Monday, May 26, 2008

Alice Kemp and [not] Post-Neo & the Meme Riders @ Transmodern Fest

First off, sorry we're so far behind on our updates, it's been frantic trying to make preparations to move (all the bureaucracy plus the actual packing), get the festival itself ready, and convince people to tell us when they'll be here. BUT we are, slowly and surely, working on it.

SO: from some time ago, here's my report on Alice Kemp's performance as Madame Du Planchette de La Clocheat the Transmodern Festival in Baltimore back on 4 April. Though not precisely a FIDDLESTICKS event, it took the place of one that weekend and involved a great friend of British Post-Neo; an Anti-FIDDLESTICKS event, as it were...

Warren has written a great review of the performance for the Brooklyn Rail, read it at
http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/05/artseen/kemp
I'll talk about it from the broader perspective of our Post-Neo & friends trip down to see it and to perform (though we did no end up doing so), and from the perspective of having experienced an earlier version of Alice's piece a couple years ago in the UK.

Warren & I originally went down with a dual purpose; the rare opportunity to see Alice perform in the States, and to launch the Right-Geist project with the Meme Riders as part of the festival. We ended up skipping out on both of our planned performances in silent protest but the trip was still worth while to interact with Alice's beautiful piece, and also to meet up with Krista Faist (who will be setting up a sound installation at the Anti-Fest here in two weeks) and see We Are the Seahorses play.

Warren, Megan Blafas (who drove out from Washington) and I had been asked to perform the same night that Alice was set up, but found the overall conception and the attitude of those organising the event to be everything we are striving for the Anti-Festival NOT to be: nobody will be asked to get off the Red Carpet here in New Brunswick (as Krista said, they'd apparently convinced themselves that it was ironic, but...), nobody will turned away because they don't have money, there are no pointless bureaucratic rules about guest-lists and coloured tickets and press passes, if you show up and we don't know you we'd love to meet you and see what you have to contribute, anyone who wants to record or photograph anything is welcome to. We will not shout at anybody who has made a trip all the way across the ocean to share something with us because we want them set up in another room. Etc. Etc.

Anyway. Our decision not to perform in this context, plus the irritating hipsters that constituted most of the goings-on, gave us that much more time to appreciate Alice's piece. After forcing our way through crowds of trendy 20-somethings and elaborately costumed Artistes stretching out lame jokes that made me ashamed to traffic in absurdity, we finally found the placard advertising Madame Du Planchette at the very back of the top floor, followed a long wooden hallway away from the hubbub, and at the end found her ensconced in a small room at the end, seperated from us by a curtain, dressed all in black including an opaque veil, with a set of bells and tuning forks laid out in front of her on a table.

I'd attended an earlier version of this piece at Dartington a couple years ago, and its effects were very different. There, the piece was presented on its own, without all of the background noise of the Transmodern, in a larger space with chairs ranged around it. One came specifically in order to see this particular piece, and the low hum of Kemp's microtonal music was the focus of the environment, its subtlety demanded that you focus intensely on the nuances of the sound, and that intense attention keyed everything else in the room, including Alice herself, to it.

This time, the noise of the rest of the festival largely drowned out the sound, and made it difficult to localise as part of this piece, so that the figure of Madame Du Planchette became the centrepoint. And, because she was part of a larger context with many other (mostly quite noisy) performers interacting in largely prescribed ways with the audience that was packed in, the expectations of most of the people who approached her were quite different and brought out a very different aspect of the situation.

We were no exception; I hadn't seen Alice since I left England and hadn't been able to meet up before her performance began, and had no idea how much she could see in the low light through the heavy veil, so I announced our presence with a whispered vim vom vim, which was met by the ring of a bell. Warren, Megan and I settled in to live in the space for a bit as several groups of people came down the hall giggling, peered in at her for a moment, then left, nearly every one whispering scaaaaaary... for some reason. We dug in our pockets for noisemakers and keys, using them as sparsely and subtly as we could to carry on a lovely kind of wordless dialogue with her that ended up lasting a couple of hours.

In the meantime more people made their way down the hall and stayed for varying amounts of time, with a wide range of different responses and modes of interaction (or otherwise). Some people clambered through the curtains and around the table, knocking around the space a bit and leaving; some people sat and looked at her absent face and listened closely for some time to the buried tones of the soundwork. Some people asked her questions, eliciting at most another ring of the bell. And as the evening progressed, a number of people felt compelled to offer her gifts of various kinds--one woman singing a plaintive cabaret tune, Krista offering her a drawing made by a kindergartener, and other things.

The fascinating thing about this development is that there was no direction given whatever; no verbal or posted indication as to how to approach the situation, as to how to interact, or even to indicate that one ought to interact. Each person who came to face Madame Du Planchette (the planchette is a tool for communicating with the dead) was faced with an absent face, with nothing, a situation whose protocol and significance could only be supplied by the person who herself had stumbled into it unprepared. Any response--from a need to give a gift or establish a human connection to a dismissal or an oooo scary as if the situation were merely a spectacle in which they themselves were not intimately implicated and interogated--was both a kind of image, an act of transference, and at the same time a mechanism (successful or not, socially responsible or not) to the condition of not knowing, of being suspended in a space wherein even confusion is ultimately an externalisation of the realisation of the limit of knowledge itself, which is Death.

* * *


As for the Right Geist portion of the festival, we read the following article, especially the direct quotes from the organizers toward the end dealing with their role in the gentrification of the community they were exploiting:
http://www.citypaper.com/arts/story.asp?id=15528
and were already considering skipping out. This portion of the festival was held on the sidewalks of nieghborhood that was being forced out; to make a long story short, when Nathan and Joelle arrived, we all took note of the many flyers pasted around the area calling for protests against forced evictions, talked to some local residents (including a wonderful man at McDonalds named 'Professor Wilcox' who talked to us about manipulating endorphins), looked at how the performances already underway related to the context and how the local people responded to them (there was no question as to who was local and who was a visiting hipster), and decided we wanted no part of it.

It wasn't psychogeography, it was rubbing salt in a gaping social wound.

So instead we spent some more time with Krista, picked up some free books, and headed home. Despite our disappointment with the festival itself (this was partly our own fault, we ought to have investigated the ethical underpinnings and organisation of this before we agreed to take part), it was well worth the trip to see Alice again, both performing and, briefly, as herself. It's been a long time, and the 2 hours spent in Madame Du Planchette's chamber was magical.


P.S.: while slapping my keyboard randomly as if I had fins instead of hands, I somehow produced the following characters: ∫ƒ˙Ω

Olchar

5 comments:

tomislav said...

Hmm. Yeah. I've had the idea for 'quiet noise' for a while but haven't acted on it.

Shame I couldn't make it.

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DBE said...

Lovely report, Olchar. Wish I could've been there to soak up and interact too. I take it from your grumblings that no recordings were allowed to be made of the event? If so, for shame.

Olchar E. Lindsann said...

Yes, our friend Krista had a video camera and we were told that there was no "Personal Press" allowed, especially since she wasn't even on the VIP Guest List. Funny, we hadn't realized she was "Personal Press", we thought she was our friend and collaborator...

Anonymous said...

distant mumblings suggest that the Madame is due to appear again in Falmouth, UK on friday 6th june...


www.liveartfalmouth.com

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