Joseph Ravens

Written By Michelle Lacombe

s c r a t c h

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PHOTO by Henry Chan

 

Earlier today I watched a video of a chameleon hatching. This curious bodily thing in someone’s hand writhing in a soft shell until it emerged different and new. I kept flashing back to it during Joseph Raven’s performance. Probably because transformation, or metamorphosis, was the motor with which the work moved forward, each stage marked, literally, by an evolving line.

s c r a t c h begins as a tableau. In the space, an entity stands in the corner for about fifteen minutes, hands swirling milk in fishbowls. The composition is immaculate and curious. Slowly, the subtleties of the scene emerge while an uncanny underwater soundscape is projected in the room… the backwards/forwards figure is avoiding our gaze… the video loop is creating the illusion of a gasping headless goldfish…. flashes of orange appear within the bowls… Something is being conjured up. I advise you to keep your eyes on his hands.

When his hands finally leave the liquid, the first line, a thick black ribbon, is slowly pulled out from the depths of the entity’s skirt. It piles on the ground. This marks the beginning of the first transformation. Layers peel off the body, leaving the artist in an oversized dress shirt from which only his head and legs emerge. His hands, now lost somewhere inside the garment, begin to shake and convulse until he frees himself from within. The dress shirt gets reversed and, stepping into a pile of black fabric on the floor, he slowly lowers himself into it. As he rises back up, the black fabric follows and, seamlessly, a black shirt replaces the white one, pushing its predecessor up and off the body like a dead skin. It is executed perfectly and is magical to watch.

This new variation of the previous entity adorns himself with a techno-ornamental glove that is used to repeatedly mark the wall with five long white horizontal marks. The second line now manifested, the next stage of the metamorphosis can begin. The black shirt is removed and Ravens sets up a small webcam. Carefully, he straps himself into a large object with five parts that connect, via long plastic tubes, at his right hand. Like the rest of the piece, it is cyborgian and surreal yet now reads as way less performed than the previous parts of the action. Having shed the traces of his two previous incarnations, it is as if Ravens is now himself, but with all the atmosphere and theatrics of the piece absorbed from the space and concentrated into his right hand. This is amplified by the camera, which guides our gaze down his arm. I told you to keep your eyes on his hands.

Demonstrating his new ability, the result of his transformation, he extends the fingertips of this new apparatus and connects them to hooks on the wall. As he moves across the space, slowly, five black lines trace his movement and cut the space into sections. The conjuring has worked.

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