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Mapping New Ground: the Artist-Run London Biennale Pollination Event

06/27/2014 12:50 pm ET | Updated Aug 27, 2014
Maps, Mazes & Mysteries

The street frontages do not automatically suggest art venues within -- a mid-modern home in an historic suburb, a grilled-window apartment block in a 'transitioning' downtown neighborhood, a metal fence topped by spikes alongside a steep freeway embankment and an imposing façade of New York-style loft apartments. But each of these four locations is host to the '2014 London Biennale Pollination in Las Vegas.'

Founded in 1998 by London-based conceptual artist David Medalla, the London Biennale project challenges the notion of the art world 'biennale' as a large state or corporate-sponsored event, operating within tight parameters. The artist-initiated London Biennale, with it's emphasis on performance and installation works, has expanded over the years to include simultaneous satellite events in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Berlin, New York, Boston and -- since 2010 -- Las Vegas.

This year's theme 'Maps, Mazes and Mysteries' was chosen by David Medalla, and the journey of discovery for each visitor to the Las Vegas event begins with contacting organizers Jevijoe Vitug and Matthew Couper to receive maps and instructions to locate the artists' studios and residences that are hosting the events.

The event on the first night is held at Anthony Bondi's suburban home and workplace, where we encounter an alternative playscape of Bondi's interactive installations, many enjoying a quiet retirement after featuring at festivals and museums around Nevada. Behind the pool, Scott Grow's video work is projected, documenting the release of balloons carrying artworks into the desert, and Jevijoe Vitug in the role of contemporary Shaman, dons a survival blanket and leads a conga-line of participants around the installations.

The following night at our downtown Couper Russ Studios, visitors find my 'linked limbs' collages directing them into our apartment, where Shelbi Shroeder has brought a nude photographic self-portrait to life in our living room. In the kitchen, viewers become participants, contributing to the 'Collaborative Cartographic Collage.' Meanwhile, Matthew Couper's stone-age caveman has assembled a basic tool and is carving out a Cretan Labyrinth in the adjacent vacant lot.

Event 3 takes place the following weekend at David Ryan's studio in an industrial area backing on to the 95 freeway. Pink strands of yarn crisscross the loading dock where Yasmina Chavez and Javier Sanchez sweat through a durational Butoh-inspired performance. Inside the studio, Ryan has set up a computer-controlled milling machine to map out the locations where Justin Favela has video documented his ongoing 'Taco Takeover' performance.

The final event is held the next night at Giorgio Guidi and Cara Seymour's apartment venue 'Casa' where their collaborative sound installation combines restructured song lyrics and percussion to map a journey between London and Las Vegas. Joining them at Casa is San Francisco-based artist Kady Monroe-Tracey who performs a flowing body-movement drawing and facilitates a collaborative sound happening, where guests choose envelopes and read out the stories they find within.

The London Biennale's aim to encourage a more intimate and community-based dialogue between artists and audiences appears to have been achieved in Las Vegas, with informal conversations taking place at the various events -- around a spa pool, a vacant lot, a loading dock and over bowls of pasta on the final night. In a town where a sense of community can be hard to find, the London Biennale is a jewel in the sand.