Thursday, October 2, 2008

Art/Performance: FLUXCONCERT 20080925-27

Read about previous FLUXCONCERTS here and here.

In his first own original FLUXCONCERT, writer/director/creator of the FLUXCONCERT series Perry Garvin continues on a pre√ęstablished trajectory to use the structural modes and practices of Fluxus to create performance art with richer, emotional meaning than the genre typically implies. From the outset, Garvin discloses that this piece is "an oblique exploration of love, loss, and the ambiguities of human bonding." That seems dangerous territory, but it is in fact the rigors of Fluxus that restrain this piece from tumbling into the nether regions of sentimentality that words like "love," "loss," and "bonding" intimate. And while we expect from Fluxus something cool, detached, and cerebral, it is in fact the mode's embrace of randomness that allows it to make those ambiguous, emotional concepts so tangible. For isn't coupling arbitrary? (And don't dare think that arbitrary equates with meaningless until you've seen the show.)

The work is highly structured, with a 48 minute clock divided into different increments for five roles (two of which roles are played by two place-trading players each). Person A (played by two performers who switch each minute) performs a different action each minute. His actions are the most physically rigorous of each player; early instructions include "force blood to head," "scratch bare chest vigorously," and "whip head back and forth repeatedly." Person B (also played by two performers who switch for each three minutes) performs a different action each three minutes. His actions are also quite physical, but rather than damaging his own self (and damaging is indeed the correct word; on the second night of the show, Person A had raised red wounds from the previous night's scratching, and while he whipped his head back and forth, I couldn't watch; his veins stood out through his skin, and I thought I would be sick for his pain), he damages external items, tearing sheets of paper (of increasing size) in half, breaking sticks (of increasing size) in half, blithely blowing bubbles (of increasing size).

Person C, seemingly isolated from the action on stage, facing away from it, and starting at minute 12 plays a random kind of score to the drama: three pieces of music in 12-minute intervals from "the very beginning of the piano's history," "the very middle of the piano's history," and "the very end of the piano's history." Person E, equally isolated from Persons A and B, from the very beginning until the last minute of the show, is tasked to "build a structure," which he does in the corner opposite the piano (is this structure, which ironically toppled at the show's end, the promise of a future? Of work completed? Of something accomplished, done, made, built? One can't avoid the intimations of home, of family). Half-way through the show, Person D enters, his only instruction "electric guitar" (he stands with deer-in-the-headlights eyes, making no sound to break the dull electric buzz of the amp, creativity stymied, paralyzed by the overwhelming potentiality of everything that could be done). The minutes are chimed by Garvin, seated in the last row of the audience. At the final chime, minute 48, each person ceases his other activities and lowers a drape over the entire stage, and the show is over.

So where, in all this, is the exploration of love, loss, and bonding? That is what happens between Persons A and B, who after a bit of lonely, destructive behaviors, begin a courtship (Person A is instructed to look at Person B, first through binoculars, then to reach out to Person B, from a ladder, once with a string, once with a tape measure, once with his own body, but never touching Person B. He is then instructed to throw things at Person B, then to "communicate" to Person B, using numbers, clay, flags (n.b. the impotence of all these actions)). In minutes 24 through 35 persons A and B come together, trading sounds and actions, but beginning at minute 36, physical brutality begins again. Person B is instructed to grasp onto Person A, while Person A is instructed to generate shapes, make vigorous movements, and finally remove Person B's grip. At one point, Person B's arms are wrapped closely around Person A's waist, and Person A picks up a blunted half broomstick from Person B's earlier stick-breaking activity and repeatedly jams that stick into Person B's ribs and stomach. Person B finally cannot take it and releases his grip; Person A runs off stage, away form Person B, who has suffered.

I should not need to explain this metaphor to you explicitly, having already disclosed the words "love," "loss," and "bonding," and yet the audience, to my great surprise, met much of this scuffling with laughter. But I felt no mirth. I've been both Person A and Person B enough times to recognize the loneliness, the desire, the shared reaching toward meaning, the devolving of shared experience into abuse, the mindless, fearful clinging, the desire, the loneliness. Garvin's world in this piece is the world of Beckett, of Pim and Bom in How It Is (which I'm certain he hasn't read, but I see he must have lived, as we all eventually do). If anyone is to end up anything other than completely miserable, we shall have to hope that he is wrong about the ambiguities of human bonding. But I don't think he is.

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