Excerpt from Reprint of Paul McMahon, “Stoerchle Reviewed: Artist Performs in Montgomery,” The Student Life (March 21, 1972): 4.
Wolf Stoerchle’s show contrasted in many ways with Hiro Kosaka’s of a week earlier, notably in the way it was presented. While Kosaka to some extent ignored the audience and just did his piece, Stoerchle worked very closely with the audience at all times. Kosaka’s piece was in progress when the first spectators arrived. Stoerchle intentionally started about twenty minutes late to make sure that the audience would see the whole show, to avoid people missing the start and coming in while the show was in progress. Kosaka created an enigmatic situation for the audience in terms of how they should respond. Stoerchle provided a rug for the audience to sit on, lit only the performance half of the room (leaving the audience in darkness), and with masking tape marked off a boundary line between the performer’s space and the audience.
Stoerchle’s performance consisted of five different pieces done together as one show. There was strong continuity from one piece to the next, to the point that one really could not be sure whether it was one big piece or several small ones. The only demarcation between pieces was a short pause by the artist. Stoerchle cleared up the question somewhat in the short statement he made when he was finished by thanking the Once Group (a group of artists from Ann Arbor) “for the second piece.”
The way the performance was conducted was considerably closer to a sort of standard (if that word can be used) theatrical format than I expected from a contemporary artist. There seems to have been a certain amount of general criticism of aspects of the theatrical medium floating around in contemporary art for a while and perhaps an unwillingness on the part of some artists to commit themselves to a theatrical format. The use of this structure, however, seems to have been quite appropriate to the pieces Stoerchle performed. The pieces probably could not have been as effectively performed in a less formal situation.
All of the works dealt with vulnerability of different kinds. In the first piece Stoerchle straddled a mirror, which faced the audience, and raised the leg between the audience and the mirror, giving the illusion that he was sitting on the mirror and balancing, raising both legs at once. The audience, however, was aware that it was only an illusion and was faced with a case of illusion for the enjoyment of illusion.
The vulnerability in this piece was also quite clearly an illusion. The illusion that Stoerchle was balancing all of his weight on the mirror gave rise to the illusions that the mirror might break and that he might lose his balance.
The second piece, borrowed from the Once Group, was an “acting out” of the idea of “having the rug pulled out from under you.” (An interesting recent development is that some artists are openly performing others’ pieces, much like musicians playing each other’s pieces. Besides being a friendly gesture, this practice acknowledges the fact that many works can be “redone” by others.)
The acting out of phrases that evoke images has been widely used recently and can often be done as well by one artist as another; Stoerchle is making explicit reference here to the fact that one is always vulnerable to having the rug pulled out from under him.
In the third piece Stoerchle stripped, shedding his navy blue and red sweatsuit. While his assistant held his clothes stationary, Stoerchle, on his back, moved out of first his pants and then his shirt. He moved sort of like an inch-worm out of his shirt and wriggled out of his pants. The fact of his nudity seems to me to be the kind of vulnerability being used here, and as Stoerchle remained nude for the rest of the show, the sense of vulnerability remained at a high level.
In the fourth piece, Stoerchle, lying flat on his back, irritated his nose with a toothpick until he was forced to sneeze. As he involuntarily tightened his stomach muscles in sneezing he sat partly up and propped himself on his elbow, where he stayed after the sneeze was over. In the following eight or so sneezes, all forced by picking at his nose, Stoerchle stood all the way up, step by step, never moving voluntarily until he was already set in motion by the involuntary contractions of sneezing. At times this piece seemed a little contrived just because it was obvious that his intention was to eventually stand up, as opposed to going where the sneeze took him, and this did not seem quite right somehow. This piece points out a person’s vulnerability to his involuntary processes.
The final piece consisted of Stoerchle urinating on the small rug his assistant had pulled out from under him in the second piece. Standing nude, facing the audience, he concentrated for a short while and then peed, stopping himself immediately by tightening his muscles. He then relaxed his muscles and urinated again, stopping himself immediately again. This process continued until he was out of urine, about twenty spurts of urine, a lapse of about thirty seconds as the muscles relaxed, followed by another spurt, and so on.
Pieces four and five contrasted voluntary and involuntary physical reactions. Standing nude and urinating is in itself a very vulnerable position to be in, in front of an audience. This vulnerability was threatened at one point when a girl in the audience started clapping in the middle of this piece. If the audience had decided to start clapping it would have ruined the piece and left Stoerchle in an embarrassing position. In conversation later he mentioned to me that he had particularly enjoyed that point in the performance because it emphasized his vulnerability and because the audience, by not clapping, indicated a kind of support for the performance.