Artists: Laurana Wong
Last Month's artists "Good English" were the first artists that really prompted me to want to start this series. I encountered them at a local charity event for the Dayton Ballet Barre. Laurana was another artist that I met at that same event. She was performing as a sideshow throughout the night. It was a mesmerizing performance. I Later had the opportunity to take some pictures of her as part of a Day of the Dead party where she performed with "We the Music" in their mixed media piece "Spirits Never Die". Both performances were astounding, and our brief conversations had shown her to be a skilled artist both in philosophy and craft: so I was anxious to get a chance to sit down with her.
She, like so many of the artists I've met here, was incredibly positive about the project and incredibly excited to talk about Dayton's involvement in her career and her development as an artist! I sat down with Laurana in her studio, where she told me her story and let me take some pictures of her!
"I've been many things. I'm a performance artist, or maybe I could say "interactive artist". I tend to like to do things with my own body and interact with the art somehow.
Recently I've been working on this project. I think I'm going to call it "Illuminated Love" Basically I'm making these boxes, like precious objects, maybe like they're from a different time or a different world. So I'm making these boxes and then I'm embedding these scrolls into these boxes that say "we love you". The idea is that I'll leave those around downtown, maybe one in the suburbs, just different parts of town to see what happens. The first one I'm going to put inside a newspaper machine or an apartment guide or something. So hopefully people will just happen upon them like "what is this?" and they'll have a little note that says "open me" or something and they'll open it and it'll be this strange thing happening!"
"It'll be an experience. Experience is what I love to bring to the table as an artist. You know? maybe someone will feel loved for a day or a moment, or maybe the whole world will open up like "wow! what's this?". I love giving people those experiences that become part of who you are.
I've been doing performance art for about 8 years now. Before that I had always created things, I was an engineer, but I was always following a recipe or following some kind of guide. Then in 2005 I became friends with these people who were doing performance art and I was like "woah! what is this?" and I just really took to it."
"I had never really seen the form before. I mean, I had probably seen blue man group or something like that, but I didn't really know it was called performance art. But once I heard about the form in a more technical way and understood what was happening that was the form where I was like "ok! I want to explore this." anything else I had just been dabbling with, but when performance art came along I was like "I think I'm an artist now!"
So back then in 2005 I did my first performance I had a bodysuit and I painted it with blacklight paint and did a performance in the dark with just a blacklight on. It was a just a dance, to drums. I always have elements of movement: but it's usually not strictly dance because I'll have the props and the costuming; whereas in dance the costuming is typically not as important."
"Since then I've done somewhere in the realm of like 20-ish? It depends on what you call a performance, I've done a lot of things just on the street. My most polished work is called "the Power of Perception". "the Power of Perception" was kinda the end of all of these performances I had been doing that had really been about the story of me going from a engineer to being an artist. I didn't think things out then. I just started gathering materials and building stuff and then performed. Most of my performances were pretty improvisational."
"They became these stories, when I went back and looked at them I realized. It was the story of what I was going through. Stuff that I couldn't articulate, I wasn't as in touch with myself then. I needed this medium of art to really understand my story. So the "Power of Perception" was like the culmination of all these other ones into what I would say is the best peice about transformation
I also did this one where I had this big long skirt that had these huge tentacles and I threw them to the audience and the audience dragged me offstage [laughing]. So you know, that wasn't as polished, but it was still cool!"
I asked her about how Dayton had played a role in her life as an artist:
"I was reborn here. I moved here because I was an engineer. Because of the base. There was a lot of engineering work back then, a lot of military stuff going on. I bought a house downtown, and as I went out and started getting into the scene and stuff like that: there was so much art around! So much creativity! it was a little bit mindblowing! Then I started the Sideshow and all these people came out of the woodwork and it was a huge thing. I was like 'man, there's a lot of talent here'."
"This is the place where I made my transition. Dayton was where I was born in this way. I must have always been an artist, but Dayton was the place that got me to change. Even when I was in school I started taking all these art classes but then I got pulled back into engineering. But here, I think it was this town, and the people I met here. It was here that I was finally born as an artist.
I've been to New York Since and went to their biannual performance art show "Performa". It's not even really a show, it's like a whole month: and the caliber of what they're doing wasn't any better than what we were doing in Dayton at the time. Maybe they had more income, but in terms of quality and concept: there was no difference."
The sideshow is a collection of local artists that display and perform their work at an annual event: Laurana told me more about her work with the program:
"The Sideshow...it's nine years old now. I'm not really involved now: I passed it off after my first year, but the first one was in the cannery in this 8000 sq/ft space on the end that didn't have anything in it. It was a community show. I gathered all these underground artists, the people that weren't at the DAI and weren't at the Schuster and all that stuff and we just did that crazy cool show. We built it for a month, all these huge installations. Even the visual artists had to build an installation to support the work they were showing. It was really enveloping, really immersive, tons of performance art. We had two stages, all this performance art, all these installations in this huge space. It was really cool.
In building that show we built a community too which later became the Circus Creative Collective, who keeps putting on the sideshow ever year. It's in May usually, the same day as urban nights: in the Yellow Cab Building. Each year it gets passed down to a different person to organize each year and they would really shape the vibe of the show."
"I teach dance and movement as well, "creative exercise" is a term I just coined. It turns into that with a lot of my clients, they really just need to be moving and I'm good at keeping things moving. So we just dance and partner dance and stuff like that.
I've done some stuff at the DAI. A while back I did a performance for an event for Homefull. Homefull was having a big gala to raise money for their organization: their mission is to end homelessness so they were having this giant party to raise money. A lot of artists came together to be this sort of 'art walk' as the guests were walking into dinner and stuff like that. So I was standing on the grand staircase of the DAI wearing this crazy newspaper dress and welcoming these patrons into this experience. The train was like 15 feet long!"
One of Laurana's regular performances was the one I had first seen her perform at Party Arty, she told me more about that: and about plans for future performances!
"I call that the "living-moving sculpture". It's my take on the living sculpture thing that you see around. Mine is intended to be similar where i'm sort of an adornment for a party or a scene. The idea is to be moving slowly and create a vibe. Not to be a mainstage performer but just contribute to the overall environment.
There's this one thing I've been wanting to do for a while now and I think I found the space finally. Next to DVAC there's a small storefront that has a big window. I'm going to build this installation inside this space. I've been collecting all this styrofoam and plastic and I'm going to build this white world in there and then I'm going to be this creature that inhabits this world. So be knocking on the glass and you know [laughs]. I think I'm going to call it "Zoo". It's really a commentary on being a performer and I'm just going to be this creature: drawing on the wall and doing weird things!"
"Before I moved here I had traveled all around the country, but I did actually leave and come back. I don't know, but there's a certain mindset that people go through. I went through it. Where I needed to go somewhere to feel 'stronger' like I needed to go to the perfect city or something. I went to this arts community in the northwest, but I found out that so much of it is inside. You know? you can change your outside a little bit, but it doesn't change your inside. I had built all this stuff, this was after the sideshow, after the circus, after all the stuff I had done in town and I left (I was running away really) but I realized that home is where I've put down roots and where I know people and have created things
There's so many opportunities too: I've found that I just have to create the work and get it out there and there are a ton of opportunities that come up. In places that I had never imagined before: like that homeful thing. That was an incredible opportunity."
So to leave this community, would kill, I mean: I saw how it killed my career. I left and ended up in South Dakota and was invisible. I realized then that I learned humility, that how much of who I am comes from who I am around, what I've built, and what I've built for other people. Dayton is home.
Laurana is a Dancer and Performance artist living in the downtown Dayton area. She has performed at a wide variety of locations including The Dayton Art Institute, The Missing Peace Art Studio, and many other locations for both public and private events. Laurana founded "The Sideshow" which later became the Dayton Circus Creative Collective. She also teaches dance and creative exercise at her downtown studio at 1101 E. 2nd St. Suite #2120.
She can be found online on her website or on facebook at Laurana Wong Dot Com.