Claude Wampler at the Kitchen

January 30th, 2013

Claude Wampler

Amelia Saul in Claude Wampler’s new show, “N’a Pas un Gramme de Charisme.”

For Claude Wampler, subterfuge isn’t a fashionable artistic device. She needs it.

An artist who specializes in visual art and performance, Ms. Wampler shrouds her work in mystery in order to defy audience expectations. At the Kitchen in 2006 she unveiled “Performance (Career Ender),” in which rock musicians, whose images were projected onto the stage through a haze of fog, rehearsed while planted audience members reacted with deranged glee. For Ms. Wampler choreography doesn’t just mean movement — though it’s there — but also the arrangement of a highly detailed series of events.

Even though “Career Ender” was met with critical acclaim, Ms. Wampler thought the production would be the end of her theatrical affair. “It just felt like I had worked something out as far as why live performance works or doesn’t work,” she said in a recent interview. “It completed something for me.”

But she had a change of heart. “Making performance is like creating Christmas for your kids,” she said. “I realized, if I think about performance as manufacturing memories, then I’ve got some more work to do.”

Ms. Wampler, 46, may have called “Career Ender” her farewell to performance — in the title the word “performance” was crossed out — but she actually never stopped putting on shows. In her most recent sculpture series, she displayed pedestals and shadows, but no objects.

“I’m removing the art to see how far I can go to make something appear without the materiality of the thing itself,” she said. “If I can create the image of the sculpture in the mind of the audience, without the sculpture actually being there, that’s much more interesting than just showing the sculpture.”

For that show, Ms. Wampler used the tools of performance. Audience plants discussed the objects as if they were there, and museum guards pretended that the sculptures existed.

“I don’t manipulate an audience in a negative sense,” she said. “I manipulate an audience in the best way possible, which is to assist them in the act of looking, of observing.”

Starting on Thursday, she’s back at the Kitchen with “N’a Pas un Gramme de Charisme” (“There Is Not One Gram of Charisma”), which she describes as a collaboration with the filmmaker and performer Amelia Saul. John Tremblay will contribute set pieces; Antonius Wiriadjaja is the show’s technical wizard. Her title is taken from a French magazine’s review of Katie Holmes’s performance as Jacqueline Kennedy in the 2011 television mini-series “The Kennedys.”

“I think it’s quite an achievement to not have one gram of charisma,” Ms. Wampler said. “How does she do it? And then I watched it, and it’s true. She’s like Keanu Reeves in that way — she’s a very attractive placeholder for the character. I love Keanu because of that. Somebody who could have such a career and be completely and utterly free of talent is so awesome.”

Ms. Wampler said she was thinking about absence  in the work. “The new piece is an exploration of what do people want in the moment of performance, and what are they bringing to it that informs how they watch it?” she asked. “I’m trying to understand the audience before they get there.”

One way to clear the mind of an audience is to say nothing about the piece. Another way is to reveal a lot. But Ms. Wampler has devised a third possibility.

“You can’t buy tickets: you have to be invited or recommended,” she said. “We’re going to give people what we’re calling ‘leaks of material’ before they get to the show itself.”

Prospective audience members may request an invitation by visiting the Web site After purchasing a ticket, they will receive the leaks — whether video, audio or something else —  via e-mail. The leaks are a way for Ms. Wampler to try to manage how the audience experiences her show.

“It’s a way to plant seeds so that they sprout in the right way,” she said. “We’ll see how it works. It’s all experimentation.”

And, as in her previous works, Ms. Wampler is in complete control. “The Wampler secrecy even extends to me, and I’m the closest collaborator,” Ms. Saul said. “She’ll tell me to do things: copy that, learn that song, watch this, read that. And I’ll do all them and be incredibly inspired, and then nothing will come of it.”

Claude Wampler presents “N’a Pas un Gramme de Charisme” Thursday through Sunday at the Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, Chelsea;

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.