Winona County resident Billy X. Curmano swam the length of the Mississippi and was buried alive for three days. Why? It was art, of course. “Live art” or “performance art” to be exact.
What is performance art? “Performance artists and live artists have always resisted giving it a solid definition because that limits it,” Curmano said. “It has to do with the mindset of what you are doing. Anything can very possibly be performance with the intention of the artist.”
One of Curmano’s performances was at a prestigious California Art Academy event where he made an unauthorized speech announcing himself as the Artist of the Year and proclaimed a national day of taking artists out to dinner until he was dragged away by security guards “participating” in his “unauthorized performance.”
“Sometimes unauthorized performances are more interesting than authorized ones,” Curmano said. “There are more dynamics to it; there is more that happens.”
Unlike traditional artists who consider tangible documents like photographs to be their work, Curmano considers such things to be “documentation of his work.” His real work is live and in the moment.
Curmano’s work often carries a political, environmental, and social message. He swam the full length of the Mississippi River over the course of 10 years as an “environmental statement.”
“I was reclaiming the Mississippi for life-affirming pursuits,” Curmano said. Curmano’s swim was before the 1972 Clean Water Act. At that time, “waterways were basically receptacles for waste,” Curmano said.
In his “Performance for the Dead,” in which he was buried alive for three days outside of Winona, Curmano said he was “trying to make contact with the other side and make people who were still living more comfortable with their own mortality.
“I often interpret the voices of science,” Curmano said. “I try and interpret what they are saying and give them more of a voice.”
Currently, Curmano has a number of projects dealing with climate change.
Curmano will be at The Bookshelf on 162 West Second Street in Winona on Wednesday, February 27, at 7 p.m. Curmano is promoting his new “coffee table art book” titled “Futurism’s Bastard Son.” He will sign copies of the book and optional DVD, give readings, screen short films, and perform with his new jazz group, TriOx.