Performance art prodigy in our midst

. April 10, 2012.

My readers and fans know that I’m a sucker for performance art. For me it’s the combination of live performance and the ephemeral, no-two-shows-the-same aesthetic, the closest we come now to what used to be called a “happening.” It’s my favorite part of our annual Ann Arbor Summerfest. It’s one of the strong suits of the University of Michigan School of Art and Design, which boasts a number of world famous practitioners, many of whom I’ve written about in previous articles. Now we have in town, about to give her last exhibition before she’s snapped up by Broadway, Hollywood and superstardom, a genuine performance art prodigy:  Emilia Javanica. She will be giving her UM A&D Masters in Fine Art presentation, Red Blob Massacre, at the Cavern Club on Thursday, April 5 and Friday the 6th. The doors open at 7pm and things will be happening immediately. Her short silent horror film “Red Blob Massacre” goes on sharply at 8 with live, original musical soundscore and performance accompaniment including audience participation. Things keep going after the movie; the whole event is being filmed for a major independent motion picture.  Dress up and wear your dancing shoes. It’s gonna be a happening, I tell you! Admission, like the old days: free.

From the Bay Area to the Midwest

As it is with prodigies, Ms. Javanica has fit several lifetimes into one. She grew up in the Sonoma wine country north of San Francisco, where her father, an attorney, raised goats, cows, chickens and a very large garden.  Her mom is a photographer who teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College. Young Emilia had been “obsessed” with theater since elementary school. She branched into drawing and ballet, but her “first big break” in acting came in third grade. Through high school she wrote and performed in talent shows, singing, dancing, choreographing and videotaping. Emilia’s dad, a Vietnam vet, discovered Buddhism and took her back there on a three week trip. While he exorcized his demons, she fell in love with Southeast Asia. After she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree Magna Cum Laude in theater at Seattle’s prestigious Cornish College of the Arts (writing, directing and appearing in numerous productions), she bought a one-way ticket to Taiwan.  Shortly thereafter she received a scholarship to study traditional dance and music at the Yogyakarta Institute of Art, the art center of Java, Indonesia. For four years she was immersed in, among other things, puppetry, mask design and gamelan music (UM has a renowned gamelan ensemble, if you’re interested). She became fluent in Indonesian, set up a children’s library, and wants to move back some day and live there with her husband, Lilik, whom she met and married there. It was meant to be. Born Emily White, people always called her Emilia. Her favorite flower was Emilia Javanica (meaning “Lady of the Paintbrush” after the shape of the pedal).  Eventually she was married on Java, whose word for married is “nica.” Like we used to say at happenings, man: Far out!

Ms. Javanica is nothing if not prolific. In addition to scores of projects in Ann Arbor, Seattle and Indonesia, she has presented across the country and around the world. For the past year she has co-curated the ongoing experimental performance series in Detroit, The Performance Laboratory.  Every other month, under the umbrella of The Contemporary Art Institute Detroit, five to eight Detroit-area artists present new, cutting-edge performances.  (theperformancelaboratory.wordpress.com). Kind of amazingly, as a third year graduate student Emilia was appointed programming coordinator of North Quad, UM’s first new residence hall since Bursley Hall was opened in 1967. The old space was called the Frieze Building, home to movie, speech and acting classes and two theaters. It has still retained its embrace of creativity with multi-media art displays and rooms for speakers and conferences large and small. How does Emilia Javanica do it? It’s the same thing I used to ask about Julie Taymor. Say hello when you see me at the Cavern Club on the 5th and 6th. www.emiliajavanica.com

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