‘Traveling Miracle Show’ is a feast for the senses

Sometimes, you just can’t find a goat’s head when you really need one.

Not even in Las Vegas.

Local artist and amateur chef Brent Holmes hoped to buy a whole goat that he could then butcher for a recent piece titled “Sin Eater.” It was one of seven installations that made up “The Traveling Miracle Show,” a performance art show that debuted at the Momas and Dadas New Genres Project House during First Friday earlier this month.

Inspired by the old-fashioned traveling shows that featured snake oil salesmen hawking elixirs for common ailments, “The Traveling Miracle Show” included work from artists who specialize in the fields of installation, video and performance art.

Holmes, who has done one other food-related installation involving Japanese pancakes, likes to challenge himself when creating a project. For his work, he uses foods he has never prepared. Learning how to cook them, that’s part of the fun for him.

For “Sin Eater,” he wanted to take a whole goat, butcher it, skin it, then grill and serve it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find one that came with the head and innards. He had to settle for a 35-pound goat that was already cleaned and trussed.

“There are two types of constraints when you’re doing art,” Holmes explains. “Those you put on yourself and those the universe puts on you. This time, the universe told me ‘you’re not getting a goat’s head, Brent.’ ”

Still, his project was a success. He served 74 guests. In return, they gave Holmes a list of sins they had recently committed. Eating the food was supposed to absolve them of those sins, thus the name, “Sin Eater.” It was based on the religious concept of using food to earn forgiveness for sins.

Billionaire Tony Hsieh came by with an entourage and hung out for about an hour. He could eat anywhere in the world, Holmes says, but on First Friday earlier this month, he ate a plate of goat meat grilled by Holmes in a darkened downtown alley. Served with a side of farro and roasted beets, the meal was savory, even if the setting was not.

“The Traveling Miracle Show” received a grant from the Nevada Arts Council. (A second performance is scheduled for Friday in Reno.) The idea was born one night at a barbecue when some of the artists began talking about ideas for new projects, says the show’s curator, Silverado Belle.

They were sitting around at that barbecue, talking about miracles.

“The fact that we’re here making art is kind of miraculous,” Belle says as she stood in front of the Momas and Dadas Project House, a graffiti-covered cottage on the north side of Charleston Boulevard. It was approaching 6 p.m., the show’s official start time on a recent Friday. Stray cats roamed the yard next door while artists and helpers scrambled to put the finishing touches on their work. Some displayed pieces between the project house and an abandoned cottage that was also tagged with graffiti.

Belle was covered head to toe in black: long black skirt, black vest, black hat, black fingerless gloves and a black bandana hiding her face. She lent a Wild West feel to the scene.

Later, she would don a black body suit adorned with flowers to become artist JK Russ. For an hour, she and another model similarly attired sat in a Thinker’s pose for Russ’ installation “Desert Bloom.” They were performing as cactuses.

Miracles was the theme of the “Traveling Miracle Show.” Each artist did his or her own interpretation. Matthew Couper created a video installation, “Clutch Cargo Cult (Melancholia Meditation),” using Las Vegas-themed souvenirs. Some were covered in a black wax, which signified bile. It was once believed, Couper says, that depression was caused by too much black bile in a person’s body. Couper’s video showed a still figure vomiting a river of black bile as a king sat nearby on his throne, proclaiming his sadness.

Jenessa Kenway did a video piece, “The High Life,” depicting a stream of beer flowing down a wall in the project house. It merged into artist Jevijoe Vitug’s “The Root of Good and Evil,” pieces of gold-colored ginger root laid on the floor.

Outside, Nathan Coté’s “Hanging Garden” hung between two cottages. Michael Barrett roamed the field in front of the Momas and Dadas Project House. He looked dapper in a black tuxedo and a top hat sporting the ears of a hare.

Barrett, who brought the Momas and Dadas to Las Vegas from San Francisco, gave free unicorn rides along a red carpet.

Six months ago, Barrett says, the project house was dead architecture. Now that it’s been revived, “there’s an energy in this house and it needs to be celebrated,” he says.

The idea is to provide a space to artists like those participating in “The Traveling Miracle Show.” Performance and multimedia artists have lacked a space to showcase their work. Momas and Dadas will seek to rectify that, he says. No idea will be turned away.

It’s a nontraditional location for nontraditional artists. It sits on the outskirts of the usual First Friday boundaries of the Arts Factory on Charleston Boulevard. People park their cars nearby and walk to the festivities. But would they come to the Momas and Dadas?

Maybe not for the art. But they would definitely come for the food.

“We were questioning people about something that’s a big thing for humans, the idea of sin and the idea that the acts you commit are being check-marked on your soul,” Holmes says of his work. “There is a subtext, I think, that was lost on a lot of people. Mostly, the reaction was, ‘It’s free food? Wow, great.’ But that’s mostly what I was expecting. One guy even came back twice to eat.”

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at
spadgett@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.
Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.

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