As attendants entered the University of Maine’s Lord Hall Gallery, a woman in a white robe welcomed them to the meeting of the Maine Careus Lochos. They walked through a vellum curtain and were seated at a wooden table, surrounded by an altar, pulpits and a display of mysterious liquids. A loud mechanical noise played in the background as audience members looked around the room and at each other in confusion.
This was exactly the kind of reaction The Core 5 Incident — the experiential art group that hosted the evening event — wanted to receive.
Founded by University of Maine Intermedia Master of Fine Arts graduates John Bell, Richard Corey and Bethany Engstrom, The Core 5 Incident presented three evening performances of “Knick’d – a Culinary Incident” from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.
The group chooses to call their performances “culinary incidents” because they combine a hearty meal with elements of theater — installation and performance art.
“You come in and you feel like this is something that’s actually happening, rather than you come in and you watch a show,” Bell said. “It’s all happening right here, in this gallery, at this moment and you’re part of it.”
Audience members watched and actively participated in a meeting of the Maine Careus Lochos, a fictional secret society of barbers with an active history that dates back hundreds of years.
Throughout the performance, actors led the audience through a series of interactive sacramental rituals, stopping only to dine with them on a three-course meal. They spoke with attendees as everyone dined on lamb and tempeh.
“We really work hard in trying to enrich the audience and make them a bigger part of it,” Corey said. “We want to make them feel like they are a part of, and in control of, a show like this.”
Throughout the evening, the group introduced audience members to mysterious entities that overpowered all of the senses. From strange videos presented on dual projection screens to the taste of unknown liquids, attendees were kept in anticipation of what was to come.
Although the event itself was complex, its beginnings were simple.
“Before we had any idea of what we were doing, we started out with this table,” Bell said, gesturing toward one of the four wooden tables in the gallery. “We started out with the idea of having a table where the center row is interweaved — where one person is facing this way and one person is facing that way — and the rest of it sort of grew up from there.”
The group began with an idea and, through a series of collaborations and added objects, slowly put together the final performance piece.
“It’s kind of strange how it developed into barbers,” Engstrom said. “We just thought, ‘Well, what’s a trade that actually hears what’s going on from everybody?’”
“Knick’d – a Culinary Incident” is the last in a trilogy of performances that revolve around the theme of memory.
The Core 5 Incident produced their first event, “An Evening with Professor Enki,” in 2010 as part of a collaborative M.F.A. course led by artist Leon Johnson. The group operated independently to organize “Gorsedd” in 2011.
“We just started working together and just liked the dynamic and kept working together,” Engstrom said.
Bell, Corey and Engstrom teach the current Intermedia M.F.A. collaboration course together at UMaine and are all working toward their doctorates at the university.
The “culinary incidents” draw on inspiration from the happening movement that began in the art scene of the 1950s. A happening is an event that combines performance art with viewer interaction, with potential for narrative and improvisational interactions between the artists and the audience.
The Core 5 Incident has plans for new “culinary incidents,” but they remain firm about keeping mystery in their shows. They are still generating ideas for a new event which they hope to have finalized for a spring 2014 performance. The new show will include even more media elements and will feature a new theme.
“I think the audience enjoys it, if you’re willing to get past that fear,” Corey said. “And I think that’s the one thing I try to say to people: ‘Get past that fear of the unknown, dive into something.’”