Stable (Stupidity Project Part 10)

2003, PS122, NYC, Diverse Works, Houston & Kaaistudios, Brussels

For the art performance/performance art series, funded by the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Performance Space 122 in New York City commissioned me to create new work.

Stable begins with the audience entering a very brightly lit theater and seeing three identical Rottweilers outfitted in cowboy costumes, confined within a Plexiglas corral the size of the stage. While a sound track of Country Western music loudly plays and a Line Dance instructor calls out instructions for line dance steps, the dogs perform or do not perform. So the piece unfolds, or performs the refusal to unfold. Towards the end of the first 20 minutes of the piece the only certain choreographic action occurs when 3 to 5 tennis balls fall from the grid into the corral, one at a time, in three-minute intervals. The first creates great excitement for the dogs but, by the last ball the event has become predictable for them (and the audience) and their once spirited reaction fades. At the 25-minute mark, a life-size projection of the audience begins suddenly on the back wall of the stage. The video is the documentation of the audience from the first 15 minutes of the piece. A hidden videographer behind the back wall of the stage shows the audience in a time-delayed reflection of themselves. At first the camera records in a wide-shot, which replicates exactly the dimensions of the audience and creates the spatial effect of turning the theater around 90 degrees. During the 15 minutes of video documentation, the camera steadily and slowly moves in for close-ups. Eventually every member of the audience is recorded in either close-up or a small group-shot. Towards the end of the 15-minute video projection, the camera returns to a wide-shot revealing a small black box stage behind the audience containing a dancer. This female dancer is naked except for a saddle and cowboy boots and hat and is performing a slower and sexier version of the choreography described by the Country Western Line Dance instructor in the soundtrack. At this moment the audience realizes that there was in fact a “dance performance” but that it was always situated behind them. Their reaction is to turn around to see the live dancer but, by the time the video is being projected the dancer has exited and only her costume remains. A photo of this naked cowgirl character is the only image used for the publicity of the piece. The audience, when finally seeing the solo dancer behind them in the projected video connects her to the seductive promotion for the show. After the 15-minute video projection is completed the lights and sound have reached the final stages of an almost imperceptible 45-minute fade to complete silence and darkness. For the final 5 minutes of the piece there is the sensation of a kind deletion or blanking or putting the theater to sleep. After a 30-second hold in complete black, the lights abruptly return to house and the show is over. There is no curtain call.

The intent is to create an environment where it is impossible for the audience to perform as audiences generally do. With Stable, I am working to shift the focus and bring to the audience an awareness of their own behavior and desire by setting up expectations for the audience and then not delivering. By experimenting with thresholds of intensity (and the lack thereof), assumptions about expertise, the different tolerance levels for live vs. mediated experience, and at the same time not asking the question “what is entertaining?” but rather asking, “WHO is entertaining?” Stable demonstrates how the rehearsed and automatic behavior of an art consumer controls the development of expectations during the course of art consumption and while collapsing this system, I simultaneously, generously, gives the audience what they ultimately want: to see themselves inside the artwork.

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