Thursday, April 07, 2005

Claire Hind's “Screen Test” @ PSi #11

Screen Test was presented in two parts at PSi #11. Part one was the simple camera and light set up in a closet with the artist, Claire Hind, as director. You would sign up for a time slot and at your time enter the little basement storage room where she was setup and become the aspiring actor/participant/audience. All of these collected “screen tests” were then edited together and presented in one of the classrooms at Brown University, projected on a screen.

I signed up for Screen Test and descended to the basement location of the shoot at my allotted time. I entered a closet/storage room where the artist has a camera on a tripod, a makeshift light set up and a chair for me. I had met Claire Hind at dinner the day before but felt like we were playing a game and I felt like playing friendly and earnest. Clair was very efficient and supportive throughout the screen test. She handed me my four lines of dialogue and guided me through reading it, rehearsing it with her and then finally doing for the camera.

The scene was a revenge scene were the person you put a hit on has evaded their killers and come to your office, baring a gun and threatening to kill you. You speak these four lines while imagining a gun in your face.

Please give me a second chance.

Don’t kill me, please!

No no no no no no no no no no no no no.

Please forgive me!

I found the repeated “no” the hardest line to say.

During one go Clair, who is not a large woman but is quite pregnant and it gave her a bit of imposing girth, plays the revenge seeking gunman and points her fingers gun-like at your head while I ran the lines. It was the easiest one having her playing along. Some people actual told me that they started to feel scared by the game, and Clair threatening them, which I found surprising. Clair did a smart thing by incorporating the room into the imagined scene, pointing to the only two exits (the door you entered through to the left and a small window on the other side of the room) and reminding me these are the only two ways out. To me this helped anchor my imagination but to some it seems this started actually feeling confining. I suppose if it wasn’t so one-on-one, if I had been further from the door that I entered through, or any of a number of tricks I could think of to intensify the moment it would have brought me to real fear. As it was I was fundamentally the physically larger agent in the room and didn’t feel that confused or trapped.

Clair told me later that she is interested the kind of power dynamics of S&M, and idea she was referring to as “dark play”. My experience of the screen test was definitely playful, and perhaps dark, in my imagination, but not very scary here and now. But I have done this sort of audition occasionally and I think the idea gets more interesting when I think of the pack of academics at this conference, many who don’t seem to practice the performance that fascinates them. Being put on the spot to perform, even if you have already entered into a kind of willing contract by signing up for a clearly described screen test, can be scary scary scary. This situation is perhaps more easily an emotional trigger than a imagined situation where you are being threatened by you mob lackey with a gun. It is an interesting strategy to conflate those fears and then get to see the results across a set of subjects.

The video presentation was interesting first of all because I expected to be included in the footage, and I experienced a slight pang of disappointment in seeing myself only used once where some people were repeated. The video was edited quickly overnight. It was structured to show subjects as they ran through their lines and then followed this with a montage of the subjects saying single lines. It was all maybe ten minutes, looped.

I was curious about how people figured out how to deliver the lines and by how realistic they were able to be. Some seemed like actual actors some like scared academics. The actual tension of some of the subjects trying to perform as asked was perhaps the most authentic thing on the screen but in this context of a “screen test” and the mob dialogue it seemed to me like a failure and out of sync. I grimaced at the moments in my bit when I felt like I wasn’t present in the role the dialogue proposes.

The video presentation was in a room that was set up with a single row of chairs looking across a sizeable desk at the projection screen in a way that seemed mostly like it was meant to make do. This room set up a strange power dynamic to me in light of the screen test session though. The desk seems there because it shouldn’t be moved for some reason, but left in that spot it seemed like an authoritarian presence that I didn’t relate to the experience during the shoot. Now there seemed like there was some kind of mediating force between the viewer and the video. Again putting Claire’s audience in a bottom position to a power, but now the power seems more like an institution (like a school) or an idea (like THE POWER OF MEDIA) and not something I signed up for (and there was no contract or sign up for this part). The power relation is exposed to me as the viewer without the contract but I also lost the fun of the play in this setup.

There was also room for several viewers in the chairs set out but I ended up sitting alone during the loop and felt a bit lonely as I watched several folks look in through the open door as they walked by but not come in. The loud “no’s” and rest of the dialogue created an interesting outside and inside separation to the room in a kind of horror movie way. If you got to the screen test early or walking by you heard these tortured victim sounds coming out of the room, which I could imagine being sort of creepy. I was never really placed by the piece to experience that though, so it came off as an aside. Perhaps it functions to help draw people into the installation if they didn’t have the same agenda I had to see it. Clair told me that typically she has a large wardrobe that she uses to project the video in, but it was too big to bring from the UK to the US. People hear the screams and can open the doors to see the footage and free the trapped figures in a way.

“Screen Test” was a fun, engaging piece to me as a game and as entertainment and I get the sense there is an academic research agenda behind it that is still in process and irrelevant to my experience of the piece. It also struck me, like most of the performances at PSi #11, as remarkably mild, particularly in the light of the theme “Becoming Uncomfortable”. To some degree I wonder if this isn’t a muting that comes in the restraint of the academic realms where there seems to be a need to explain each act. I also wonder if the organizers leaned on the conservative side because the uncomfortable varies so much for different people. I also wonder if there are any academics that can cut it both in the academic world and extreme performance world simultaneously. I also wonder if it is the conservative climate in the U.S. and politically correct climate at Brown muted things a bit. I also wonder if it isn’t the nature of the financial and structural limitations of putting on events of this size that create a difficulty in presenting work in a full and immediate uncomfortablity.

Claire Hind seemed limited by money, time and distance to do her piece as usual, and apparently got kicked out of the storage room (luckily right at the end of the scheduled recording times) because of the electrical equipment in there. If Clair is playing her role as the top, then there should be little problem of her subjects getting into any trouble in the room but I can’t really imagine that argument cutting it at the conference at this particular time in the world.

It leaves me with the feeling of a lack of support for becoming uncomfortable and a withering of faith in the value of that act.



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