week” in Salt Lake City on May 3rd. The award winning artist is known for eccentric performances like being buried alive and swimming the length of the Mississippi River. He brings his water based environmental art trilogy to Brewvies Cinema Pub, 677 S. 200 W. #D, with video-screenings culled from “Swimming the Mississippi”, “Death Valley Desert Classic” and “66º 33’ North” followed by a live art performance.
The 2,367.4-mile Mississippi River swim was a performance, environmental statement and vision quest through the “Father of Waters” during drought, abundance and over-abundance. The resultant documentary won the “ 2002 Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film & Digital Media”. He greeted the Millennium in Death Valley with a 40-day desert fast that took him from the abundance of water to its absence. The third leg of the trilogy was as witness to water in changing states with an Arctic Circle odyssey entirely on public transportation.
Billy X. will arrive in Salt Lake City several days before the screenings to begin an as-yet unnamed work in the Salt Lake Eco-system. He will gather “Ambassadors for Clean Water” as collaborators. The salty team will develop a fresh work in and about the area’s unique environmental issues with an eye to next year’s festival. Progress will be reported on the Internet through out the year with frequent updates in the journal at http://www.billyx.net
and on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/BillyXC
“Hmmm… I’m wondering, now that everybody is green, am I still a tree hugger?” - Billy XC, Tweet on Twitter, April 21, 2009
And What About God?
April 20, 2009
I am an artist and an agnostic. I have often said, " Well, I just don't know." But as an artist indebted to science, I've realized that I do know.
Science cannot prove the existence of a Creator, but then again, science cannot disprove the existence of a Creator.
Therefore, I do know - that I just don't know.
Portrait of the Artist as Someone Else
March 14, 2009
I’ve posted my painting “Portrait of the Artist as Someone Else” in images. It will be included in “The 50th Midwestern Invitational Exhibition” at the Rourke Art Gallery Museum in Moorhead, MN for most of the summer. Here are a few thoughts on it.
“Portrait of the Artist as Someone Else”
As children, we often played make-believe. We were cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, soldiers against soldiers – it was good over evil. First ones to call out, “Good guys”, were just that. But as we got the drop on each other (sometimes with only pistol pointed fingers) we called, “You’re dead!” After an Oscar worthy death scene, “I’m a new man!” was the common response. “Portrait of the Artist as Someone Else” is my new man.
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Orange Alert Review
February 22, 2009
Orange Alert got a nice review in Milwaukee's alternative paper, The Shepherd Express.
Threat Level 3 Orange Alert
Neither the name of the band nor the album connotes any danger from Homeland Security. Instead, Threat level 3 turns their Orange Alert into electro-acoustic free jazz meditations on world music. Ex-Milwaukeeans Billy X. Curmano and John Pendergast pluck, strum and bow their stringed instruments as Minnesota Steve Smith blows tenor sax and didgeridoo. The inclusion of ocean harp and Zimbabwean Mbira and trippy electric dulcimer makes for textures harsh enough for intentional listening yet unobtrusive enough for background ambience or avant-garde soundtracks.
One piece accompanied by a spoken-word love poem of ambiguous sincerity makes for a dry-humor hoot. Even more engaging, however, are the rickety samba grooves appearing on a couple of pieces. This album is not for smooth-fusion fans by a long stretch, but for those with ears to hear, Threat Level 3 make advanced music theory and dissonance fun. - Jamie Lee Rake