Cherdonna. courtesy Yellow Fish // Epic Durational Festival

It’s Time for the Only Time-Based Art Festival in the World

The Yellow Fish // Epic Durational Performance Festival is testing temporal limits once again.

This week, on March 29, Yellow Fish // Epic Durational Performance Festival returns to Seattle after a one-year hiatus. It’s still the only festival of its kind in the world, but for that to matter, one has to have a clear idea of what durational performance is.

Put simply, the medium of a durational performance is time itself, and Yellow Fish was founded by artist Alice Gosti to help audiences and artists alike really tease out what that means. For an example of this concept in action, I can think of none better than the inaugural performance by Gosti herself on July 1, 2013, at Hedreen Gallery.

Over several hours, she wrapped herself in toilet paper until she was a slowly moving mass of tissue, from which she then emerged with some difficulty. It was meditative and only slightly uncomfortable for observers as Gosti took a simple concept to extremes. Her cocooning was downright cozy, compared to some of the wild, theatric, violent durational works by 20th-century champions of the mode (e.g., Marina Abramović, Jan Fabre). Passersby could glimpse it happening without context through the gallery’s large, tall windows. Those who were more curious could come in and learn more.

This was true of many performances throughout the weeks that followed. Some invited audience participation. Some didn’t require an audience at all. Some left artifacts, which were assembled at the end of the festival, along with Gosti’s torn cocoon.

Performances and concepts have ranged from touchingly personal to completely esoteric (and occasionally insipid). The primary qualification for Yellow Fish is that the performance be an hour at minimum and 48 hours maximum. In most cases, an observer can get the idea within a few minutes, and then their imagination alone is sufficient to understand how the seed of it must inevitably germinate and terminate. The artist must see it through, not others.

Those who perform will learn a lot about themselves in the process. Contemporary culture is impatient, and entire services are built around greater efficiency and instantaneity for everything in life. Artists are not immune to this tendency, and durational performance can be a sort of time detox.

But it is not merely self-indulgent. By exhausting one’s body or a single idea, new ideas follow. Musicians know that a jam session may last hours and yield only a few minutes of quality material. Those who meditate know that a single session isn’t going to yield enlightenment. (In 2015, artist D.K. Pan actually led prolonged meditation circles with gallery-goers as his performance.)

The roots of durational performance are thus quite ancient, not in the 20th-century avant-garde. For example, there is the tea ceremony, first developed in China to keep monks from dozing off during prolonged meditation and later developed into a full aesthetic experience in Japan. One of the artists for Yellow Fish XVII is Natasha Marin, who has conducted her own syncretic style of multimedia tea ceremonies around the world for nearly a decade. She describes them as “one part tea, one part time and one part technology.” It’s not clear what Marin has in store for audiences, but she is a perfect fit for the festival’s ethos.

As winter slowly dissolves into spring, we are all ready to emerge from our proverbial cocoons and start fresh. It’s a prime time to ponder time itself.

Yellow Fish // Epic Durational Performance Festival, Various Locations, Free. All ages. Performance times vary. Wed. March 29 – Sat., April 8.

More in Arts & Culture

A scene from the 2017 Seattle Pride Parade. Photo by Bobby Arispe Jr./Flickr
Seattle Pride Pick List

Maximize your Pride Weekend experience with these standout celebrations and activities.

Hulking out at the ACE Comic Con in Glendale, Ariz. Photo courtesy of ACE Comic Con
The Pop-Up Disruptor Con

ACE Comic Con heads to Seattle this week with a stripped down, star-focused model. Will it work?

Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan is still a teen, making ‘Lush’ an even more ridiculous indie rock achievement. Photo courtesy Ground Control Touring
Pick List: Snail Mail, Sounders Pride, Peach Kelli Pop

The week’s best entertainment options.


While peppier than its predecessor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom still feels very calculated.

Photo by Brett Curtiss/Flickr
Memories of Prides Past

We caught up with some notable locals to reminisce about their favorite moments from the festivities.

Illustration by Taylor Dow
Indignation and Compassion

Cancer season, and summer, begin with choppy waters.

Putting in the Werk

While best known for underground dance music, Kremwerk has quietly fostered Seattle’s alternative queer entertainment scene.

Take dad out to the ball game, take dad out with the crowd… Photo by Elise Lin/Flickr
Father’s Day Pick List

Make the most of a day with the ol’ man with these dad-centric activities.

Speedy Ortiz with the candlestick in the flowery room. Photo courtesy Ground Control Touring
Pick List: Speedy Ortiz, Men in Blazers, Fremont Fair

The week’s best entertainment options.

Most Read