21st century education
“CORE” Performance Piece –

“CORE” Performance Piece –

Michael Masucci had mentioned my piece “Core” in an earlier post and there was a request that I write more about it.  Thanks so much for your interest.  Sadly there are no still images of the performance.  There is a stationary video shot that I have to sift through.  However, I do have images from the videos I created to go with the text.

Image by Kate Johnson/Dancer Loretta Livingston
Image by Kate Johnson/Dancer Loretta Livingston

“Core” was a performance piece I created for the Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions which EZTV was part of.  I constructed it as part installation, part monologue multimedia performance with guest musicians, painters, and a poet, and part audience participation.  In making the piece, I was grappling with questions about remembrance, the lengths people will go to be remembered, and my own choices in life that compelled me to save a hitherto relatively unknown body of work by artists who were in large part lost to the AIDS epidemic.  In a world constantly changing and evolving around the “new”, who would care, why did I, and how do we make the decision to save some work or histories, and not others?

The name of the piece was derived from two concepts: the archaeological meaning of a core, which is the rock that early man used to strike and create various stone tools; and the memories and experiences within each of us that help form the cores of our being.

I have always been interested in dissolving the lines or classifications between things and concepts.  That night I wanted to combine the past with the present, nature with technology, separation with gathering, concrete with ephemeral.

 Desert Moon

Guests entered a darkened space lit by projected stars, a projected moonlit desert scene, while candles flickered on the seats.  As each person sat, they gathered up the candle and an auction paddle, on one side the word “save” was printed, on the other side was the word “discard”.  In the back of the space, two artists painted their versions of petroglyphs and pictographs on tall, clear plexi-glass panels hung from the ceiling. Musicians played and an artist, Angela Briggs, banged two rocks together attempting to make arrowheads.

Kate in archaeological unit
Kate in archaeological unit


When I entered I began with stories of my time in college working as an archaeologist.  Light flute music played like the wind of the desert and the space was transformed with projections to evoke the locations of digs around the California desert.  Early on in my life I had been fascinated with the past, the lives that had lived before, and their experiences.  While working on archaeological digs, I was able to see the world of the past as it lived in the present.  Objects laying across the desert floor were the tools from several millennia before.  We were the first to touch them again.

I shared with the audience visually and with words the moment that altered my perception of the strong drive to make a mark that we hold within us.  At this point I will share some of the text from the performance:


I remember one project we drove out to the edges of the California desert.  It was way off Route 66, way past where roads end.  In the middle of the vast desert we drove to a site and were greeted by a hermit living in a trailer.  He invited us to his camp site and made us tea.  Surrounding us were giant boulders, some 30 feet high.  As we walked the site we saw ancient petroglyphs that ringed the perimeter.  We climbed up to the top of the boulders where we found a small cave.  Inside, the floor was smooth like shellac from centuries of people sitting there.  The walls were filled with pictographs.  I sat at the edge of the cave, below my feet was a good 20 to 30 foot drop to a hard granite floor.  Yet, there were pictographs etched into the stone as far as the arm could reach on the outside of the cave.  These ancestors had risked death to express and record their lives.  One slip and they would meet a painful death.  I was stunned.

What would you do to be remembered, to keep the memory of your people, the ones you love?


As I spoke I handed out arrowheads to each audience member.


For living is the most ephemeral of art forms.  We are created, we create, we cease.  Only our marks somewhere on this planet give evidence of our time.  But what if you sculpt with light, paint with electrons?  What happens when they fade away? We believe recording is remembering, but eventually it too decays leaving snow, and like the sands of the earth, you sift through it to find fragments of images.


In my life I had gone from saving objects that lasted thousands of years to those that may last for a decade.  When I arrived at EZTV and discovered the stories of the generation of artists lost, their work often destroyed or abandoned by families who had turned their backs to them, I realized that there was a more contemporary archaeology.  This work was saving tapes, digital work created on obsolete systems, and a number of ephemeral writings and posters.  To me they were modern petroglyphs ravaged by time and politics.


The capriciousness of what is saved has always bothered and intrigued me.  At this point of the piece I wanted to merge the worlds of archaeology and art history.  Using the art auction as a metaphor, I unveiled a sand box filled with “treasures”.  I asked an audience member to come up and dig for an object.  Once they found one, they held it up to the audience.  With a gavel in hand and adopting an auctioneer voice I began calling the various paddles that the audience flashed showing either “save” or “discard”.  Depending on how many of each were shown, the object would either go home with the lucky person or be thrown into the trash bin of history.  There were various objects: small sculptures, core rocks, costume jewelry, old coins, a film roll, a remote, a tape.  Interestingly, the objects that had to do with recording were thrown away.  As Michael mentioned in another post no one asked “what’s on the tape?” The object itself, a VHS tape, was seen as old and therefore of no value.  It was never considered what someone might have created with it and was now lost.

Now that the audience was part of the piece, I asked poet S Pearl Sharp to share one of her great pieces.  As she finished, we asked the audience who they remembered.  Stories flowed and suddenly death, usually a verboten subject, became one of joy, remembrance, and much laughter.


"Ghosts"  Image by Kate Johnson
“Ghosts” Image by Kate Johnson

As we ended the evening the whole audience linked hands. They had entered as separate individuals and were now a group linked by memories.  I made a final statement as a projected candle “blew out”:


The living immerse themselves into an ocean of impressions, memories, dreams hoping to transcend time and space.  The dead know better and are cradled by the hands of those who hold on.

And in the end, we all bang away at our own cores trying to make something meaningful of our lives.


"Holding On-Mudra"  Image by Kate Johnson
“Holding On-Mudra” Image by Kate Johnson

The audience was then invited to draw their own petroglyphs to the plexi-glass “cave walls”.

I hope to restage the performance in the near future. (Maybe then I’ll take some pictures of the actual performance!)



Image by Kate Johnson
Image by Kate Johnson




  1. Thanks, Kate! I appreciate reading more about this awesome project. I love how it evolved from your personal experience in archeology. The image of your team going into the desert was so well-wrought, so scenic. That hermit — the gatekeeper, the epitome of hospitality — interests me. In Ancient Greece, the code of Xenia (hospitality) was a moral code: one never knew whether the visiting “stranger” was a mortal or a god; therefore, every stranger, it was assumed, came from the gods. I love then how you mirror the hermit’s actions by offering hospitality and community to the audience at your performance! Such a great echo of your experience in the desert.

    In a sense, archeologists are sorta like gods. They recreate that which has disappeared from view; they make things re-materialize. I’m thinking about how when we visit a museum (like the Natural History Museum), we make choices about which exhibits to “save” in our memories and which to “discard” or ignore.

    I’m reminded of the convo we had (Michael, you and I) earlier in December 2013, when M. mused about how our current “storage” preferences are putting our artifacts in a vulnerable state. The “cloud” is not nearly as solid or as receptive as the earth. Or, is it? What are the ramifications of the cloud versus the earth as a storage receptacle for our artifacts? What are the associated benefits and risks? What are the unconscious meanings?

    We emerged from the oceans; we are evaporating into the cloud.

    Anyway, great write up. Please give a lot of notice for when you might remount this. I’d like to come to California to see it. I have family there, so visiting is a natural.

  2. Christa – Thanks so much for your response to “Core”. I enjoyed immensely your view of the symbolism of the hermit and a connection to the code of Xenia. I had not thought about the link between his act of hospitality those many years ago, and the echo in the performance. I just wanted so much for the audience to take a piece of something with them, a remembrance.

    I don’t know if archaeologists are like gods – if so they are certainly dirty, smelly, trash sifting versions. I think the Earth in this case has the seemingly magical properties of hosting and saving the plethora of the ephemera we scatter from our various lives.

    You bring up a good point about the “cloud” versus stone and the receptivity of the earth. The cloud as receptacle is indeed hazy requiring code de-encryptions, and an ever shifting legal landscape. Who owns the cloud? Do they own what is stored in the cloud? Who has access? For how long? These questions affect not only our future archives, but our present works.

    And I love your statement: “We emerged from the oceans; we are evaporating into the cloud.” Beautiful and evocative. A great choice of word: evaporating. We have such hubris, like the young, that we will be here forever, civilization will always last, that we can store our lives in “clouds”. A dream that we hope has a happy ending.

    Thanks again. I greatly appreciate the incredible insight you brought to the piece.

    Kate Johnson

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