The irony is immediately evident as you enter Kent Anderson Butler’s Sacred Encounters. Housed in the backroom of Coagula Curatorial in Chinatown, the supposed video lounge is, at best, your local dive bar — except in this case, instead of cheap beers with too much foam and not enough flavor, you get a few couches and multiples of the artist on small screens engaged in various activities. Perhaps that is precisely the point. The most meaningful of the encounters does not discriminate. It happens when it does and where it does — no matter the circumstance.
In Bathe, you find Anderson Butler standing under a waterfall without his shirt like a Buddhist monk in training. However, that notion is quickly dispelled when the screams start to fill the scene. They are not excruciatingly painful as to turn your stomach, but queasy enough. Eventually, the voice and the artist fade away, as if nothing has ever disturbed the order of the surrounding environment.
On the other side of the wall in Cleanse, you observe Anderson Butler diligently brushing his teeth, presumably near the waterfall. Once again the artist is without his shirt. The brushing action continues for about two minutes, maybe longer, as the foamy mixture of saliva and toothpaste slobber down his goatee. Though it is an act of sound hygiene maintenance, it feels a bit more than gross.
Also on the same wall is Rest. You find a beautiful stream. From the edge of the frame enters Anderson Butler. This time, he is fully clothed, but not for long. First the shoes and socks come off, then the shirt, and no more. The artist lays himself down on the creek bed. He remains still until he and his clothes dissolve away, leaving no trace.
Play is the last video in the lounge. This time, you see that Anderson Butler has gone for a walk away from the water. With his shirt gone for the fourth time and yet the shorts still intact, the artist walks toward a tree, stand on his two hands in what you expect to be a front walkover. But then you hear a thud. He falls; belly first. After a short while he spends looking back at the direction of the camera, he stands up and walks away.
Anderson Butler performs each of these strangely visceral rituals with all the seriousness on his face. The viewing experience is emotionally draining without a resolution. Slowed passages of time in Bathe and Play hint at Bill Viola’s style but without the grandeur. There is only himself on the stage. His performance shares a measure of absurdity with William Pope.L’s crawl save a political statement. It is a one-person theater with an audience of zero, until you come into the fold.
Regardless, what you must take note and appreciate is the unintended humor that comes alive as Anderson Butler subjects his own body, half-undressed, to ordinary but somewhat ridiculous tasks. The resulting choreography for the camera is uncomfortably comical. It is okay for you to feel awkwardly funny, for there is no rule of engagement for a sacred encounter. It happens when it does, no matter the appearance of the situation.
Kent Anderson Butler’s Sacred Encounters is on view at Coagula Curatorial through October 4, 2015. It’s a GO-FOR-FOUR.
All images courtesy of artist.