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Low Lives, an annual global, real-time and digital performance-art event, is by nature difficult to define.
A stab at it: Over two days, artists at 25 venues around the earth including Salt Lake City's Utah Museum of Fine Arts will present performance art live that is instantaneously streamed on the Web. Audiences at each venue can watch the on-site performance and witness distant performances on large video screens.
Through the wonder of streaming Web video, an even broader audience can watch live on a laptop or smart phone, at home, in a coffee shop, on a bus or wherever they happen to be.
So far, we've only explained the transmission method of the festival, which runs Friday and Saturday, April 27-28. If one considers the artistic statements of the various performance and digital pieces, Low Lives gets even more bewildering.
But steep appreciation curves are the nature of contemporary art. According to its founder, Salt Lake-based artist Jorge Rojas, Low Lives is a festival spotlighting works that probe and challenge the potential of networked performance art. It's also a celebration of the emerging grass-roots power to transmit ideas across borders and around the world. Think of Low Lives as an Arab Spring of contemporary art.
UMFA Executive Director Gretchen Dietrich acknowledges Low Lives is a hard sale to a broad audience only about 100 people witnessed the event last year. But Dietrich says more and more Utahns are attracted to the cutting edge.
"We really think the idea and the work Jorge is doing is really interesting and important," Dietrich says. "That connection of human beings all over the planet is what contemporary art is about right now."
Low Lives also makes the UMFA a worldwide player with its growing contemporary arts program. It is participating Low Lives with forward-leaning art venues in Brooklyn, New York; Austin, Texas; Yamaguchi, Japan; Paris; Bogota, Colombia, and Tromsø, Norway.
"This is cutting edge and the UMFA is doing it," Dietrich says. "Great contemporary art helps contextualize the [UMFA's] larger collection. I'd like to think that by showing more global contemporary art, we are creating a more sophisticated audience."
Rojas was able to get choreographer, performance and Internet artist Michelle Ellsworth to perform the UMFA's on-site contribution. Ellsworth is a 2011 USA Knight Fellow who lives in Boulder, Colo. Rojas only learned after he contacted Ellsworth that she has Utah roots. She attended Brigham Young University and is a descendant of Edmund Lovell Ellsworth, a pioneer handcart brigade captain.
"She is one of the most versatile and dynamic artists working today," says Rojas, who will DJ the Low Lives transmissions from a station at UMFA a form of performance art in itself.
Ellsworth is known for her live performance pieces and also her experiments in "performable websites." The UMFA work will involve a trio of "sculptural" video pieces, Rojas says, but he admits that exactly how the performance will emerge is a mystery because Ellsworth will do it live.
"Many of the works in Low Lives are being performed for the first time," he says. "That means there's an element of danger but also elements of surprise."
Hook up with 'Low Lives'
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts will link with venues around the globe to present two days of performance and digital art in real time.
"Low Lives 4" festival begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 27, and 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 28. Because it is a series of performances, the audience can come and go at any time.
Michelle Ellsworth's live performance will begin about 8 p.m. Friday and about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
UMFA, 410 Campus Center Dr., Salt Lake City, 801-581-7332, umfa.utah.edu