Sunday, November 15, 2015

Performa 2015 - free drinks, expensive books, The Lament of the Financial District, that kind of general rant

Exchange went something like this:
Artist Rainer Ganahl:
I decided to get rid of my books to express how we don't live forever, we need to let go of our material goods, we need to realize we're not going to read that book again.
Young man:
How much are you selling this one for?
The books are lying on the floor, as for a stoop sale. Good books. Art books, philosophy.
How much would you like to buy it for?
The young man turns it around in his hands. He's embarrassed. Haggling with the artist?
Young man:
I couldn't let it go for that. It's worth much more. What I do is I check on the Internet how much they go for. I think it should not go for less than $20, more like $30.
Older man:
So you are linking this to the existing market?
The books I don't sell, I will keep. I don't need to sell. You see, on the wall, that's the packaging.
Older man:
How about this one, how much?
Maybe $35? Let me check on the Internet. Some of these books are widely available, but others like this one are very hard to find, it took me a long time to unearth them in libraries. By the way, before I was able to buy art books, I used to buy postcards of art. They're $3 each. Look here. Ah, I found the book online. Let's see. $12.75! Well well. OK, how about $20?

As opposed to my poetic Eric the Hawker selling me his lovely keyring last week (read here), I could not perceive any artistic dimension to this sale by Rainer Ganahl beyond the initial concept. He could have chosen to put arbitrary prices on the books: white ones $10, green ones $25, black ones $1000. Or, as Ed Schmidt did in one of his shows, give them away for nothing. After this unpleasant experience, I was getting truly discouraged by Performa 2015. The abundance of free drinks this year is appreciable, and attracts a younger crowd, but that's the only improvement I could see in this edition of the festival.

On Friday night, went to the Erica Vogt event at Roulette, Artist Theater Program.
I did not understand. I felt like someone from mainstream American culture, fed on Hollywood movies, mass paperbacks, who would go to an avant-garde event and would think it's all nonsense: they would not have the tools to understand it, the references, the context. I don't know whether the show was nonsense or not. But if it has a sense, I didn't have the tools to understand it. I did enjoy aspects of it, such as the sounds, some of the readings, some of the projections. Hated the props. Loved the last scene, witty, where the artist came on stage, and all the performers sat at her feet. She asked:
What did you think of the imagery in the show?
The twelve of them all answered at the same time, with much earnestness and expressivity. Obviously the mangled chaos of words could not be grasped by the audience. Then the lights went out, and the scene was repeated by people in the audience discussing amongst themselves after the show. I turned to my friend, artist Ana Bilankov who know a thing of two about avant-garde work:
'What did you think'
She opened her eyes big, raised her eyebrows:

But. At last. Jesper Just. Saturday November 14. The exhilaration of seeing a brilliantly conceived show. Occupies the whole top floor of a skyscraper near the World Trade Center. We're inside the building, can't see outside apart for tiny shapes scraped out of  painted windows. And the show offers us interpretations of what we would see outside the windows. We watch from high up, on a video, the people who should be working in this space, but instead of sitting at desks are roaming the wilderness, in anguish.
The same live projection of the exterior of the building punctuate our route as we make our way in a labyrinth around the place. It takes a while before we realize that the beautiful bass sound track is being played live and we can see the player on the projected live stream, tiny, sitting lonely on the floor of our large office building. But what floor? Fleeting people get projected over a photo of the World Trade Center. In the next room, we realize these people are in front of a camera, and their image, or now ours, and is  projected onto the World Trade Center photo for the audience in the previous room. Then a woman takes her place in front of the camera and sings to the accompaniment of the bass player who is still going, who we know is there somewhere, but where? Her song is a poignant lament.

The poignancy in her song, and in the bass playing, the loneliness of the images, the anguish of the employees looking for something in the wild, all expressed so aptly what the architectural environment, and the work conditions in these financial districts do: kill the human soul.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Monday, November 9, 2015

Performa: deliciously fooled.

Performa is infusing New York City once again with its streak of wild creativity. Have only been to a few events. The anger workshop was a lot of talk, signing up release forms, and only 3 and half minutes of being angry. I need much more than that.Then 4 minutes of loving someone, a stranger, by hugging closely another participant to the session. An intriguing experience. Why should I love a complete stranger? But then anyone around me that I love is also there by contingence, out of the several billion people on Earth.I didn't review 8 billion people to choose my loved ones. That workshop took place within the tent of the Australian Embassy, with awesome activist/artist Richard Bell.

The Wyatt Kahn show Work was sweet. The painter's paintings became puppets who articulated their pride or protest at the artist and art scene. The setting, the Swedish Marionette theater in Central Park, is even sweeter, and the hip audience sitting on benches, hip to hip.

The Heather Gibson exhibit, Final Days, did not particularly grab my attention but maybe I was distracted and did not do it justice. And I was thirsty. Beer bottles and cans floated in a large bucket. I considered them. A guy was standing awkwardly next to the pail. Short, pale, glasses, 50. Holding a plastic bag close to his stomach.
- Are you looking for a beer? he says, with a British accent.
- No, water actually. 
 - I don't think there is water, just beer. Which one do you want?
 - Thanks, no, usually I love a beer, but I really need water right now.
- Are you enjoying the show?
- So so.
- I'm an artist too. Kind of a failed artist. I've had quite a few mishaps in my life. I used to be a prolific artist.
- Really? I say politely.
Is being prolific a good thing? I wonder.
- Yes. I wanted to open an art school in London, for people who can't afford art schools, and I put all my fortune in it. 
Hm, upper class guy, then, I guess.
- It failed, and I lost all my money. I decided to make small sculptures from all my mishaps, 
He pulls a keyring out of the plastic bag which I see now is full of them. It has a rectangular structure (pictured above).
- Here's the plan of the school, you see, it was a Victorian building. These are the trees.
- Aha.
He pulls another keyring which is a ballerina lying on her back, and another one that looks a bit like a game jack. Meanwhile my phone rings, I have to join a friend who's waiting for me up the block.
- This is a dolof, do you know what a dolof is? he asks. But maybe you have to go?
- I have a minute.
I'm intrigued.
- A dolof is something on the beach that holds it in place.
- You sell these key rings?
- Yes, he says, even more awkward.
- How much', I ask, 'because I haven't got all the time in the world.'
- $20 each.
A guy in his 30s approach while I'm on the phone.
- I said I would take 2 for $30, he butts in.
- No, says the little guy, that won't work.
- OK, I say, I'll take the school one. 
Because I think they look cool, and $20 is cheap to avoid having to say no to the small, awkward guy and hurt his feelings. 
I pull a bill out, we proceed with the exchange.
He says:
- My name is Ryan Gander.
- Nice meeting you. I'm Arabella. Bye.
2 days later, I find out in the Performa printed catalog that it is an act. Of course, you my reader had guessed, but that's easy from your armchair: I was deliciously fooled. Ryan Gander was performing. In fact, I saw him two days later at the Performa hub playing it out on a young man who was trying to buy 3 for $50. He looked so genuinely sad while performing. I thought, maybe he's sad he's so good at peddling off his goods. Maybe he's a bit sad because the act works only if the buyer does not know who he is, with the implication he's not as famous as he thought he was. Maybe he's a really good actor at playing the failed artist.

Contributed by -- Arabella Hutter

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pécheurs par contingence

Un ami nous a prêté son appartement de vacances dans un complexe à St-George, dans l'Utah. Au coin de l'Arizona et du Nevada, ce Nevada qui, avec ses casinos et ses bars et ses "girls", doit offrir de graves tentations grave à la population mormone de St-George - aurait-ce un rapport avec l'expansion rapide de ce lieu de villégiature? Les appartements du complexe sont pratiquement tous occupés par des Mormons aisés de Salt Lake City. Cette secte, comprenant principalement des personnes d'origines nord européennes, a de grosses ressources financières, avec sa taxe de 10% sur les revenus de ses adeptes.

Nous les voyons depuis notre balcon, les rencontrons dans l'escalier, partageons avec eux le jacuzzi. Ils ressemblent et se comportent comme des Américains ordinaires, ce qui est bizarre, je m'attends des adeptes d'une secte qu'ils soient socialement inadaptés. Ils sont blonds et grand et beaux. Seulement, escortées par de nombreux enfants (une stratégie bien rôdée pour l'expansion de l'église que d'interdire la contraception), les femmes ne portent pas de bikinis, mais de prudes maillots. Les Mormons ne boivent pas d'alcool, ni de boissons caféinnées. Ils ne fument pas. Nous adonnant à presque toutes ces habitudes, nous étions des pécheurs de leur point de vue.

Je me surprends à planifier des cambriolages de leurs condos. Ce serait facile de grimper sur les balcons, peut-être quand ils sont à l'église le dimanche matin. On prendrait juste l'argent et les vélos, je rêve de sillonner à vélo les magnifiques paysages du Sud Ouest américain.

Je suis intriguée. En général, je ne donne pas dans le cambriolage, sans blague, ce n'est pas mon champ professionnel. Comment se fait-il que je songe, même en passant, à commettre un crime? Eh bien,  comme je suis une pécheresse pour eux de toute façon, pourquoi ne pas ajouter un péché de plus? Nombre de mes comportements et de mes habitudes appartiennent au Mal, d'après les Mormons. Je me retrouve dans la peau de tous ceux qui sont marginalisés dans notre société, tels que les minorités ethniques aux États-Unis ou les gitans en Europe.

Les individus appartenant à des minorités sont criminalisés avant qu'ils ne commettent un crime, parce qu'ils ne correspondent pas à la norme du citoyen respectable typique. En outre, aux États-Unis, le système juridique est biaisé contre eux, les médias les dépeignent généralement comme des criminels. A quoi bon essayer d'être un citoyen responsable, si on est de toute façon étiqueté et perçu et traité comme un malfaiteur?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Un agresseur ou une amatrice de framboises?

Émergeant de la station de métro près du World Trade Center à 17 heures, je me fais figure de petite paysanne de Brooklyn. Accablée par la foule. C'est une réaction viscérale. Je m'immobilise sous le choc, alors que les gens se précipitent dans tous les sens autour de moi. Il y a de nombreuses années, quand nous vivions en tribus, si nous tombions sur un autre être humain, soit nous la/le connaissions  soit elle/il était un ennemi. Les gens que nous ne connaissions pas étaient porteurs de danger. Ce qui est encore le cas de nos jours, voir le film "CRASH"Il nous fallait lire le visage de chaque nouveau venu: ami/ennemi? Maintenant, nous sommes sensés ne rien lire du tout, ni nous approcher, ni leur faire de croche-patte ou leur sauter au cou: nous ignorons nos congénères, ça s'appelle l'anonymat de la grande ville. 

Le bruit nous alertait également du danger. Il le fait encore, par exemple, si l'on entend une sirène hurler ou des balles exploser ou des éléphants tomber du ciel sur l'asphalte. Les sons nous avertissent des dangers qui ne sont pas toujours dans notre champ de vision et pourraient venir à notre rencontre. Dans une grande ville, nos sens nous fournissent des alertes que nous supprimons, parce que nous sommes soumis à des sons, dont certains non identifiables, toute la journée et toute la nuit.

C'est évident, je sais. Wow, je viens de découvrir que la vie dans une métropole est stressante.

Mais revenons à la foule. Pour remonter à l'époque où soit nous connaissions soit nous ne connaissions pas la personne qui arrivait en sens inverse. Si nous la connaissions, nous étions au courant de son histoire. Elle aimait à rouler en bas d'une pente quand elle était petite. Son père est mort lors d'une chasse. Ou elle était timide et ne jouait pas avec les autres enfants. Elle a refusé prétendant après prétendant jusqu'à ce qu'un visiteur d'une autre tribu l'ait convaincue de le suire. Elle aimait les framboises.

De même, avec toutes les personnes que je croise sur le territoire de la ville, je suis étourdie par la multitude de leurs récits inconnus. Je remarque des indices: leur âge, leur langage corporel, l'expression sur leur visage, leurs vêtements. Ça ne suffit pas. Je veux connaître chaque histoire de chaque personne, si elles préfèrent les framboises ou les fraises, si leur premier amour les a blessé, quelle partie de leur âme grimpe vers les nuages. Impossible bien sûr, mais, je travaille à quelque chose d'approchant: le Grand Projet Secret de Blog qui sera lancé à l'automne.

Pour le moment, je me pose la question: ai-je atteint le stade d'intolérance à la vie citadine où je devrais me réfugier dans une hutte au fond des bois et recevoir au maximum un visiteur par jour?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Metropolis vs shed in the woods

Emerging from the subway near the World Trade Center at 5pm, like the country bumpkin from Brooklyn I am. Overwhelmed by the crowd. It's a visceral reaction. I'm standing in shock while people rush in every direction around me. 

Many many years ago, when we lived in tribes, if we ran into another human being, either we knew him/her or he/she was an enemy. Danger mostly came from people we didn't know. It still does, see  "CRASH". But now we have to accept this multitude of strangers we rub shoulders with, it's called the anonymity of the large city. We can not fear them all, but at the same time, we should not stop them and try to befriend them,  nor wink at them, nor tell them we like the shape of their skull.

Sound also alerted us to danger. It still does, for example if one hears earth rumbles or bullets firing or elephants crashing down from the sky. It alerts us to the dangers that are not within our vision range, and might be coming our way. Living in a large city, our senses are always feeding us alerts which we try to suppress, because we are subjected to sounds, many unidentifiable, all day all night long.  Living in the city is a lot about suppressing the natural fear we should feel, and that takes its toll in the long run.

This is really obvious, I know. Wow, I've just discovered that living in a metropolis is stressing. 

But getting back to the crowds. Going back to that time when either we knew or didn't know the person coming our way. If we did know the person, we were familiar with her history. She loved to roll down a slope when she was a little girl. Her father died during a hunt. Or she was shy and did not play with the other kids. She refused suitor after suitor until a visitor from another tribe took her away. She liked raspberries. 

Similarly, with all the individuals I cross on the city turf, I am overwhelmed by the multitude of their unknown narratives. I see clues: their age, their body language, the expression on their face, their clothes. It's not sufficient. I want to know every story of every person, whether they prefer pears or apples, how much their first love hurt, what part of their soul reaches to the clouds. While unattainable, I am working on something approaching: the Big Secret Blog Project, to be launched in the fall. 

For the time being, I wonder: have I reached the stage of city fatigue where I should move to a shed in the hills and welcome just one visitor a day?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Not a review: Ibsen’s Ghosts at BAM

The reviewers of the Almeida production of Ghosts are wrong and I’m right: it was ABOMINABLE.  Still on the warpath with reviewers, allow me. When we walked into the theater, a beautiful set with layers of glass (Yes! Ghosts were going to be appearing and disappearing between these layers! Clever!) was waiting for us on stage. I was excited. Its style was respectful of the period and place, while inventive and elegant. And then the maid, (couldn’t find the name of the actor who played her on the BAM website, forgettable socially, forgettable theatrically) ran on stage. I have a rule about theater which has proved quite correct again and again: stay away from plays that have a sofa on stage. There are a few exceptions to this rule (Lepage, Ostermeier), but on the whole it's proven itself. I’m thinking of adding a new rule: no young ladies running around the stage with their arms loose. Why should young actresses run!? It’s another theatrical cliché. Young men don’t run, older men don’t run, older women don’t run on stage. Children run on stage, and they should, because they do in real life. Or everyone should run if that’s an expression of an inner state. That young actress was signaling acting, she had been informed they were all the correct signals.

I tried to hang in there, a little bit of irksome running should not be a source of panic, the production could still be good. Was hoping the other actors yet to appear on stage might still act rather than act acting.Maybe just be the maid got it wrong. But no. All the other actors followed suit, a sure sign the director was involved. They were so convinced that they were acting right. Everyone told them. The director. The Oliver Awards. Even the New York Times. Well I dispute. Good acting cannot be self satisfied. Every night, setting foot on stage should be a risk. The appropriately named stage fright. That's one of the contracts between the actors and the audience. The actor who played the priest, Will Keen, was a bit less liked, a bit less sure, and therefore he was just a little bit more bearable to me. It could well be all these actors are able to act, but they were misguided.

At the end of the play, the son, actor Billy Howle, goes into seizures, then becomes blind. His physical degradation, the whole night, unravels in a collapsed time frame, which has to be dealt with theatrically. Richard Eyre did not come up with an effective solution to that challenge. Treated realistically, the resulting production is massively over dramatic. The mother, actor Lesley Manville, decides to give to her son the pills he had gathered to terminate his own life when the time came. Her tears provoked an all time high in my embarrassment for the actors. Which turned into ill humor when they came back to collect their - oh so well deserved as far as they were concerned - applause.

The one thing I enjoyed was the head of the young actor. It was overdimensioned. That was really interesting, and oddly satisfying. His whole head was half a size larger than would be expected for his body size. His eyes, his nose, his mouth, his skull, freakish in a good sense. That is all I got out of this production, the oversized head and the blue glass set.

I actually like melodrama. Visconti. Zola. Dickens. But this production’s combination of cocksure acting and heavy drama rubbed me the wrong way. Richard Eyre is on my watch list now, I’ll beware. The production was 90 min long, clearly not its natural stage length. And without an intermission. Thank god for small mercies, as Fiona Shaw repeated memorably in Beckett’s Happy Days. On that same BAM stage.

Contributed by  - - Arabella Hutter

Thursday, March 5, 2015

This is not a review: Semele at BAM

What is to be done with an opera that has beautiful music and an atrocious libretto, most arias consisting of the same convoluted line repeated over and over?? Involving a complicated plot about humans and Olympian gods, that nobody in their right mind should care about? Is is possible to produce such an opera in a way that would allow a modern audience relate to it without resorting to a contemporary production which can get pretty annoying when people are singing 17th century music in US military gear, for example? (Yes, this is a long, convoluted sentence, because it's a blog, and it's not a review nor an opera)
In the Canadian Opera production of Semele, the curtain opens, - that dramatic moment every every opera lover relishes, to reveal a blank wall right behind, hitting us as if we had run into a concrete wall. Wait. It's not a wall, it's a screen. Projection of a short documentary about a 12th century temple in a small town in China, while orchestra plays overture. The temple was used to store grain during the Cultural Revolution. Later a couple lived there, but the husband killed his wife's lover, and was executed by a firing squad. The woman sells the temple to unknown entity to increase the chances of her son in finding a wife. Shot of temple in warehouse. The overture ends, the screen rises and the actual temple is on stage, under our very eyes,  all 17 tons of it, exactly in the place and dimension it was projected on the screen. One of the many dramatic, operatic moments imagined by designer artist director Zhang Huan.

I will not reveal every trick out of Huan's hat, but can't resist sharing the last one. After the opera has come to a close, a procession of Buddhist monks hum the communist hymn, l'Internationale, carrying the burnt corpse of Semele who died from looking at Jove/Zeus. The musical score to one of the 20th century disappeared gods: communism. Humans meet Gods, East meets West. Way out of the box inventive, dramatic, musical. Good ensemble singing, good orchestra, great score. Conductor Christopher Moulds, with his dramatic sense of timing, gets the everything out of the singers. Jane Archibald, soprano colatura, sings her guts out.

My suggestion for the next production of Semele or similar work is to completely rewrite the plot and lines, just keep the music. And forget English as a language for opera unless it's 20th/21st century, no offence meant. I don't think it can get better than this production with the existing Semele in lacklustre English verse. 

Nay only to the Sumo wrestlers: too cute. 

I didn't know Hilary could be a man's name.

Almost forgot: it's really funny too. There is sex on stage. Also a horse in pajama with a huge penis.

Too far out for Canadians, just right for New York?  The audience loved it.

I hope I'm not starting to sound like a reviewer, this divinely appointed opinion maker?

Published by  - -  Arabella Hutter