Sunday, May 03, 2015

Mondrian White on White Pivotal Set, Oompa Loompas, A Buzz and Holler, plus Racks of Disemboweled Cadavers. LOVELY

Texas Tech's Mother Courage, April 29 First Performance A slanted critical review of sorts 

As I squirmed in my seat for three hours, fifteen minutes, my anticipation and pleasure resided in what occurred between scenes, which began each time with a buzz, and holler that activated Oompa Loompas to reposition the set. Providing mid-scene intrigue were the racks of disemboweled cadavers with their dangling entrails.

The white portable set (below. figure 1) was like modernist geometric painting including extreme color reduction. It called to mind Kazimir Malevich’s 1918 painting, White on White (figure 2), and his contemporary’s, Piet Mondrian, paintings and spatial forms (figure 3). The play’s set was modularly built into columns with 4x4 footprints and heights ranging from 10 to 16 feet. Though not visible, their base included wheels, allowing for quick almost Tetris-like repositioning. Each column included a door-sized passage, but like the wheels, they were kept out of audience view. The interiors were lined with white non-reflective fabric so if per chance the passage were slightly exposed to the audience, it would go unnoticed. These passages functioned to hide stagehands that would mid-scene provide characters with prop and mics.

figure 1: set detail

figure 2: Malevich, White on White

figure 3: Mondrian

The neutral white and geometric simplicity diminished scenic distractions so that the plays action was perceptually foregrounded. It also reduced the need and risks in replication or accuracy of the temporal and geographical setting. In fact, it decontextualized the play from the early seventeen hundreds scripted setting. The only ground to situate the viewer in the temporal location was the design of the costumes and key props.

In the decontextualized space, the repositioning of the columns indicated scene changes. With each shift, various flat panels, reminiscent of the columns’ Mondrian-like surfaces, were lowered from the ceiling to further reshape the space, as a sign to cue scenic change. The transitions were made in full audience view. Despite the physical repositioning, it was each scene’s action that dictated how the space should be interpreted—pub or pasture, day or night, plus indicating Mother Courage’s migratory habit. I found the set and its repositioning aesthetically soothing. It counterbalanced the emotive connotations associated with theatrically required projections of voice and gesture.

The play would have been significantly served by decontextualizing it beyond just the white set to release its primary read from being tethered to seventeen hundreds. Converting all the costuming and props to white with the exception of each characters vest, sash or a single item of distinction, while maintaining their antiquated design, would have effectively diminished the chronological anchor. This would have emphasized the characters’ actions and script in ways that would transcend the time period becoming more applicable for today. It would correlate the plot in terms of our own cultural and global climate with its dragged out “incursions,” leftovers of our War on Terror, and other political interventions. Only in unpacking the play for this paper has the probable intention of the director’s selection of Mother Courage revealed real correlations.

Raytheon, a weapons guidance system corp, is a most profitable stock. I shall neither confirm nor deny that I may own some. Perhaps it has even assisted in temporarily freeing me to pursue my PhD. Am I equally complicit and compromised by the benefits of war, as Mother Courage was? Do I stand on carcasses of others as I reach for yet another degree? Had the play more clearly de-tethered from its historical fix, I would have arrived at the uncomfortable position that reveals me as part of our contemporary war economy. This would have been quite poignant because it would turn my harsh judgment of Mother Courage around on myself. I like to be unsettled, moved from my willful blindness and American arrogance. I wish the play itself had done this for me, it did not. I maintain my buffered ego and denial. Plus perhaps  I also bought Tesla stock when it first hit the market. Ha. Apparently, I am into clean energy and bombing, just call me Mother Courage.

It would be perfect to end this post at the last line, but then I would have to re-title it. I ramble on with the review for class criteria hoop jumping and to get to the Oompa Loompas, the play’s best part ☺. But first a little more on the set. The drop down paintings as contextual staging were problematic. The only painting that assisted the play in terms of progressing the story was the replica of Goya’s painting, May Third. The first and last paintings where exceptionally disruptive—perceptually fixating. The first glowed neon orange—visually eye riveting, screaming. The last was a gargantuas muddy brown blob OZ head. Its scale made it impossible to ignore. I assume, though unrecognizable to me, it referenced a historical painting, but it was just shit ugly and distracted me from the story.

On the other hand, I loved the clothes racks packed with cadaverous heads and their disemboweled torsos with dangling entrails. Then again, perhaps I own Raytheon stock. Sigh. In a manner, the cadavers correlated with the staging in that they decontextualized the play from the “real” and its temporal location in history. The clothing store-like racks linked the story to contemporary culture, perhaps pointing to the costs of our consumer-based economy. I appreciated the way the abstraction and repetition suggested the horrors and carnage of war with the multiple racks signaling ongoing death counts.

The acting and singing left me wanting. As fine an actress as Mother Courage was, she was not even remotely my favorite character. The very best thing about the play was the Oompa Loompas, apparently recast from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Though neither short nor bearded, they dressed hygienically, donned in all white paper industrial-like coveralls, including white foot booties that muffled the sound of their walking. They functioned between scenes, just as they did in the movie when cued by Wonka and set to the task of scene transition by rolling off the Blueberry Girl for squishing or the other "bad" children for obvious consequences.

Likewise, in Mother Courage, a buzzer, followed by a holler, “scene change,” activated the scenic inbetweens. The Oompas moved silently with calculated intent as they danced the white columns to new positions. It was just freaking beautiful. The music played softly in accompaniment, but I was so fixate on their coordination and efficient movements it really didn’t register. I would have been happy with three hours of that or at least twenty-two minutes. In either case, I would need a hint of a conceptual intent. Seriously, I might have preferred the play’s narrative without bodily action. With the characters garbed in white costume, proplessly standing behind a series of white podiums, lined up in a row, voicing their lines. And then holding still and silent as the Oompa Loompas, initiated with the buzzer and pre-emptive holler, “scene change,” did their thing. Even with unaltered script, this would have teleported the viewer from the past to the future of now. Oh, I would have been so engaged. Sometimes “less is more” though that would require a butt-load of risk and courage.

Ha, and would the Oompa Loompas songs be relevant to Brecht’s script? I think so. It is worth a test, in creating a new version of Mother Courage worth doing.

NOTE: Perhaps interdisciplinary in development, Mother Courage seemed to fit my stereotype of conventional three parts play and one part musical.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

three different presentation/papers three sequential days. brow wipe. sigh

two of the three went well. the third i got bogged down, distracted a stymied on the conference's old laptop, finding the buttons and touch pad clumsy. sigh. next time i just break the rules and plug in my mac. then i can not only run my presentation from my phone and stand anywhere, but can also see my notes simultaneously! my presentations are typically dependent on visuals, they actually provide unsaid information, now they also include key stats, which in my mine, numbers are better seen than said.

here is partial sampling of my three on three. remember you are not getting the verbal commentary, just a half snippet. PS I love Janine Antoni, Robert Morris, and Schneeman's work. How could they not be freaking influential on my primary practice. PSS I am not a historian, but a practicing studio artist, plus grad student, and I teach/present from this perspective.

in the written text of female visual artists are there linguistic traces of self-limiting social positioning?

Robert Morris | agile evasion of disciplinary definition = transgenred

the body is never neutral, never silent [contemporary art history]

 ps. disclaimer - imagery was used for educational purpose in educational setting. outside of a grade, honoring, and self-respect, there was no fiscal benefit.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

I love my hands and want to keep functional every freaking finger and my opposables for these are my assets that render me recognizably human, well at least semi-hairless primate.

I love my hands and want to keep functional every freaking finger and my opposables for these are my assets that render me recognizably human, well at least semi-hairless primate. And, though I also love the scholarly thing, I miss using my hands gnarly and exhaustively each day.

THE SHORT VERSION of a smidgen of the remembered

I sat in a waiting room, not one I had been in before. With my head slightly tilted I watched the man five seats down on my left. He was clean cut, dark haired, casual but well dressed, perhaps twenty-five. He flipped through the slick pages of a magazine. Something seemed not quite right. I was fixed on his hands when it dawned on me that his fingers were toes.
The uniform loss of digits on both hands seemed suggestive of machine precision, an industrial accident. The expletive fingers still absent, the others had been adapted from his big toes and its second. The pointer toe digit and his opposable toes, now thumbs, flipped pages. No redness, residual mangling or scar. The fat pads of the toes had diminished with their changed use. Perhaps he now balances with upon his feet with little toe prosthetics. 

The teenage boy seated next to me interrupted my stare as he leaned nearer to me. I turned noting the professionally bandages wrapped on each wrist. Nodding down with an ask, almost boastful he exclaimed how he hadn't cut deep enough when he tried to kill himself, but instead had severed and damaged both nerves and tendons. It was a unexpected disclosure. His mother sat with her head down, jaw and body tight. A bodily gesture I recognized as agonized anger and shame. I neither wanted to reward the boy's boastful call for attention nor judge him harshly with my bodily attentions. So, I attempted gentle eye contact and nods as he talked and I listened.

The door opposite the check-in sliding window, the exit from which I had entered, opened. A woman was rolled in a wheelchair, she was situated and parked. The roller bent and said something quietly in her ear and then departed. Each of her arms, parallel and fully extended forward, were splinted and freshly bandaged. Both of her legs where like wise encased and extended. All four limbs shot out straight forward as if frozen in the act of warding off the impact of an oncoming car. Her entry left the room very silent as the toe-fingered man, the wrist-sliced teen, the angry mom and myself tried not to full on stare. 

The door, adjacent to the window, cracked opened, my name was called. I was lead to room five, the door shut as I waited to meet with my hand neurosurgeon. I’d with met him once before during my six hour ER visit, not in a waiting room but behind curtain number three, where I chattered scatologically, nervously,  incessantly for my full stay. It was my form of deflection while my finger was prepped with a digital block (a freaking long needle stuck in my fingers crouch between two and three) and the surgeon scrubbed its INSIDE. OMG, having the inside of your own body scrubbed is a thousand kinds of wrong, no matter that you can't feel it. Finally I was carefully stitched up, wrinkle by wrinkle aligned. All the while, two chain saw accident workers, who'd bounced the rotating teeth off their shins, apparently a common accident, waited. And I listened as the one covered gurney was extricated with each curtain being shut sequentially and its sound announcing the dead body's passing.

Sure, I had twenty-two stitches zipping up my recessive index finger, not toe, to pull things back together from the inadvertent butterfly fillet resulting from wrestling with my black gator,* but I was pretty sure my finger would be fine. I hadn't cross cut my tendons and nerves, just sliced up the middle of them from my nailed tip to knuckle, exposing the bone. Sigh, though if you pinch the back of your finger, you'll see this did not involve a lot of hurt, just OMG, I see my bones. 

I had never consciously considered before that I should probably seriously protect my hands and fingers, for they are dear assets. That my eight digits, two opposables, and language make me uniquely operationally as human had previously gone unthunk (yes). It was only sitting in the  waiting room witnessing a single day in the office of a hand neurosurgeon that these thoughts surfaced to my consciousness.

And I wasn't even sculptress yet! But, it was my pre-lesson in noncommercial tool safety before I owned a table saw, bandsaw, miter saw, chop saw, jigsaw, circular saw. 

I love my hands and want to keep functional every freaking finger and my opposables for these are my assets that render me recognizably human, well at least semi-hairless primate.

* gator = gatorboard = a type of foamcore with a thin sheath of bulsa wood in it; my blade = exacto knife; and the bite = slippage while running its blade along a metal ruler's edge and inadvertently up my index finger.  Slicing the back of your finger actually doesn't hurt (go ahead pinch the back of your finger...nada). Only three things hurt: 1. when they vigorously scrubbed INSIDE my finger (WTHeck..seriously no one should scrub under your skin!!!), the digital block (the needle they stick between your fingers and then twist around injecting the deadening) and OT sessions.

Photograph by Katy Anderson