Art student reinterprets Arboretum’s darkness as own gloomy dreams


Senior art major Tammy Helenske's elaborate set for her performance at show entitled "Barmecidal Banquet: An Illusionary Feast of Dreams" at the Sacramento State University Arboretum on Wednesday night. (Photo by Edrian Pamintuan)

Edrian Pamintuan

The Sacramento State University Arboretum’s darkness and its three-acre space was the set of a live performance art show Wednesday night featuring a massive brain-like apparatus represented using black boxes.

The event was not an anatomy or a physiology class gone wrong, but rather an elaborate set created by senior art major Tammy Helenske entitled “Barmecidal Banquet: An Illusionary Feast of Dreams.”

“I wanted to find some place where there’s no light,” Helenske said. “Then I came out here and it is pitch black. Creepy dark. I said ‘this is perfect.’”

Helenske, whose previous galleries and performances had always taken up a lot of space with the campus facilities, found that her art pieces were only getting larger and larger.

“We have this huge campus,” Helenske said, “so I thought, why not do something large elsewhere on campus? This is my first piece at the arboretum.”

The event, which began promptly at noon Wednesday and lasted until 8 p.m., narratively centered on the illusion of dreams and was split into three segments, Helenske said.

(Photo by Edrian Pamintuan)

(Photo by Edrian Pamintuan)

Segment One: The Assembling

The square apparatus was built in the Arboretum moments before the performance began, with Helenske showing up at 9 a.m. to prepare. Hung from fishing wire were a large number of small black boxes, strung high and low.

“It’s like a square version of my brain, but it’s in a way my unconsciousness being presented. Those black boxes are my dreams,” Helenske said.

Segment Two: The Disassembling

The piece took the total darkness the Arboretum had to offer and use it to assist the narrative of the piece.

“When I disassemble, I’m going to be opening up the boxes and I’ll be acting out my dreams,” Helenske said.

Segment Three: Interactivity

(Photo by Edrian Pamintuan)

(Photo by Edrian Pamintuan)

The third and final segment of the piece lasted 15 minutes and was intended to be the most interactive part of the presentation, Helenske said.

“Once most of the dreams are all cut down, the LEDs are going to be turned off and the lasers come on and so will the fog machine,” Helenske said.

In regards to the audience, Helenske said the darkness will enhance the illusion as well as blacking out any viewing audience members, an effective strategy to help her concentrate properly.

With little lasers and some LEDs to illuminate the set, audience members were encouraged to immerse themselves with the subconscious that houses dreams, Helenske said.

And for her, everything is open for interpretation.

“What I enjoy most out of this is that I give people an opportunity to see art in a different way,” Helenske said. “Art isn’t necessarily a painting, and I don’t want to minimize what my classmates do, but art can be a lot of different things.”

Helenske said that Yoko Ono’s ability to interact the audience with art has always been one of her biggest influences. Although with Helenske, the trick was more on the mystery of how her audience actually interacts with the performance.

“I created a narrative,” Helenske said. “I don’t think that it’s easy, despite what the program says. What’s intriguing is that everyone has their own interpretation. I would prefer everyone to have their own personal way of the art.”