Monday, March 30, 2009

Deadlines Can Be Good Food, Too

Wise words from Tom Y. Levin during his office hours today: Sometimes, having a tight deadline can be the best possible thing for a work of any kind. Professor Levin is a film, media, surveillance, art, German, radio, and communication luminary. He has the air of an espresso machine (not only running on but also churning out caffeine for others) and while Gore says he invented the internet, Levin probably did. So there. I'm inclined to listen to him.

I also had the experience over the past two weeks of working very hard to make and re-make a solo for my last dance production at University. Some critical feedback lead me to strip all the movements from the skeleton, re-arrange the skeleton to resemble a number of different animals, and then try tacking the movement-flesh back on. Not a pretty sight.

But as tech and then dress rehearsal came and went, I ended up simply taking what I had, solidifying it, committing to it, and performing it as hard as I possibly could. The results seem to have made a bunch of audience members happy, and that's more than enough for me: If they got something out of it, if I didn't bore them by rolling around on the stage from eight or so minutes with kneepads and bloody feet, then the whole thing was worth it.

The deadline was good. The deadline was the only thing that made me, figuratively, shut up and dance., dancing. My own image design for the show poster.

Hooray for Tom Levin, too.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Fallback on Dada's Forward Push

"A central piece of the [First International Dada] Fair was "The Great Plasto-Dio-Dada-Drama" by Johannes Baader (Super-Dada, President of the Earth and the Globe, Chair of the Last Judgment)...This was an installation that dominated the second room. It was appropriately ambitious and aimed to encapsulate the spirit, but mostly the material, of Dada....It gathers together materials from Baader's life, preferably used objects (tickets, programmes, pieces of metallic rubble, wires, a male dummy, and so on) which are arranged over four floors: "The Steps of the Overman", "The Preparation of the Superdada", "The World War" and "World Revolution." The ascent follows the initiation of the Superdada and his final propelling into the ether, where his message will be broadcast 'by radio.' "

- Olga Taxidou, Modernism and Performance, 188-189.

I spent last summer living briefly in a space that had been decorated by the popular contemporary German artist Jonathan Meese. It was the large meeting space at the Watermill Center, where Robert Wilson had invited Meese to come and do an entirely free-reign installation for the summer benefit, in which I was one of many participants.

Meese arrived with a larger-than life personality that reminded me of nothing so much as Alfred Jarry, and began making an infernal mess in that lovely, blank white room. "Kunst" and "Metabolism" and "Scarlett Johannson" got scrawled up every which way, globs of paint staples abused the walls, extensive over-stimulation of the senses, toys and masks and such littering the was shocking and unnerving, after the exquisite balance and line that ruled life at the Watermill Center, and to which I'd been accustoming myself for weeks.

I did not like Meese's installation because, even without having studied Dada or its particular projects yet, I sensed that this had been done before. It had worked its way into our cultural heritage so deeply that for all the shock it still gave my system, it wasn't enough to be new. (A note: This doesn't always apply to his non-installation art and sculpture.) Sure, he "updates" Dada with the images of new celebrities, but although the cultural material with which he works has evolved, he seems to have nothing to add to what broke out like angry lightening in WWI Zurich so many decades ago...

This little passage confirms it because it might as well be a description of Meese's overdecorated room. With the exception that Baader's "Plasto-Bio-Dada-Drama" seems to have the very interesting effect of drawing all its clutter up through the air and releasing it through the medium of radio at the top. Which sounds beautiful. And is what I like about Dada: that no matter how enfant terrible it may seem, it often has some deeply thought-out and deeply meant communication beneath its shock tactics and insulting contradictions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Squeals for Père Ubu!

Just woke up, and feel like an army of baby pigs are checking my brain for truffles. It's because I've been working so hard on these two simultaneous projects: a long written thesis on theatrical modernism, and a long(ish) solo for a dance performance, which I might write about (and upload footage of) later on.

This morning the pigs celebrate because chapter 2 found its first-draft completion last night. Thought I'd include some highlights, because (as anyone familiar with the work of absurdist precursor Alfred Jarry knows) his is a wild and wooly world.

The Argument:

"For centuries, the function of the theater was to manipulate the fortunes of the characters on stage. Tragedy invariably brought its heroes lower; comedy promised to wrap all their struggles up in colorful streamers and weddings. Plays were written and rehearsed for this product – the manipulation of fictional lives in the spectacle on the stage. Then, at the start of the twentieth century, the purpose of certain productions changed. Where the mechanism of theater had been the script, and the spectacle its product, the function changed: Now, the spectacle as a whole became the mechanism, and the experience of the audience became its product. From the manipulation of fictional lives, the theater had moved to manipulations of audience reaction. "

And I've got the Jarry to prove it:

"Jarry was able with only two productions of his outrageous play Ubu Roi to rip into theatrical tradition more thoroughly than perhaps anyone before or since, and to stage the first assault on the new victim of theater – the audience."

Fun, Fun, Fun:

"Assaulting or insulting an audience could hardly be called a new theatrical phenomenon. Performers had shouted obscenities or poked fun at audience members’ expenses since the dawn of the clown, deep in pre-history. Yet before Ubu Roi, such intentionally provocative perceptual violence had never been worked into the structure of a play – into its language, arc, and staging, as well as its content. La Belle Epoque, from which Jarry and the symbolists emerged, had begun to draw the insults of clownish cabaret closer to the artistic theater, as the two merged in Paris’ bohemian subculture. At the later legendary cabaret Le Chat Noir, for example, owner Rodolphe Salis tried to insult each customer as he or she entered."


"It was the language of Ubu Roi that famously attacked the audience first. “Merdre,” exclaimed the actor playing Ubu in a harsh monotone voice. The audience had a fifteen-minute fit. It was not enough that Jarry had opened his much-hyped production with an obscenity; he had created an obscenity of obscenity, by corrupting the mot de Cambronne, the French word for shit, “merde”."

Tyranical Despotism!

Père Ubu: Eh bien, cornegidouille, écoute-moi bien, sinon ces messieurs te couperont les oneilles. Mais, vas-tu m’écouter enfin?
Stanislas: Mais Votre Excellence n’a encore rien dit.
Père Ubu: Comment, je parle depuis une heure. Crois-tu que je vienne ici pur prêcher dans le désert ?

"This frightening picture of King Ubu’s cruel despotism shows him threatening to cut off a peasant’s ears for not listening to him, claiming he has already been speaking for an hour when in fact he has only just entered the man’s home. The word for ears, in French “oreilles,” features the same nonsense corruption as the earlier “merdre,” and again repeats throughout the play. The lack of comprehension between King and subjects takes on dire consequences when Ubu’s smallest whim or displeasure can lead to their violent execution. The play presents a kingdom in which all around Ubu try hopelessly to understand, predict, and reason with their despot, who follows no rules but his own whims, including his either real or feigned ignorance of linguistic conventions."

King Ubu's weird torture devices! In French!

Père Ubu: Ceux qui seront condamnés à mort, je les passerai dans la trappe, ils tomberont dans les sou-sols du Pince-Porc et de la Chambre-à-Sous, où on les décervèlera.

Père Ubu: Je tuerai tout le monde. Gare à qui ne marchera pas droit. Je lon mets dans ma poche avec torsion du nez et des dents et extraction de la langue…et enforcement du petit bout de bois dans les oneilles.

Paris' two warring critics, one of whom loses his job defending the play:

"Bauer praises it as an aggressive and truculent fantasy, crashing in the face of the chimeras of tradition. Fouquier calls all sincere friends of progress to defend it against the play’s creators, and the violence of their stupidities. On no account do the critics disagree that the play has monumental and destructive impact. Both describe it with language of the greatest violence. Only with respect to the benefits of this violence do Bauer and Fouquier disagree."

To close, a quote from Shattuck, from his detailed book The Banquet Years:

We cannot mock Ubu. “…Not without dread, we mock, rather, his childish innocence and primitive soul and cannot harm him. He remains a threat because he can destroy at will, and the political horrors of the twentieth century make the lesson disturbingly real.” - The Banquet Years, 235


Huzzah! Atrocities! Stage! Ubu! Good morning, world. Perhaps some of that interests you. I think it's essential to our way of perceiving ourselves today. But that's just me.

- I apologize, by the way, both for not including the whole arc of the chapter, rendering what's above piecemeal and confusing, and also for making the post too long. But on this blog, my will is King. Obese, gluttonous, cowardly King.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Taste is the only one of the senses that requires the destruction of the object. Sight and sound don't even require contact. Smell flits molecules away from the object, but only those that would be released into the air regardless. Touch can have a corrosive or destructive element, but in many circumstances the natural oil of the fingers will not be enough to harm an object's surface.

Taste, however...depends upon the dissolving through saliva of some small part of an object, having it come away on your tongue, stealing it. Taste takes a little part away for its own. Not to mention the destructive connotations of eating, teeth, and digestion. Tasteless things like stainless steel are impervious to the destruction of our tongues, and so escape flavor.

Thoughts from a visual art thesis upstairs, entitled "Taste" and showing permutations of apples.