The Bushwick Starr has brought us nothing if not variety, and assures the same in their just announced 2011-2012 season. But first, through their new Propeller Project (kicking off the season with "new works by artists we believe in"), the Starr brings us something else we haven’t seen here before: a lecture.
thisisitisthisit (Shit Shit Shit): A Map of the Known World isn’t just a lecture, of course – who would bring such a confused title to the medium of academic authority? It’s a performance lecture, the format explored by The Plastic Arts, a team-up of writer/director Jake Hooker and lighting designer Tláloc López-Watermann. Instead of the podium we have a mad feat of stagecraft, a nightmare of a McKibbin loft with platforms, slides, pulleys, and fifteen separate video outputs, as well as a jumble of more dated display technologies like 8mm and overhead projectors. This leaves little space for the audience but lots for Hooker to explore while López-Watermann takes the audiovisual captain’s chair.
The subject? Exploration, cartography, the search for new lands and understandings. But the search is doomed and so, by design, is the lecture; it can’t even explain its own space, a Cartesian grid of ship’s rigging through which Hooker flounders. Great names are invoked – Lewis and Clarke, Gagarin, Shackleton – but it’s one of those dreams where you spend all night preparing for a journey while never quite making it out the door. Following Cage, it could be a Lecture on Nowhere.
Hooker, entering the stage through a rear window, begins with a few lines from one of many thick books. "I desire less to show you what I can do, than to tell you what I know," he tells us. This opener is cribbed from François Delsarte, a 19th century teacher of oratory who made a fairly unsuccessful attempt to codify the emotional meaning of human gesture. The surface modesty of the declaration doesn’t hold up as we come to understand how difficult "telling us what he knows," – or in the performance’s terms, mapping out his world – is going to be.
The impossible mission is later restated in President Jefferson’s instructions to Meriwether Lewis, a laughable shopping list of geographic and ethnographic requests from documenting volcanic activity to native clothing and fishing techniques. This setup gives Hooker and his video alter egos plenty of license to fail. The rapid-fire feats of physical and technological coordination attempted by the two performers are doomed never to work out quite right – least of all on opening night – but they play it for slapstick. Missed video cues and precariously balanced equipment become the failings of every explorer to articulate the explored. "This is what performance art is about," we hear Hooker say after the show, soaked in sweat. "Watch me suffer for an hour."
thisisitisthisit (Shit Shit Shit): A Map of the Known World is on through Monday the 12th at the Bushwick Starr.