In 1970, the University decided the tradition of electing a homecoming king and queen was politically incorrect.
That same year, Art student and Dearborn native Pat Oleszko entered herself as a homecoming float. In a stuffed nude body suit topped with a crown and roses, she was driven through town in a friend’s borrowed red convertible with tulle surrounding her “like a giant valentine” and 200 of her Art School friends dressed as lazy band members.
Such marked one of her early performance pieces: “Funk Homecoming.”
“It was awesome,” Oleszko said. “We were attacked by security, though, because we were right behind the Vietnam protestors and they figured we were a part of that.”
Oleszko, now based in New York City, has taken her slapstick and fantastically absurd one-woman performance art from Ann Arbor to all over the world. She returns today with a performance at 5 p.m. at The Michigan Theater.
Known as the Ms Tricks of Dis Guise, Oleszko uses loud and risqué props and costumes as part of her shtick, playing with language, culture and the female body.
“I recognize abnormality and absurdity in everyday life,” Oleszko said. “I take it as inspiration, using it as a stepping-off point for my work.”
Oleszko’s work began when she was at the University, trying to make the framework for a sculpture that would hang up on the wall. Eventually, she just hung it on herself, and so began a new tradition.
Her work has been performed on the street, on a burlesque stage, in more than 30 films and even at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Oleszko has been profiled in Sesame Street magazine, Ms. magazine and Playboy magazine. She’s won numerous grants and awards including some at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, a Guggenheim Fellowship and, most recent, a year in residency at the American Academy in Rome living and working with a group of artists, art historians and archeologists.
But the moment Oleszko describes as her most incredible is the time she stopped traffic on Fifth Avenue in New York with her street performance “The Padettes of P.O. Town.”
In it she dressed up in a suit that looked like three Michelin men – one red, one yellow and one blue, dancing in sync to Motown hits.
“(It) really took on all of the noise and the accumulation of all the input in New York,” Oleszko said. “You can wear a costume in New York, and no matter what it is, unless it’s overtly sexual, people will just walk by. This costume was engaging, though. I had kids following me, taxis stopping and people offering to give me rides.”
For today’s show at The Michigan Theater, Oleszko plans to show films from a few other performances as a brief introduction to her featured work, which deals with “bizarre elements” of the current political administration.
At times Oleszko’s political performance artwork has been censored. Unfazed, she finds a small thrill in the backlash.
“It means that people find my work strong enough to cause a reaction,” she said.
Pat Oleszko:The Deportment of Corrections
At the Michigan Theater
Today at 5 p.m.