The Barnes Foundation’s Artist Bash is a party with a purpose, giving those who enjoy art and performance the chance to see music, dance, and more inside the museum after hours. I came for SEX TAPE, a new work by Gabrielle Revlock, but I was impressed with everything I saw and heard.
The galleries remained open during the event, allowing me to enjoy both a Cezanne painting I'd somehow missed on previous visits and No-No Boy’s multimedia concert addressing Asian American experiences. It was novel to stroll between 19th-century painting and live music.
A search for care
SEX TAPE also offered something novel and unusual. Inspired by the artist’s realization that she spent too much time and energy on things that depleted her, this movement piece celebrates nourishing relationships and examines female friendships. Revlock’s choreography is sourced from video footage of herself embracing a male lover. SEX TAPE replaces the lover with Revlock’s friend, dancer Michele Tantoco.
It’s a thought-provoking and relatable concept. Who hasn’t felt drained by demands on our time or emotions or bodies, remorse for time wasted on social media or binge-watching, or the remarkable horror of realizing that we have made poor investments in our work and relationships? SEX TAPE works toward healing by creating an image of care and a positive representation of touch.
As Revlock explains, “I wanted to complicate notions of what friendship can look and feel like, repatterning my own search for care.”
Less familiar than sex
These complications were the most obvious and potentially discomfiting feature of SEX TAPE. Even though I had read the description of the piece and knew what to expect, I felt a bit like a voyeur watching Revlock and Tantoco embrace, cheek to cheek, on a low dais. Their movements were intimate and full of sensual touch: they stroked each other’s hair, nuzzled necks, clung together in a desperate embrace.
Although the dancers were fully clothed and the dance was not sexual, it maintained a sexual charge. Revlock and Tantoco heightened the effect by portraying complete absorption in one another, seemingly oblivious to the gazes of people watching mere feet away. They lay together, legs intertwined, and gazed at one another like lovers fascinated by the beloved’s body and presence. All of this made SEX TAPE a little unnerving to watch. It was somehow more intimate than watching an actual sex tape or even a sexual act, and far less familiar, thanks to the ubiquity of internet porn. As I glanced around at the faces of other viewers, I saw that I wasn’t alone in this sentiment.
Tension and genius
Yet SEX TAPE’s strange tension between friendship and erotic love, replacing the lover with a same-sex friend, was also its genius. Revlock’s work dares the audience to imagine alternate possibilities for love, care, nurturing, and touch. And it poses a mighty challenge to the interpersonal disconnect of the digital era, especially the so-called gamification of dating and romantic relationships. SEX TAPE shows people pausing to be fully present with others, even in this age of hyperconnected distraction. It remains possible to lose yourself in a lover as well as in a friend, and friends can be sources of the love and intimacy we are taught to seek from romantic partners. People can nurture themselves and nourish each other, even in the era of overwork, FOMO, and ghosting.
Competing for attention
Like Philadelphia Museum of Dance, an event held at the Barnes in October 2018, the Artist Bash drew a large, diverse audience of young and old, different races and ethnicities, and varying genders and orientations. It was inspiring to see so many people at an art museum on a Saturday night, watching and listening to equally diverse performers and performances.
But seating was a problem. The audience had to choose between standing endlessly or sitting uncomfortably, if you were lucky enough to grab a spot on one of the few rigid sofas and chairs. Yet when I landed one, I could see nothing but the backs of viewers standing in front of me. The Barnes compounded this problem by scheduling simultaneous performances in the same space, unfairly forcing artists like Revlock and Tantoco to compete for the attention of people who didn’t know where to look. I hope the Barnes irons out these crucial details to make future Artist Bash events an even greater success.
What, When, Where
SEX TAPE. By Gabrielle Revlock. February 16, 2019, at the Artist Bash at the Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franking Parkway, Philadelphia. (215) 278-7000 or barnesfoundation.org.