Theater Project for a Rock Band
Disclosing a conflict of interests: I applied to the (evidently) richly endowed program "Artists in Action" promoted by the Brooklyn academy of Music. A panel selects proposals by visual artists for theatrical pieces. Needless to say, my proposal was not selected and I was informed with a polite letter. But, Vito Acconci's "Theater Project for a Rock band" was, and appreciating his humorous public works as I do, I was thrilled to go see this project.
It consists of a 6 person rock band. Each musician is posted on a separate platform positioned at the vertices of a hexagon at the height of approximately 7 feet. The Hexagon, measuring approximately 25 feet on each side, is divided in equilateral triangles (imagine drawing three lines connecting opposite vertices, passing through the center) by a system of movable canvas shutters regulated by a complex system of pulleys, containing the audience in every way, including overhead and allowing selected views of the musicians, who are playing the same monotonous theme in a plethora of styles and variations. In the middle of the hexagon, are the lights and sounds mixers.
The musicians are weathered professionals versed in entertaining rowdy crowds, as they started in the punk era. They are The Mekons, certainly the best the show has to offer. The accordion riffs and the drummer's variations, from white reggae, to classic rock and roll, to rapping and techno-rhythms, were fantastic. I often turned around to see if the same person was playing so eclectically (he was). The shaping and reshaping of the space through the movements of the shutters was the mainstay of the show. With its subtext of deconstruction and re-presentation of a rock band split and off center stage, putting the audience on show with such a redundant device seemed energy draining to this viewer. A vague interest in looking at the 3/4 profiles of people you could not see at the beginning of the performance becomes boredom's dictate. So seemed the monologues in Acconci's low, raucous voice, following a periodical flash that brought a few minutes of darkness and musical pause.
Artists working on such projects have responsibilities--first and foremost,
to be true to themselves and follow their aesthetic research wherever it may
take them. But this should not be done without following the debates, ongoing
around them, to some extent. While this does not mean necessarily making it
easy or pleasing for the audience, it does mean not wasting an ideal forum with
largely masturbatory practices. That seems to be what Acconci is doing in this