Friday, March 18, 2005

The Role of Tourist As Seen In a Performance Piece @ PAC/edge

Was this piece billed as a performance lecture? It should have been. I went out of an interest in ideas about tourism and to see the only show that links PAC/edge to the current tourist art thing that is in Chicago right now.

The lecture was given as a partly read (or loosely memorized) dialogue between two performers (Sheelah Murthy and Anuj Vaidya). They engage in a theory heavy presentation, which tracks the evolution (bad word?) of their thoughts to this point. They show PowerPoint documentation of past performance actions and try to engage the audience in a stilted participatory event by handing out envelopes of text for audience member to read aloud on cue.

I admit this barrage of words didn’t connect with me and in response to this assault when I was handed my envelope I applied some Tactics of my own reading a sentence of my own creation than what was before me. Their moment of shock was the first real connection I felt with them.

They did have a rather interesting post-show discussion though and it seems important to their piece. It was revealed that this was originally created as a lecture for a conference (last years PSi in Singapore it sounds like), and I can see how it would go over better there than the situation I experienced.

I can imagine a group of performance studies scholars a bit burnt on a day of regular lectures seeing this slightly more-than-a-lecture-lecture and feel expansion and relief. In the case of this PAC/edge performance I was coming in from the street, have already witnessed several other performances in a variety of modes, and so was more engaged in my body and emotions as well as my mind and so this lecture felt constricting.

The piece also read differently to me than they expected I realized as we talked post show. To me it was more like a classical theater piece of the angst of being trapped in a socially restrictive age. Instead of social confines, you have a elaborate web of language that has to be held up and ends up driving these two up a wall. Their staging even seems parlor like but the parlor is now part study and part media/tech center.

Therefore, the ideas in the piece ended up seeming conflicted. The artists conflate Buddhist, tourist, and a PoMo, culturally constructed argument for identity and then express stilted angst over the resulting position it leaves them. How do they respond to the large powers of the world and find a way to move through an emerging society with a coherent identity. They told us in the discussion that the piece was “about the barrage of language” and their concurrent annoyance and love of the poetry of the words. It seems to me by positioning themselves aesthetically in this very bland, everyday/academic setting, and only presenting a word body to us leaves little room for poetry except in the points where their system collapses. They are confused if they think handing out short script to the audience and prompting them to read empowers the audience to engage a sense of agency in the piece. They are creating a dogma.

I trust they will make more stuff though.

And it was nice in retrospect to see something way more brainy and in a different format at the festival though.

The post-show talk took place in the café area, which is usually dead. It would be great if every show in the fest would move down there for some post-show talk, actually activating the space and creating a more engaged community and more lingering.


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