Theresa Thomkins: Visionary, Lava Lamp & "So Much More"
Packed into a small auditorium at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Design Architecture Art and Planning (DAAP), an anticipating audience clamored with side conversations as Elise Barrington’s found object sculpture sat onstage before them. Out of place in comparison to the usually gray lecture hall, the sculpture doubled as both abstracted lava lamp and prop holder for Barrington’s long blonde wig, full-length pink hand gloves, and handcrafted outfit for the performance.
Leading up to this moment, Barrington had decorated the halls of DAAP with florescent orange flyers, decorated with hand drawn fonts and portrait of her performance alter ego, Theresa Thomkins. The flyers were not only a promotion for Barrington’s senior show as a DAAP student, but also advertised the pressing dilemma: How To Be A Lava Lamp.
Barrington, a recent graduate of DAAP’s Fine Arts program, focuses on performance, installation and sculptural work, and she is among a select few DAAP students that participate in performance art.
With a waiting and captive audience, Barrington bounded onto the stage and immediately began to talk with her viewers. Suddenly, the artist began to strip herself of her everyday clothes without missing a beat in conversation, as if it were a normal occurrence to strip in front of an auditorium of peers and professors. Her bold self-confidence was clear, and shifted the crowd’s expectations of the quirky “how-to” seminar that she advertised, to one that prepared themselves for anything. Barrington then began to dress herself in the clothes sculpturally placed on the lava lamp structure: jeans adorned with gold streamers down one pant leg and a tie dyed shirt with “How To Be” stitched with orange fabric onto the back. She amused even as she changed; juggling the microphone through arm and head openings while shimmying into jeans. When she could not hold the mic, artist and fellow performer, Hugh Patton acted as her second set of hands—even bleaching Barrington’s hair as part of her evolution into Theresa Thomkins.
Barrington’s transformation was capped with a simple spectacular moment of donning her long blonde wig, and immediately instructing a select few individuals from the audience to change clothes for her DVD recording seminar, “How To Be A Lava Lamp.”
The mood of the performance then dramatically changed from the casual vibe of hanging out in your cool older sister’s bedroom to a live audience recording of a premeditated scam. It was sheer tacky brilliance.
Theresa Thomkins exuded a holier-than-thou attitude as she deemed herself “easily” the most beautiful in the room, and listed off her qualifications as an artist, yoga teacher, healer, visionary, and “so much more.”
She is also the self-proclaimed mother of “constructive positivism”—a technique she described as blacking out to cope with negative feedback. She demonstrated this proudly with the assistance of an audience member before she eventually relayed her tips on how to be a lava lamp. Barrington (as Thomkins) instructed everyone in the room to close their eyes and follow her guided meditation of how to become said lava lamp. Directing her audience through choosing their lamp’s liquid color, a color for the “squishy stuff” on the inside (not orange, Thomkins says, since that’s an “advanced color”) and intensely focusing on what sweating feels like—but without actually perspiring, because “sweating on the outside is ugly”—Thomkins promptly left the lecture hall before giving her final step.
Ultimately, Thomkins was a whirlwind of self-centered, self-help babble, but it appears that Barrington strategically designed her character to be endearing with her timely jokes and dry wit.
There is a refreshing level of genuineness in Barrington’s performances that makes her work irresistible to follow and admire. For instance, she radiates natural confidence and is unhindered to use her body in her work: often stripping down, dying her hair, or even getting a fake tan in front of an audience. She seems also mindful of blurring the line between over-the-top gimmicks and the type of casualness that can only be found in intimate friendships; making her work feel simultaneously gleefully tacky yet incredibly honest.