MACHINE PROJECT, LOS ANGELES
(OCTOBER 2—DECEMBER 14, 2015)
Machine Project always sets the bar high for ambiguous, whimsical programming, but Patrick Michael Ballard’s Return to Foreverhouse was one of its more intensely immersive installations. For one hour, the viewer and five close friends (or curious strangers) were invited into a task-based adventure featuring, but not limited to, bright lights, birthday parties, 1980s children’s programming, sexual surrealism, and prosthetic ears.
Viewers—again only six, no more no less—were transported from an Echo Park street corner to velveteen puppet purgatory in an enigmatic miniature living room. When inside, the space’s bubblegum palette posed many challenges, in order to “free” human and non-human characters alike from what seemed the haunted remains of a children’s television variety hour. Superficially engaged with millennial TV nostalgia, the piece in fact examined darker coming-of-age themes including burgeoning sexuality, the inevitability of death, and what tea to brew for a reclusive and potentially riddle-answering elder. The experience might have prompted a critical reappraisal of kid classics such as The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, The Smurfs and Meet the Feebles, all pointing to Return to Foreverhouse’s ideological and symbolic origins.
The hour-long experience was full of surprise and tension, despite an underwhelming culmination. Still, the piece was less about satisfying traditional narrative structure and more about the interplay between media, childhood, and memory. It is delicate work unpacking the devices, educational and otherwise, so closely tied to one’s upbringing; but Return To Foreverhouse did so with a healthy dose of immersive absurdity, easy to give oneself over to. Ultimately, the question was (and remains) not if you chose Return to Foreverhouse, but if it chose you.