As a creator, Peter Kalisch is drawn to the primeval power behind art.
“I’m trying to access a primal state,” he says. “The confusion and anger you feel at a certain time in your life. I guess it’s a fuck you to idealizations.”
Born in Escondido, California, Kalisch explains that there wasn’t much to do as a kid, unless you counted going to Walmart. But as far as “Artistic spaces that I identified with – No!” he recounts with a dark laugh.
Working in different materials, Peter started doing visual art involving music or sound-activated components a few years ago. Bands would play and he would do performances, combining theatrical exercises, visual projections, and later in solo efforts, his own noise music, which he terms a “wall of noise.”
Fleeing the confines of a small town comprised of “tweakers and Republicans… And gang-related activity,” Peter made the jump to LA, and was proud of himself.
“I made my escape without my parents stopping me.”
Nowadays, Peter fashions performance pieces for underground art scenes of Los Angeles, which he sets to musical scores. They feature costumes, props, and his own body, which he does not mind abusing.
In one performance, Peter was suspended upside down and miked for sound. He proceeded to have the audience whip him on stage and made a mix tape of the proceedings.
“I am trying to be vulnerable in my performances,” he explains.
Frankly, it sounds painful to me, like the needles he asks spectators to insert into his forehead during other shows. I ask him if these sort of stunts hurt.
“It does hurt. It hurts a lot.”
I let that sit there for a sec, until the obvious (at least for me…) follow up question – So why do you do it?
“I am looking for transcendence. You find that in accepting that submission. It’s humbling. I want to experience catharsis.”
Before his studio class at Otis College, Peter shows me a series of small “Roman busts” that he’s made using mold-making process to bestow them with the appearance of age.
He’s fashioned these faces from the visage of Michelangelo’s David, but which he does not recognize from that context; or, as his instructor points out, from the cliché of “gay” design that it has become.
Instead, Peter says he was inspired/horrified when he saw images of ancient statues being destroyed in the Middle East, a reference to Isil’s destruction of historical buildings and artifacts in Iraq.
(Later he tells me the faces are the idealized-male to him, and that he likes “to smash them. The act of smashing is something really speaks to me.” I guess the smashing comes later…)
During his review, Peter wears a dark apron with the Davidic gaze imprinted on the fabric, and passes around a bowl of warm water to assembled members of the faculty and students.
It turns out the multiple David heads are made of soap, and the audience is encouraged to test out his arty cleanser. They giggle and seem to enjoy the sudsy, tactile experience.
Kalisch is young and it will be entertaining to follow his artistic journey, as he sets out to bring the audience into the work.
“There’s this anxiety in the audience. There’s a way they feel like they should act. But to me an artist has the privilege of giving the audience power.”
He smiles as he looks out over his painted heads, “I like giving the power away.”