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Brian Getnick Creates L.A. Space

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Brian Getnick is an integral part of Los Angeles' multi-faceted performance art community, and he does a little bit of everything -- including codirecting "Native Strategies," a journal and performance art platform created with Tanya Rubbak, and offering two-week residencies that culminate in live performances at the blue Highland Park theater space PAM, which is located in the front portion of his studio. In his solo practice, Getnick aims to, in his words, "privilege the body both as a metaphor (a connector to history, to political context, and in service of story telling) and as an anarchic force that disrupts any stable reading." His visual art practice includes the creation of architectural set pieces, and costumes crafted to create dialogue with the performers who work with them. Says Getnick: "In these performances I am most interested in framing how we both resist and are shaped by cultural forces such as collective memory, education and nationalism."

A portrait of Brian Getnick | Courtesy of the artist
A portrait of Brian Getnick | Courtesy of the artist

Getnick's performances have graced the rooms of Station Independent Projects in New York City, L.A. spaces Honor Fraser Gallery, Red Cat and Machine Project, and Croxhapox in Gent, Belgium. In every element of his work, there's a daft attention to spacial details -- something that's followed him since when he first realized an interest in the visual and performing arts growing up on the East Coast.

"I was 15 or 16 and it was my first trip into the city without my parents," Getnick says. "It was a Max Beckmann show and I remember looking at the ceiling of the Guggenheim, and my cousin looking at the architecture of the ceiling, that oculus at the top -- it was the first time I could see architecture as a sculptural project, and I was more interested in the space than I was in the work on the wall."

This interest in spaces and opportunities for performance informs Getnick's work more than art of the two-dimensional variety. He travels internationally and brings his findings back to Los Angeles with the intention of integration. This summer, Getnick and collaborator Tanya Rubbak threw the N(enter)S launch party, or a three-dimensional version of the "Native Strategies" journal, at LACE in Hollywood. This was the fourth issue, and the realizing of it included performances from contributing artists whose work considers communication, politicized actions, and multiple channels for broadcast. Interviews between artists and writers, which make up the content of this fourth issue, were all originally broadcast on KCHUNG radio (1630am) in October and November of 2013, and then transcribed for documentation in the journal itself. Getnick also recently worked with Berlin-based performance artist/choreographer Ligia Manuela Lewis on "Sorrow Swag," which opened to a packed gallery at Human Resources in Chinatown, and will travel to ADA Studios in Berlin. With concept and direction by Lewis, in this piece, which also includes Twin Shadow on musical arrangement and as a performer, Getnick plays a thug-like, tragic hero-type character. Getnick put his own work on hold to devote energy to Lewis' project.

PAM, the blue theater
PAM, the blue theater

"She is seeking my body, which is read as a white male body, and disturbing and troubling it through the performance," says Getnick. "My body does not come apart, but the image gets shattered, disturbed. An image is stable. When you destabilize the image, when you break it apart it becomes like the flesh in a way -- it becomes much louder than the word."

Getnick grew up in a New York State about five hours north of the city, surrounded by rolling hills, forests, and open skies. He did his undergrad at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he studied painting. In 2004, he received his MFA in Fiber Material Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he worked with artists Anne Wilson and Joan Livingston.

"They created this beautiful balance between theory and object-making, and they really respected people who made work that was ahead of what they could say about work," says Brian. "That was the place I needed to be then -- in that philosophy of the material speaking ahead of the pre-existing language."


When Brian decided to move to Los Angeles in 2007, however, there were no academic institutions or external motivating factors involved in his westward expansion. Upon arriving in L.A., Getnick got swept up in the queer performance scene hosted in nightclubs, not galleries or art institutional spaces. The body of work that came out of this was simply called "The Ballet," an ongoing project from 2007-2010 that looked at definitions of art and entertainment less as distinctly different types of visual media but simply as agreements between performer and audience member. These types of definitions continue to create new opportunities for what performance art is or could be, particularly as they relate to the cultural landscape of Los Angeles.

For Getnick, L.A. is a place that offers vibrant, independent, experimental, and hybrid creative modes for working. Here, there are ways to work outside of the capitalist art model that's become the norm through massive art fairs and the gallery system. L.A. is built on a sort of piecing together of creative projects, of landscapes referenced over and over again in film and TV as seen in Thom Anderson's iconic experimental film Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), and to a broad range of creative people cohabitating.

The Pest Horse, in collaboration with Bryatt Bryant | Photo: Cameron Braylock
The Pest Horse, in collaboration with Bryatt Bryant | Photo: Cameron Braylock

Though L.A. does offer a host of performative opportunities, including queer and music communities, Getnick notes that in order to truly have a career as a performer, or to do theatrical work or work that requires a cast or long gestation process, it's important to leave Los Angeles and find a way to Europe. Or get involved in the movie business here and let that become fodder for artwork.

"I think professors should encourage people to work for other performers, go work in dance/theater in Berlin, or become an actor in the entertainment industry," says Getnick. "If you just bit the bullet and tried out what Hollywood offered, that would be a native method of sustaining yourself. That's not what you signed up for at CalArts, but you'll get a hell of a lot out of it."

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