This show was called L’Effet de Serge. It could have also been called: The effect of florescent light. The effect of living alone. The effect of art. The effect of music. The effect of quiet. The effect of time. The effect of small things. The effect of people coming into a room together to sit […]
This show was called L’Effet de Serge. It could have also been called:
The effect of florescent light. The effect of living alone. The effect of art. The effect of music. The effect of quiet. The effect of time. The effect of small things. The effect of people coming into a room together to sit and be silent and watch a thing someone else is doing for them and calling art.
I left the theater feeling sad, sweet, awkward. Like Serge’s friends on stage, who come, sit down, watch a thing he has made, find a comment to fill the silence of that thing being done, and go.
How many times do I go to a performance, file into the theater, watch my friends perform, file out, say something inane, hug them, and leave? What do you say to someone after they have shown you something called ‘art’? Either it is too big to be put into words, or it is too small.
Smallness was important. Much of the charm in this piece came from its simplicity. The illumination of a small act as a piece of art, a small interaction as one of value, a small awkwardness as natural, a small awkwardness as enormous. The smallness of our lives. A series of small art projects made up the piece, but it was bookended by the suggestion of grandness.
The actor who played Serge began by entering (with a great deal of smoke and mystery) in an Astronaut suit, telling us it was from the end of Phillipe Quesne/Vivarium Studio‘s last show. At the end of this show, he left, giving us an image of the beginning of the next show, five invisible rockers jamming out, only their wigs bobbing in more smoke and dramatic lights. All that happened in between, the mundane actions of a lone man in a fluorescent-lit apartment, was framed by the suggestion of louder, livelier more outrageous shows, scenes that suggested the promise of action, narrative and flash. What we might think of as ‘real’ theater.
What were we given instead? A man eating pizza, drinking wine, watching a documentary, a voice-over telling us in the protagonist’s charming French accent, “Time passes, time passes, time passes.” What do we do with the time that passes? The quietness became heavy. The sparks of Serge’s momentary pyrotechnics became comparatively bold. Life becomes art, art becomes awkward. The weight of three minutes. One minute. Waiting for the next small spark. Smallness gains importance in the heaviness of the time all around it.
I wondered, is this my life? Long stretches of waiting for the next tiny excitement? Am I so small? How beautiful each small spark is, and how sad.
(From Theresa of Mad King Thomas)
Bonanza—A Documentary for Five Screens by Berlin is five films side by side underneath a miniature replica of the town Bonanza. The model includes the five houses of the seven permanent inhabitants, the line of mailboxes in the center of the town and the old fire house now used for monthly town meetings. The topographical ground […]
Bonanza—A Documentary for Five Screens by Berlin is five films side by side underneath a miniature replica of the town Bonanza. The model includes the five houses of the seven permanent inhabitants, the line of mailboxes in the center of the town and the old fire house now used for monthly town meetings. The topographical ground is metal, reflecting the stage lights that shift with the seasons. It’s metallic nature is not merely a lovely reflective, changing surface, it is also metaphor: Bonanza was once a silver mining town.
The citizens of Bonanza keep to themselves. They all seem to be there to be alone and despite being able to see each other’s houses from their own windows, rarely interact face to face. Indeed, this is an oft tossed about complaint – the new neighbors on the hill (the snobs on the knob) never tried to get to know us, the doesn’t-live-here town mayor never stopped by to introduce herself. It is a tiny town and everyone collects their mail in the same place but they do not cross paths. Indeed, in a rather amazing moment the recently widowed Mary asks the unseen filmmaker to thank her next door neighbor for his note of condolence upon the death of her Roger. She wants him to know that it really meant a great deal to her.
With moments like this, I wonder if Berlin got to know the residents better than they do themselves. And I wonder how much things changed because the filmmakers were there. And I wonder more about the subjects; it’s interesting that on the whole these self-made hermits seem uncommonly open and forthright, willing to talk and comfortable being filmed, but so unwilling to talk to each other.
They have quirks, quirks that are cultivated into something larger and more defining by isolation and time. They are disproportionately religious, artistic, and engaged with energy work. But these shared affiliations do not bind them. Indeed, as one resident suggests, they apparently function on different energetic frequencies.
I want to go back to the metallic topography used in the recreation of Bonanza. The film gives the feeling that nobody is really able to sink their roots down in the land there. All but one of the seven residents settled in Bonanza at some later point in life. There are no children and there will be no homegrown future. The mayor of the town who is, controversially, not from town, might have a longer history to that land and area than any of the inhabitants. And the inhabitants, they’re there, but not always willingly; Mary claims she wouldn’t live there if she had known what it would be. And they’re there, but not necessarily permanently. Mark is shown as most integrated with the land, we see him outside chopping wood, walking through the forest, sifting through abandoned junk, sitting on the top of mountain surrounded by shale and memory, but he will only stay as long as god wants him to be, and might leave as soon as tomorrow.
Berlin asks and tries to answer the question “why would you live here?” It’s a question creates a uncomfortable otherizing that continues over the course of this work. Their answer seems to be “you gotta be crazy” and they slowly destablize our view of the inhabitants, showing them to be progressively dysfunctional, extreme and self-righteous.
The piece is a story of failed community in some ways. But maybe not appropriately. The residents of Bonanza don’t drink the water, the land is so poisoned it can’t be. They don’t dig in deep, but there is nothing down there anyway. So maybe they aren’t there to share in the bounty of the land – a bounty that if it existed was exhausted long ago. Maybe they aren’t looking for paradise or even community. Maybe they are really there to be alone, to get by, to pass the days the ways they choose. Perhaps it is not so different from living in a city and the anonymity of urban life. Why wouldn’t having the social space to be yourself and to isolate yourself be as appealing in the Rockies as it is in New York?
(From Monica, of Mad King Thomas)
This past October, Antonya Nelson wrote the essay Living in a Ghost Town for the New York Times. Wikipedia purports the unnamed town in it is actually Bonanza.
I know embarrassingly little about Andy Warhol. That much was clear to me while watching Gob Squad’s Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good). But it was also clear that I didn’t need to know that much about Andy Warhol. This piece was about so much more than recreating Kitchen. (As they say […]
I know embarrassingly little about Andy Warhol. That much was clear to me while watching Gob Squad’s Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good). But it was also clear that I didn’t need to know that much about Andy Warhol. This piece was about so much more than recreating Kitchen. (As they say in the program notes, the film is simply a “starting point.”) It was asking about the possibility of recreation at all, of authenticity, of fungibility, of time and timeliness, of here and now, past and gone, of eras and epochs, zeitgeist.
I’m sure I would have gotten many more references if I had half an arts history education, or at least a better knowledge of Warhol and the Factory, but the performers charmingly filled me in on what I needed to know, telling me what they were recreating in an appropriately meta way. And there is no surer way to my heart than charming performers and heavy doses of meta.
That said, charming performers can sometimes be a dangerous thing. In a piece that concerned itself with realness and authenticity, a too-knowing performer becomes cute, camp, commentary-less. I felt hints of this near the beginning in the glances and addresses the performers sometimes shot the camera, but as they finessed the continuum of “real” to “performed” (with all the fun complications of performed realness and real performance) I was completely won over.
Those complications were at the heart (or maybe one of the hearts?) of the piece for me. As the performers slowly replaced themselves with “real” people from the audience, feeding them lines from their headsets, coaching them, the distinctions blurred. How lovely to recreate your re-creation. How else can you find innocence? (What a loaded term. Maybe naiveté? That overused and mysterious concept authenticity?) The problem was set up early on in the far right screen, where one performer, Simon, explained the process of Warhol’s famous screen tests to the other, Sean, in order for him to recreate it. Of course knowing the process spoils it. How can you be authentic when you know what you are doing?
And somehow, Gob Squad got us there. To a place of naïve knowing. Or knowing innocence, if I can reuse those wrong words. The four audience members, who had been watching and learning the show, who knew what the performance was doing, still managed to not know, to be coached along line by line, moment by moment. It feels like this is the kind of recreation something like Kitchen needs. If that film could portray a slice of the era, a sense of the newness, a truth of the ‘then’, then this film/performance had to show a truth of the now, our knowingness. We are in the information age, the time of meta, irony, recycling, collage. We eat everything up and vomit back out bits of different pieces, ending with a partially digested new old. Everything has been done before and we can only complicate it. Innocence (I have to keep using that word, as much as I abhor it) can only be real once. We can’t keep burning our bras without knowing full well where bra-burning has (and has not yet) brought us so far. There is no way to tap into the freshness of that feminist anger. You have to find the fresh anger now. I loved seeing Sharon go from her feminist “Fuck the man” speech, struggling to recreate a cliché, into some strange immortal monologue that felt both of a trippy past era and yet somehow real to the moment.
The moment is important. As Sharon asked her “stronger, wiser, more balanced” stand-in, “would you rather your life were a painting or a movie?” A painting is a perfect moment. But a movie, the wiser Sharon responded, was many moments. Gob Squad’s Kitchen had to be a movie, and it had to be live performance. The many moments, each of them now, collecting onstage behind the mediated projection- it was the right complication. It is new every night, and the same Kitchen every time.
(from Theresa of Mad King Thomas)
They began with singing, in black jumpsuits. Something I read recently talked about artists switching between petty dictators and humble workers—well, these were definitely workers. They had utility belts and head lamps. They turned on their lights and the work began. The first time you see the little snowsuit, he’s being put back together. No […]
They began with singing, in black jumpsuits. Something I read recently talked about artists switching between petty dictators and humble workers—well, these were definitely workers. They had utility belts and head lamps.
They turned on their lights and the work began. The first time you see the little snowsuit, he’s being put back together. No one knows him. There is no physical record of who he might have been. Ballerinas danced; they turned into a swan that was shot down.
The lights occasionally shine in our eyes. There are newspapers with the little snowsuit on the front page as the hunted leader of the revolutionaries. Sort of like the Unibomber.
The snowsuit walked. Strange creatures/people menaced him, but he kept walking. He jumped over obstacles in his path. He got a phone call from a stranger saying they would kill him. The snowsuit ran. The little snowsuit is not a villain. The little snowsuit is that tender little bit inside of you. He keeps disappearing and transforming because they keep killing him.
I saw Room 101, and the Terror, and Belarus, and Iraq, and the Goneaway World, and …well, there was too much. When I break it down, I can see the parallels, but while watching it, I was distracted by revolutionaries, wars, prostitutes, the Church. Sure, revolutions can go bad. Sure, governments are corrupt. Sure, war goes on because neither side will back down. Sure. They’re not the kinds of topics you get to feel indifferent about, but I felt like I had heard it before… maybe they had something different to say, something I hadn’t heard, but I never quite got there. Maybe you did.
What I did get was smaller and quieter. We all have faces. Our faces stand out and it seems like we cannot help being identified (I think of science fiction movies about totalitarian governments with facial recognition software… forget that, my computer knows who I am and who I am related to by looking at our faces in my vacation photos.) We are under surveillance all the time. But, I guess your face is meaningless if no one knows it, if it’s not connected to anyone or anything else.
(When you can’t put a name to a face, does it mean you just don’t care enough about that person?)
Without a face, you can be drowned in a torture chamber, or made to sign documents. You can have your head pounded into the floor. You can be locked in a room. You can be told to stand still when your body cannot stand. You can be hanged. You can be hounded. You can be put on the cover of a newspaper. You can die in a sword fight with a shark. You can be torn apart by your own lack of a face (or you can become a god). You can be born in a place with no god, only garbage.
Well, if there’s anywhere an audience is going to sympathize with a beleaguered snowsuit, it’s in Minneapolis in January. As I steered my bike to the street, I felt a little strange, more aware of me, my bike, my puffy down parka as concrete objects redefined with each moment. I guess I felt like a puppet. Maybe a puppet that does not know it is being puppetted. By what strange force do I move through the world?
As I pulled up at the stoplight, I saw some friends and waved. They waved back cautiously at me, a snowsuit with no face, shining a headlight in their eyes. I turned off my light, pulled down my mask and shouted a greeting. They waved back happily. I have a face! Lucky me.
(From me, Tara King, one-third of Mad King Thomas. Hi.)