Pat Oleszko (2016)

Pat Oleszko

Oleszko received a Tree of Life Individual Artist Grant in 2016 for By Hook or Buy Book.


Pat Oleszko makes a spectacle of herself—and doesn’t mind if you laugh. Performances range from street to stage to silver screen in a rollicking mass of splendid ephemera. With elaborate costumes and props, spatial events with the cast-off thousands and uttered shenanigans, she has worked from the popular art forms of the street, party, parade and burlesque house, to the fields, oceans and mountains, costuming trees, knees, fountains, breasts, butts, elephants and index fingers as commensurate characters for performance. Literally a-dressing absurdity to ripen wrongs, performances have ranged from the Museum of Modern Art, Documenta, the Olympics, Lincoln Center and King Tut’s WahWah Hut, to appearances in Ms, Playboy, Esquire, Artforum and Sesame Street. An overview show of diverse works traveled to eleven museums and artists' spaces. There have been many awards including four NEAs, four NYFAs, the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim, a DAAD (Berlin), several Tony nominations, a Jim Henson grant, the NY Dance & Theater Award for Sustained Excellence, (a “Bessie”) and a feature in Bette Midler’s Mondo Beyondo on PBS.

Project Description

By Hook will be an exhibition of the ephemera used in recent site-specific performances. Many of my performances, however elaborate, have been viewed by a limited audience because they occur in a ‘natural’ theater and/or at great remove from metropolitan areas. Oftentimes the events were unique with no possibility of repetition. A lot of the accumulated materials, the costumes and props, have been dismantled or destroyed. I would like therefore to take the shards remaining from various performances, recreate some aspects anew and assemble them all to create a dialogue in juxtaposition with one another despite their original disparate subject matter and oftentimes unwieldy circumstances.
My recent work has been in in response to distinct political, economic, social and environmental crises that range from the the BP oil spill in the Gulf to gay marriage, racial tension, migration, the despairing environmental issues of water, wildlife and pollution. While these topics are hardly a laugh riot, they have been interpreted with a certain perspicacity and humor that does reach, dare I say, retch and hopefully wrench a way thru with art like none other. I believe an exhibition displaying the range of current material I’ve tried to exorcise thru the humor and performance with an installation of costumes, props and films would be a timely challenge for myself. Also, I do have what is potentially the right gallery interested in this possibility. 

By Hook or Buy Book, the second half of the project, will be to produce a book, or even catalogue of these social and environmental pieces, with writings as well as drawings and photos of the events. I am a self-supporting performance and mixed media artist who enlists all possible resources in creating the events themselves. Basically I sell myself and what I can do, which is my choice but difficult at the best of times. The time has come for me to make something a bit more—or some would say less—adventuresome by creating a record of the relationship between me and the world with an exploration into the realm of two-dimensional travel and create an object of the art of playing the fool. Pages would be turned! Storage not a problem! Money could change hands! The elements of my aesthetic forays could march out the door without me! It could give me potentially an exposure that I have not had and this would be very big news indeed.