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Billy X. Curmano: Journal

Poppa Sails On - January 30, 2011

My dear friend and collaborator Poppa Neutrino passed away on January 23. A jazz funeral is planned for him on Bourbon St. - Probably Feb. 19. I thought you may want to know.

New X will dedicate our next weekly session to his loving memory (Thurs. Feb 3).

Here's just a couple of sites that speak of his work:

Frozed Up - January 25, 2011

I'll be returning to my roots with a silly performance piece, "Frozed Up", for the Frozen River Film Festival Fringe Friday this week. I've been in the deep freeze of a kind of hard MN winter and busy, busy with a new DVD release to be announced very soon - after I defrost.

Billy X Incidental Music/MAEP Annual Meeting - October 27, 2010

I'll be playing electric dulcimer to help open the annual meeting of the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on Oct. 30. I've been an elected artists' panel member for the last two years choosing exhibitions and trying to keep this great program running smoothly. It's the only program of its kind in a major museum in the United States. It has two dedicated galleries within the institution that are totally curated by artists selected from the MN arts community. It will be bitter sweet attending my last meeting as a panelist. MN artists come out and vote for the new panel 10:00 a.m. Saturday.

Walking the Woods - October 12, 2010

It always saddens me as the weather makes swimming in rivers, lakes and streams more of an ordeal than a great pleasure. Then, I usually resort to satisfying my call of the wild impulses with walks in the woods. Sometimes I just start out walking in whatever direction I choose. When I tire, I backtrack. I spend the day or night trying to interact with creatures I meet. The last few days I've explored in a couple of directions from my home, as well as with side trips to The Great Bluffs and Whitewater State Parks. It offers a grand feeling of renewal and makes me wonder why we think we can divide the earth into parcels, states and even countries.

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.

Enlightenment - 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.

Flying Monkeys - 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.

Futurist Influences - 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.

Midnight babylon - 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.

Midnight Babylon - 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.

Earth Speaks - 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.

Break Time - 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.

Busy - 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

News Release:
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.

Honorable Mention - 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.
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