It's almost impossible to describe what you'll hear, see and feel the next time the Art Bias Group performs. That's because Tony Weller, Larnie Fox and Wendy Ajax - the three members - are never quite sure themselves.
And that's how they like it.This is spontaneous art, performance art, art-on-the-spot, the industrial avant-garde.
It is not, however, mindless. Every time the group performs you can rest assured the thinking has been done. In fact, Art Bias may have the best defined sense of aesthetics in the city.
For instance, Fox - who does a good deal of composing for the group - recently spent a year writing "Will I Won," a performance piece. Yet he allows people to spell the name as they wish (Will Eye One? Willeyewun? You choose.)
"At heart, we are all visual artists who enjoy both music and books," says Weller, who handles the rhythms for the group. "We want people to have an experience they haven't had since they became adults - that sense of exercising your perceptions. As a child you can't just categorize experience, you have to see things fresh. That's what we're trying to achieve."
The history of the group is short and sweet. Fox and Weller met in 1986. Weller was doing some interesting things with rhythms at the time, Fox was doing visuals - a lot of machines and motions. So they decided to link up for a multimedia show and see what came out of it. Art Bias is what emerged. Ajax later came on board, bringing her interesting, though off-center, vision with her.
Today Art Bias is just one of several avant-garde art groups performing in Salt Lake City. Most others - such as Another Language and Company Four - are dance troupes, however. Art Bias goes to the bank on other things. It's become one of the most visual (both in performance and in reputation) by performing several times a year. The threesome has put on "art concerts" at the Art Barn, the Brown Bag Series and also mounted a special show at the Salt Lake Art Center.
To get a true notion of what the group's up to, you need to see a live performance or a videotape. But a brief description may help.
In the Art Center performance, for instance, Art Bias got together with the Lowell Construction Co. to turn a building project into a rhythmic exercise. Passersby saw and heard hammers and other tools working in rhythm and producing an effect akin to African music.
At another concert at Dinwoody Park, Art Bias included the people passing by in the performance itself. Whenever pedestrians would step on rubber mats (like those found on "exit" doors at supermarkets) the electricity would set off a series of rhythmic effects.
Sometimes a comic effect emerges, sometimes a social or political theme will raise its head. The trick, if it can be called that, is to stay loose and let the art go where it wants to go.
And that philosophy is gaining fans for the group. A performance at the Art Barn in 1986 drew a crowd of 120 (capacity there is only 90). Dozens of people had to be turned away.
Other shows have been well attended. The reason is Art Bias is both serious and fun, high-minded and silly, understandable and incomprehensible. And each show is unique. They have never - and will never - repeat a piece.
"There's a certain kind of energy that comes from doing a piece the first time that you can never recreate," says Ajax. "So once a piece is performed, we move on to others."
But that doesn't stop the group from working just as hard on its art as a poet who hopes to be published in the New Yorker.
"One thing that interests us is structure," says Fox, a visual artist from Pennsylvania. "We work hard at it. We're all fans of John Cage. He would write a musical score, but include visual effects and other things. We like to keep the audience guessing, keep them off balance."
Adds Ajax, "We do give the audience `access points,' however, so they don't get bored or think what we do is totally random. But we also hope there are `multiple readings' of each piece, too."
In the end, Weller pretty much sums up the reaction of the public to all this:
"When we do the Brown Bag concerts we get people who love it, and get people who hate it," he says.
Adds Ajax, "We also get some regulars. People we see in the audience over and over."
At the moment Art Bias has hundreds of ideas for things, but no official performance slated for the near future.
Watch this space for times and places when they decide to go at it again.