Fabrik

Visually inventive collaborative dance-theaters works by Korean choreographers and media artists have emerged at the forefront of contemporary performance this past year. The latest  by Mint Park and Hee-Eun Jeong merges starkly dramatic lighting effects, an atmospheric soundscore, and precisely framed gestures and movement into an arresting immersive experience.

Entitled BIT this visually and sonically mesmerizing piece effectively evokes our 21st century techno-media environment with its pervasive pulsing digital devices and light projecting screens that hold us in their thrall.  It is also slightly sinister in its sci-fi suggestions. The tension created is between what you see, and what you don’t see, between the actuality of an action and the interrogatory visual frame around it. The lighting acts as a controlling force, a technological performer manipulating the live dancers.

It begins with a stationary body in a slowly growing spot of light revealing feet, then hands, accompanied by an unseen clicking sound.  Then there are two people, and three, eventually a fourth. They emerge from the sides and back of the theater with pinpoints of light emitting from their heads. There are pulsing strobe flashes, and shadows in motion. The movements are tight, sharp, angular, with an almost robotic quality, underscored by electronic drones, beeps and beats. At some point the bodies are all in motion, cutting through space with martial arts accuracy. And then an autonomous faceless army of vertical light beams emanating from an unknown source emerge and dominate the space, moving in synchronized dimensional patterns. They are hypnotically beautiful techno-spirit bodies as tightly choreographed as the dancers held in their domain.  

Questions about whether we are the masters or the slaves of our “smart” technology, and what makes us human have been turning up in films such as last year’s Her, and the more recent and much darker Ex Machina.  As a kinetic sensory rather than a character driven narrative,  BIT offers us far more abstract and thus more ambiguous implications to contemplate without resolution.

On the other side and completely opposite in every way is Robert Cucuzza” satiric, absurdist and often hilarious theater piece Circle Jerk (pun intended).  No question here about the state of our humanity and its complicated and often contradictory relationship with the sexual act, sexual desire, eroticism and taboo.  The text was taken from the original transcripts of the discussions led by Andre Breton, otherwise known as the Pope of Surrealism, with his cohorts in Paris between 1928 and 1932. The dialog between this revolutionary group of artists and poets who met twelve times during that time to investigate the topic of sex, reveals that our foibles and prejudices haven’t evolved that much.  

In this staging six of the original thirty-four men – Aragon, Man Ray, Breton, Queneau, Gerbach, Urik, – appear in full surrealist garb and regalia and engage in a ribald exchange of proclamations, declarations, insults, accusations, contradictions and postures. The only woman present is Nadja, the object of Breton’s obsession and lusting desire. hovering in the background.

To say that the Surrealists were merely sexist is mild. Intensely misogynist is closer to the fact. Thus to add to satirical edge most of the men in this performance were played by women! The men discussed women like objects to be used and exploited for a man’s own pleasure. Breton poses questions such as – “What part of a woman do you like to kiss?””  “Where do you like to ejaculate?” One of them replies he would like to “come in a woman’s ear”. They discuss sodomy, dildos, urination, erections, farting, the doggy position, and rape. Some are all for it, others against it. They argue over whether or not a man is aware of a woman’s orgasm., and if that matters. And at what age a woman is best. Later some may turn around and say exactly the opposite of an earlier affirmation with equal conviction, or advocate for the very things they previously rejected. In the middle of this is Leonard Cohen singing I’m Your Man about all the things he’d do, and all the roles he’d play for a woman to please her!

PHOTO: STEVE GUNTHER

If this sounds like clinical research into the nature of sexual pleasure and response in the mode of Masters and Johnson, it is far from it. Ironically it is not really about women at all. Rather a matter of men confronting their own attitudes, beliefs, and desires, with a bit of competitive grandstanding for shock value as they both embrace and reject every form of behavior.  The performances are riotous and often hilarious as all our own social and personal hypocrisies are exposed.

The group unanimously condemns homosexuality as “disgusting” and a “mental and moral deficiency.” But sex with a donkey or a goat might be satisfying.  One thing they can all agree on is that both a woman’s menstruation and pregnancy is “disgusting”. At the same time they argue that a woman is to be loved, even worshipped, but impossible to be understood and can’t be trusted.  They probably would have enthusiastically embraced today’s hi-tech Bot Dolls, custom made to suit individual tastes.

So much for their “revolutionary” rhetoric and posturing. They may have adored the Marquis De Sade, and Sigmund Freud but the “threshold of liberty” is nowhere to be found.  Their politics of anarchy turn out to be rather bourgeois. They cannot resolve the and/or dichotomy between sex and love, between their notion of “morality”  (they considered adultery to be unacceptable) and the freeing of the unconscious. But then who can?

Still it makes for relevant political theater in our spectacle-driven present when everyone’s private life is on public display. I can picture Donald Trump (not exactly a paragon of family values!) in the Breton role as leader of the pack interrogating the sixteen other Republican contenders with the same questions.  One can imagine the responses being ever so similar! If not for real, Perhaps Caucuzza might have his excellent cast just change costumes for the next round.

 

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Jacki Apple is a Los Angeles-based visual, performance, and media artist, designer, writer, composer, curator and producer whose work has been presented internationally. Her critical writings have been featured in numerous publications including High Performance, The Drama Review, Art Journal, and Artweek since 1983. A contributing writer to Fabrik since 2011, she is Professor Emerita at Art Center College of Design. She is the author of the book Performance / Media / Art / Culture: Selected Essays 1983 - 2018. Intellect, Bristol, UK. 2019.

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