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Michael Peterson

I'm afraid we seemed a tough crowd for Katrina Lamb's performance, “The Fantasy of the Present.” While the exhibition space looked especially beautiful on Sunday afternoon, and the sunshine shining through the prints in “Pas de Deux,” by Phil Sayers and Esther Sayers, transformed them into an intriguing backdrop for Lamb's piece, I couldn't help thinking that she'd get a different response from us if it was late at night in a bar somewhere, and some of the crowd had a few drinks in them. That she drew instead a good-sized appreciative but “well-behaved”group amplified the conceptual strength of the piece, at the expense perhaps of its theatricality.

Lamb's “post-modern cabaret” oscillated between the patter of her performance persona, alternately anxious and self-satisfied, solicitous and sarcastic, and numerous short (often abruptly terminated) songs, with Lamb accompanying herself on keyboards. I took her persona to be a character based on her own biography, a jaded (perhaps over-)educated entertainer who discusses stripping as a career path for performance artists and sings eclectic songs, including a sweet tune beginning “Oh where will you be this Christmas morning.” Lamb is a clever lyricist, with lines like “If you pass me a note I'm gonna feed you a line,” and an obviously talented and highly trained pianist and singer.

It was pretty interesting to think about Lamb's piece in the same space as Nicole Gruter's haunting performance “Clearing Your Conscience is on Sale Now.” Where Gruter combines virtuoso singing with a quieted, committed gesture of performance labor, Lamb seems to be dismantling virtuosity, or perhaps it's that she deploys virtuosity in the most casual, off-hand way, building an event out of equal parts skill and snarkiness.

If I'm right about what she's after with the persona, she's also building up a character who is wry, quirky, bitter, and both skilled and a little out of control. I'm describing her, essentially, as a sort of subdued performance-art Kiki and Herb. (If I'm wrong about what she's doing, I'm REALLY sorry, but comparing to K&H is a pretty big compliment). At times in her commentary I could hear the legacy of Laurie Anderson, and one screeching song was an homage to and/or parody of Diamanda Galas, but also perhaps I heard John Kelly, who wrote: “Club performance should be in the curriculum of schools that teach performance art. It should be a required course in acting academies. There is nothing like performing for a crowd at two in the morning, a crowd that is more there to dance and drink than to watch a performance, let alone a performance by a banshee who is not doing what drag queens usually do.” Katrina Lamb comes, perhaps, from a pretty different place than Kelly, but she appears to have taken a course somewhere along the line in club conceptualism, and it's pretty fun to see the result.

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