Thomas Kovachevich

By existing as metaphor—tongue-in-cheek, humble, elegant, witty, sensual, and dry—Thomas Kovachevich’s paper performers communicate on a variety of levels. The visual set-up has elements of science, art, and dream. Four metal basins, or “stages,” are placed side by side, on an elevated square platform. Three basins hold a little water on which float various materials: a square drape of crimson satin, a tossle of powder blue satin with inlets of water, and a large, heavy, white paper triangle island. The fourth basin is empty, a dark, matte texture that contrasts with the water, which steams mysteriously.

The audience watches as oppositions prevail; there is a formal sequence for random events. Two rows of seats, level with the platform, overlook the stages. The lights in the museum are dim, but at 5-minute intervals they rise, tinted, on each separate stage. In dark glasses and soft-soled shoes, Tom Kovachevich approaches each basin, drops in several small triangles of thin tracing paper and then leaves. The number of pieces seems random; five, three, six, or eight; water, heat, and humidity immediately activate them. Inanimate looks animate: the papers begin to dance. One stretches, two come together and continue to curl as one. Another leaps into the steaming water; and its “life” is no more. Others curl alone; likenesses to real life are obvious. Activity and “sound-track” coexist as a continuous rubbing of paper against fabric, and the papers move until they are saturated. Then, there is a climax to the sequence: lights illuminate the fourth and empty basin, while Kovachevich brusquely pours what looks like some strange liquid—but is actually mere water—onto part of the stage bottom. He adds a bit of emerald-green colored cellophane, some silver satin, and the ubiquitous tracing paper cuts, and the gorgeous contrasts of materials upstage even what the papers do.

From lit to darkened basin, paper to paper, and activity to effect, ideas and interest shift constantly during the piece. The papers might refer to the real-life agonies and ecstasies of other performance artists or they might be inhabitants of a formal, desert island, as onlookers vicariously experience their foreign lives. But when lights arise on all four stages, inexorable time has passed, some cuts have embanked on a wrinkle, others have drowned, and some stalwarts continue to stretch. The viewer leaves, knowing it’s still going on back there, and irrationally, the system leaves an open-ended trail.

C.L. Morrison