April 27, 2010
posted by Caroline Picard
Last Thursday I saw a production of Robert Duncan’s Medea in Kolchis as part of the Poetry Project’s Robert Duncan Symposium. I loved it. We had to RSVP to get the address–an empty where house space across the street from The Hideout. The room was empty, about 20 people came. Being a spring evening it was quite cold. We sat in an assortment of folding chairs in the center of the otherwise plain space. And then, the players came out–I made some video clips of the evening and you might get a sense for things.
You might ask what the play is about. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t know that I was supposed to understand that, even. I think instead I was there to absorb an impression, to take on the intuitions of performance and language. I know it is about a king (Arthur, played by Sandra Lim) who is interested in fiction. He names his daughter (who I think is played by 2 women–Monica Fambrough & Sara Gothard, though only ever referred to as 1) Medea and is always waiting for a “Jason” to come and take her hand. Arthur has fabricated an object he calls the golden fleece. He is a poet at the end of his life. Central to the play is the wonderfully lascivious nursemaid, Garrow, (played by John Beer, who also directed the piece), she goes between all of the characters serving them in their needs as much as she functions as the meta-glue between the play’s movements; a regular discussion of her age and the romantic exploits of her youth make into a kind of time signature for the whole piece. Jason (played by Patrick Culliton) arrives with whom I think is his tutor, The Doctor (Travis Nichols) who seems to represent a hard-fast reason, arguing against the self-indulgent Arthur. Doctor point’s to the way in which Arthur manipulates the people around him in order to make poems out of them. Jason as though to comiserate says, (what made me laugh out loud) “I don’t think [Arthur] likes my poetry.” Meantime the doctor continues to woo (and fail) and old flame, Edna (Nicole Wilson) who has terrific intuitions and believes in mystical things–I felt like her character probably listened to some combination of Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective–wanted Romance, not love (an interesting and curious distinction). The performers read from their scripts and sometimes read from cards, reflecting Duncan’s discussion of self-awareness (i.e. the emperor as one who makes fiction into real life in order to mythologize his experience). As you’ll see from the following clip, Arthur does a good job of his stretching exercises, what all emperors should do when imparting truth onto youths.
One of my favorite moments was when all the performers read their different lines out loud, at once, different characters overlapping cacuaphony and intermittent silence. At any rate, Medea (only ever dressed in white night dresses–one of them victorian, the other a kind of sweatshirt/cotton–the ruffles on the victorian one created a kind of focal point for me, which I found interesting to think about, i.e. what does it mean if a woman’s nightdress is a focal point in a play, especially if the surrounding action is so much larger and maybe that’s what those victorian ruffles were always supposed to do), falls for Jason and wants to seduce/marry him, Garrow tells them that in order to do so Jason must kill the serpant, Jason wants the golden fleece and in order to get the golden fleece must kill the emperor (Arthur), except he can’t at the last minute and so Medea kills him (Arthur/her father) instead. In the end, the Doctor tries to get back with Edna who refuses because he does not believe and cannot relate to her terrific imagination. It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Victorian nightdress was the only focal point. Garrow was another, perhaps more obvious, counterpoint–and perfectly suited, I think, as the cross-dressing old wo/man, kind of like a sexy Tieresias, who’s experience and exploits and dark dress contrast with Medea’s own Virgin Suicide innocence.
Can you believe that this all happened in a tiny, unknown, cold little room in the city? It’s amazing! I love these sorts of situations because they seem to bring work I would not otherwise see to life–this kind of project seems very like the apartment gallery project, where much work goes into it, and the payoff comes in the sense of community and creative expression that results in an instant, i.e. the instant that the public sees the performance, (or art). There is no measurable affect that endures beyond that moment…it’s brilliant, I think. And always makes me very happy.
December 9, 2009
posted and written by Caroline Picard
I read this last Friday at a MAKE Magazine Event. Stephen Elliot has been going around the country touring his latest book, Adderall Diaries, and I had the good fortune to a participate. What follows is a much shorter version of a story I’ve been working on that tries to trace the current appeal of dream catchers and suburban-hipster shamanism back to, in this case, Joseph Beuys. I realize the link is as fictional as the characters described, but my hope is the link is fictionally resonate/telling.
Regarding The Death of One Barry Maguire, Who Drowned In The Woods On July 23rd, 2008
The dogs bore down on the dying stag and the dogs tore into it’s neck and snapped at one another when the old man called them off, (the old man called his horse Bucephalus), the old man called off the dogs and the boys laughed and the boys strung up the deer, the deer with a weak and fetid heart—it beat now, soft as an oyster—
Boys lined up before the stag and the old man took a photo of the boys before the stag. The shutter of the camera clapped. The camera blinked, catching the boys on paper.
The boys were tall and very skinny. They had no facial hair though the hair on their heads was wild; nappy, not dreaded. They wore faded fluorescent tye-dye t-shirts and sometimes medicine bags and sometimes fanny packs and often cut-off shorts cut off just above the knee. They wore keds or moccasins or slip-on shoes.
The stag lay in a heap at the foot of the clock. Its eyes rolled back and froze and the dogs snuffed its musty coat and the horse snuffed the stag and the boys bathed themselves in the fountain in the square. They shared a bar of soap. They lined up around the fountain. They washed their hands, they washed their necks, they washed their faces. They didn’t wear shirts. They smiled wide, white, ecstatic teeth.
The old man gave each boy a shot of liquor, (it was thick and brown and spicy, it smelled like pine soap; it tasted metallic like chocolate or blood), and together the boys sang more songs and their mothers polished their boots and the boys put on their boots and went to school with dark mouths having drunk the blood of a stag. At lunchtime they would march again over cobblestone streets, the blood of the stag still tasting their mouths,
as in the aftertaste of mercury.
On the weekend, the boys met in secret. They beat shamanic drums. They tied feathers in their hair, under the bunkhouse, wearing war paint,
they put tiger balm on their assholes.
On the weekend an artist went out into the woods. She called the boys into the woods and asked, “what do you think about free love do you believe?” She fucked many boys in the woods it was her art project.
One boy grew up.
This boy, a twentysomething, flew a bomber in The War and he crashed it in Siberia. After the crash they told him he wasn’t German at all
“Had it not been for the Tartars I would not be alive today. They were the nomads of the Crimea, in what was then no man’s land between the Russian and German fronts, and favored neither side. I had already struck up a good relationship with them, and often wandered off to sit with them. Their nomadic ways attracted me of course, although by that time their movements had been restricted. Yet it was they who discovered me in the snow after the crash, when the German search parties had given up. The last thing I remember was that it was too late to jump, too late for the parachutes to open. That must have been a couple of seconds before hitting the ground. Luckily I was not strapped in. My friend was strapped in and he was atomized on impact. But I must have shot through the windscreen as it flew back at the same speed as the plane hit the ground and that saved me, though I had bad skull and jaw injuries. Then the tail flipped over and I was completely buried in the snow. That’s how the Tartars found me days later. I remember voices saying ‘Voda’ (Water), then the felt of their tents, and the dense pungent smell of cheese, fat and milk. They covered my body in fat to help it regenerate warmth, and wrapped it in felt as an insulator to keep warmth in.”
The other boys kept a mule and the they fed the mule wild grass and lay about, listening to the mule’s chomping sounds, (they named the mule Bufesalus). They grew hallucinogenic plants. They licked their leaves and performed plastic rituals during the camp fire drinking beer and beer and beer
the artist licked the plant and she felt the mule chomping at her body and she went to the mule that it might chomp on her body and she wrapped her legs around the mule and she took the mule inside of her and she hoped to have a baby with the mule.
The boys watched in secret beneath the bunkhouse with burning mentholated cigarettes and one told of his therapist who loved baseball and another told of his white home in the suburbs and the video games he played at night when he couldn’t sleep because he’d been afraid and the idea of the suburbs made a boy yawn until another boy yawned and a contagion of yawns spread over the boys at the thought of suburbia—
yard after yard with front walks in between the sidwalk is crisp and clean: green lawns punctuated by white grey walkways with the handprints of children, sometimes, dried in the cement. Each yard has a car and each yard has a house with bedrooms and a kitchen, a microwave, and in every house a jell-o cabinate full of countless kinds of jell-o. And the father goes to work and the mother wears or wants a diamond ring and knits her hands often over time’s advance.. And the children go to school on a yellow bus and when they grow up they gather in respective, carpeted, basements to watch TV and swallow brightly colored people selling brightly colored objects. They wait in the basements eating lotuses in white walls feeling very very comfortable it sometimes makes them climb the walls
—and they woke the next morning feeling empty and wan.
One boy, Barry Maguire, left the woods for the lake. He wanted to take pictures. He thought the surface of things could fill the emptiness.
When the pilot returned to the city, carrying the photo of the plane crash in his wallet. He wandered the ruins of his city, walking through smoldering streets between and through the husks of houses. What walls stood still were hot to touch and the stones trembled, as though in shock, gasping heat from the rain of a previous fire. Daily, people carried rubble from one part of his city to another. There was little to no color beyond what tattered corners of cloth and paper peered out between rocks. Sometimes he found a foot sticking out of the rubble. His city smelled like an oyster. A city with a broken skyline, it didn’t light up at night because all the lights had been shot out by sling shots shot by boys.
In his city he went to many dinner parties.
Meanwhile the boy Barry made a camera out of wood it was nice, sanded but not finished, its edges crisp and hard it looked like a sculpture of a camera not a perfectly-realistically shaped camera but a cartoon camera it could have been made of cardboard but it was made of plywood instead.
Barry asked another boy, “Francis, will you come with me? Will you come follow me and take pictures of me falling into the water?” And Francis said sure and they went the same afternoon and Barry was sat in his canoe three feet away with the wooden camera and Francis was sat in his canoe with the real camera.“REady?” Barry asked. as he stood up (before he capsized), pretending to take pictures with the fake camera and Francis took real pictures of Barry who started shifting his weight on the boat back and forth (he was a good swimmer Barry) and the boat waggled back and forth in the water and Francis took lots of pictures and then the boat started to capsize and Barry tried to do the same thing as before, to keep his hand with the wooden camera above water and Francis took pictures the whole time and Barry was in the air and Barry’s feet were in the water and Barry’s knees were in the water and Barry’s thighs in the water his torso in the water (he was smiling you can see in pictures) and Barry’s chest was in the water and his shoulders and his elbows and neck were in the water and his chin in the water his mouth (smile smile) his nose his eyes eyebrows forehead head head hair wrists hands and even the camera all in the water Barry was all gone Francis kept taking pictures as the water smoothed out glossy Francis thought about how you could pour a little bit of oil on the surface of the water and it would all smooth out just like it was just like a mirror as the oil stretched out Only.
Barry didn’t come back up again.
Francis waited a little longer (he stopped taking pictures). He waited what felt a long time when Finally, Francis jumped and swam down to see if Barry was Giggling under the roof of the capsized canoe. Joking.
He was not.
Francis swam back to his canoe. Careful to keep the camera dry. Francis sat in his little canoe for over four hours before they found him he didn’t want to leave the spot that Barry had drowned (even though both boats drifted farther and farther apart and farther and farther from the spot). They never found the body. The body vanished, absorbed by the lake—where face down it slept, between the city and the wood, dreaming of an an artist in a bathtub, an American woman who came to photograph white Angora rabbits.