Start, change, stop
Orrico struggles through “Prone to Stand” performance at CFA
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
It takes three hours for Tony Orrico to go from lying facedown to standing. Those three hours are every bit as painful for his audience as they are for him.
On Wednesday – from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Lightwell Gallery at UB’s Center For the Arts – Orrico produced his “Prone to Stand” impression, number 12 from his Penwald Drawings series, in a live performance.
Also referred to as the “human spirograph,” Orrico reinvented drawing as a form of art in Penwald Drawings, paying homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” in a process that is both physically and mentally demanding.
Orrico’s performance consisted of three phases – each lasting an hour – of bilateral drawing (sketching two images at the same time with both hands). Orrico began in a prone (facedown) position, moved into a downward-facing crouch and finished in a bounce between a squat and toe-touch stance that ends in an upright position.
Three hours. No stopping.
In the far reaches of the Lightwell Gallery, Orrico calmly arrived on time with no grand entrance. Before an eager audience and an oversized blank sheet of paper, Orrico stood like a martial artist waiting for a command before his routine commenced.
“Start,” said Sandra Firmin, curator of UB’s two art galleries.
He lay facedown as the clock started ticking. Orrico began to work his lines over the page with outstretched arms, using varying movements from the prone position. His arms never stopped to move for more than a second throughout the entire performance; the rest of his body kept completely still.
Orrico’s grip on the pencil never lost strength though it changed often. At times, he resembled a kindergartener holding a crayon, and at others, his grip was limited to a few fingers, making the pencil virtually invisible to the audience.
The impression built, and it’s remarkable how closely the fine details and density of the lines were mirrored on both sides of Orrico’s body. His eyes remained mostly closed and he fired out a few quick, sporadic breaths as a focus mechanism.
The audience felt Orrico’s discomfort, but he never broke a sweat or showed it in his execution. His body heat in the first position was so intense that at one point the paper ripped as it expanded.
“Change,” Firmin said at the one-hour mark.
Orrico then crouched into a position similar to the rabbit yoga pose, legs and head on the floor with his posterior in the air. It became clear blood would rush to his head for the entire second hour. This made the crowd uneasy, as several audience members gathered themselves and exited the gallery while new ones were just arriving.
“I thought it was intriguing,” said Kelly Magee, a sophomore art major who left during the second hour. “I think it takes a lot of trust to not watch what you’re doing as an artist and have the final product be a surprise.”
The lines from the second position of the performance combined with lines from the first to form a more abstract image, and what originally looked like the top view of a brain scan became a Venn diagram of pulsing lines.
“Change,” Firmin said, initiating the third and final position of Orrico’s performance.
Orrico slowly entered a position much like a catcher would take in baseball with his feet kept together. As he paused for a moment, his face was visible to the audience for the first time since he began. Signs of strain showed on his graphite-dusted skin for the final hour, but his piercing blue eyes maintained tremendous focus.
This point in the performance proved to be a test of endurance – not only for Orrico, but for the audience members who stayed with him from the start.
“You become concerned for him, but I was sort of right there with him and I connected with him,” Firmin said. “I felt like there was a psychological tether connecting us that I didn’t want to leave.”
Orrico bounced and breathed sharply as he danced his lines on both sides of his body. The spot where his head rested in the second position had a stain of sweat and what seemed to be blood. Audience members waited for the final word, as they grew impatient to see the final result of Orrico’s piece.