New Urbanite, Baltimore (interview)

On April 27th, 2011, I appeared in “What is the Transmodern Festival?”, an article by Cara Ober for her article on the Transmodern Festival, where I was performing Fudgie’s Death.

photo: Sean Dennie

Across the Line : The Transmodern Festival is all about crossing boundaries, moving not just between spaces, but also between genders, races, ages, media, and philosophies.

“Puppet artists are the new rock stars,” says Marsian DeLellis. “Like Lady Gaga, one day I can only hope that the details of my next puppet show will be leaked to the media and that I will have to go on tour early.”

Based in Los Angeles, Marsian has developed a brand of eccentric adult puppetry that oscillates between adorable, abject, campy, and earnest. Inspired by current events, tabloids, and pop culture, Marsian’s oeuvre includes short-form puppetry, puppet slams, musicals, video, and performance art. He brings his show to Baltimore this week, for the Transmodern Festival, where he’ll perform Fudgie’s Death, a neo-noir tale of desperation and depravity, and give a talk at MICA about “synthetic pleasures.”

“This will be my first foray into Baltimore, which I have always viewed as a sacred place,” Marsian says. “The city that fueled the films of John Waters, Divine, and the Dreamland Studios has been so influential on me and my generation of peers.”

The Transmodern Festival is not easy to explain to those who have not experienced it. “At first, I thought that the Transmodern Fest was gender-related,” Marsian admits. “The title made it sound like it was a synonym for post-gender or some kind of deconstructed version of gender performance and I assumed that I had been selected because I play with gender as one aspect of my puppet shows.”

In fact, the festival is about crossing all manner of lines. “The Transmodern is all about defying genres,” says festival organizer Valeska Populoh. “It blurs boundaries between performance and the performative, installation, video, and sound. There is a unique capacity within the festival to consider different ways of thinking about performance and making in general. This festival is all about transcending boundaries, moving between spaces, as well as gender, race, age, media, and philosophy.”

In it’s eighth year, the independently-run festival takes place over four days and includes over 150 artists, both local and internationally-based, presenting avant-garde performances, installation, sound, film, and other types of difficult-to-define, multi-disciplinary work. It culminates with Sunday afternoon’s “Pedestrian Service Exquisite,” an event that takes place in the streets, alleys, parks, and public areas surrounding the H&H Building on Howard Street and includes an interactive “Love Parade” by Baltimore’s Fluid Movement.

The Transmodern Festival is devoted to the spirit of diversity in its very structure: the organizers invited a number of different curators to participate this year to ensure a high level of diversity in work. “The leadership is decentralized,” explains festival organizer Stephanie Barber. “There is no ‘main event’ to attend. We didn’t want people to attend certain things and skip over ‘lesser’ performances. Visitors will be given maps for a self-guided tour and allowed to experience the festival at their own pace.”

Local curator Lexie Macci has organized Projections Project, featuring a number of video artists from Baltimore and beyond, and utilizing Baltimore’s local landscape in a new way. Artists will use the storefront space at the intersection of Franklin and Eutaw Streets as an enormous three-screen triptych for performances and video screenings. “The Charles Fish and Sons building has been unoccupied for about two years now,” explains Macci.  “The building inspired the idea of projecting video from the inside out, to draw attention to the historic space in a low-impact way. Management companies should realize that brief cultural occupation of unused properties is beneficial to everyone involved.”

One of the younger artists in the Transmodern Festival, Alexander D’Agostino graduated from MICA in 2009. He is one of fifty artists participating in Rooms Play, a collaborative, immersive theatrical experience at the Copycat Building. “Being a part of last years Rooms Play was one of the most insane and wonderful experiences of my budding career as a performance artist,” he says. “Each artist is given absolute creative freedom, while participating in a dialogue that goes beyond the personal, into political and social realms. I get to be a part of something larger than my own personal artistic practice, but still get the opportunity to fully express and develop my own project.”

Festival organizer Populoh says that, in a nutshell, is what Transmodern is all about. “We are committed to being locally based and want the spirit of collaboration to create a sense of ownership here in Baltimore and add to a thriving arts community,” Populoh says. “When we unite regional and nationally known artists with the local performance community here, we create new opportunities for artists to connect and reasons for artists stay here in Baltimore.”

The spirit of collaboration extends to Baltimore area arts organizations and colleges. MICA and John Hopkins University are both sponsoring panels, lectures, and artist talks with participating artists. To find out more, go to the Transmodern Festival website. To attend, tickets are $12 for each night or $30 for a festival pass. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.