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Fuel and the Arts 

Dancer Liliana Cattaneo comes to a gas station near you


So I'm having this phone conversation with a quart of oil. I'll call him Pen Zoil. He says, "Hey, do you love me?" I say, "Of course. I love any engine lubricant that stands between me and the need to replace my transmission."

Pen Zoil says, "No, that's not what I mean. I want your complete devotion. If you're truly American, then you'll go the extra mile for me and accelerate this love till you feel a driving desire to, well, worship me."

Ew. What a drip! I press the little red button to end the call, muttering to myself. Worship. Come on. Who'd go that far for a petroleum product?

No sooner had I asked the question when performance artist Liliana Cattaneo answered. "Just about everyone would and does go that far every day, without even thinking about it. All of us as a culture worship oil," she says. The 30-year-old choreographer is so firmly convinced of this that she has created an original performance to help bring us all out of denial about our true relationship to a resource she believes has peaked. "Because we can't function as a society without oil," Cattaneo says, "I figured it was time to dedicate a dance."

Cattaneo will be among the artists performing as part of the Arts Sonoma '09 fringe festival this fall, bringing dance, poetry, music and other art forms to unconventional venues and performing to groups of people who may likely be surprised to find themselves exposed to the arts. (For more coverage, see p34.) Cattaneo, for example, will be exhibiting her particular form of political art at Pen Zoil's favorite love shack and house of worship: the ubiquitous gas station.

"Why not? This piece is about oil," says the dancing, singing, guitar-playing activist from southern California whose nonprofit dance group spent five months touring the country last year. "We've hit our peak oil, and I want to send a message about natural resources and sustainability, about slowing down. I'm extremely passionate about it. What I'm delivering doesn't have to be pretty. It's entertaining and has a message."

A veteran of message-based performance in unconventional places, Cattaneo looks forward to dancing beside fuel pumps for the unsuspecting motorists who will compose her surprised audience. "If I set up my art in front of people's TVs, then that's one way that maybe they'd see it. A gas station is the next best thing," Cattaneo explains. "The target of the fringe arts festival is to bring art to places where people are. I chose gas stations because everyone goes to get gas. If someone just pulls up to the station and fills up their car, they might see part of the performance and get something to think about."

The message is consciousness. The method is movement and music in and around a larger-than-life trashcan in which Cattaneo meets Pen Zoil in a worshipful tango in front of God and everybody. She'll be the one with the clothes on and the flashy tattoos. Pen will be himself—oily, clingy and making transparent attempts to upstage her.

Cattaneo's artistic collaborator, musician Mike Wilson, will be playing the guitar he hand-made, eliciting percussive content on auto- and oil-related instruments created from found objects, and weaving an improvisational soundtrack with an on-the-spot looped recording. It sounds very likely these free performances will be worth the drive to a gas station. Casual attire. Tickets not required.

Cattaneo and Wilson will be appearing for one-hour performances scheduled at 2pm on Sunday afternoons: Aug. 30 in Santa Rosa at Tower Gas, 3825 Santa Rosa Ave. (at the corner of East Todd Road); Sept. 6 in Bennett Valley at the Bennett Valley 76 Automotive, 2799 Yulupa Ave. (corner of Bethards); and Sept. 13 in Sebastopol at Sebastopol Fast Gas, 1080 Gravenstein Hwy. Three additional gas-station performances will be given as part of the series, with dates and locations to be announced. For more information go to

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