To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, playwright/performer Rachel Jendrzejewski shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance by Cynthia Hopkins. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Somewhere in the middle of This Clement World, we meet a German physicist that Cynthia Hopkins encountered while on an expedition to the Arctic. Or rather, I should say, we meet Hopkins’ impression of the man, as she’s reenacting a lecture that she didn’t manage to capture on film. Every year, this physicist heads to the Arctic before the ice forms, allows his boat to be frozen into place, and stays there until the ice thaws. This endeavor is known as “overwintering,” the same term used to describe things like migration and hibernation, and probably, living in Minnesota, things related to waiting out the harsh conditions of winter. Hopkins-as-physicist tells stories about living in the Arctic, navigating nature, and coming to terms with mortality, declaring choice insights along the way like, “There’s no such thing as human rights in the Arctic!” We are tiny specks in the cosmos, after all, mortal animals just fighting to survive. The audience gazes at breathtaking footage of vast seas, white ice masses, documentation collected from Hopkins’ travels, landscapes that make us feel even more insignificant in the grand scheme of things. “This is not bad, it’s not even sad,” she insists. “In fact, it’s beautiful. It’s life.”
It is beautiful; and yet this character probably will be one of the first to remind us that, despite our small, finite position within the vastness of nature, we humans are rapidly taking nature down—except, no, that’s not quite right—we’re rapidly taking ourselves down. Nature will always be around in some form, but its prolonged hospitality for human life is another story. Later in her piece, Hopkins (now playing an alien from outer space disguised as a man with a moustache) observes that human beings have come to the end of innocence; like toddlers learning about cause and effect, we can see the dire consequences of our actions. There’s no going back to blissful ignorance. Not that we have ever been terribly blissful in ignorance; another character played by Hopkins, the ghost of a murdered Native American woman, points to certain haunting notions of “progress” (“Now we can kill each other so many ways”).
Hopkins presents our current global climate situation, including the role of consumer-driven “progress,” in plain didactic terms: Here is what’s happening. We have choices to make. Now is the time to make them. Sacrifice will be required. Yet amidst the firm clarity of her mission, she inhabits a world of paradox that, at least for me, packs the real punch. Documentary film and autobiographical accounts are layered into a concert structure of utterly transcendent music (including a stellar live band), along with a multimedia environment and array of eclectic fictional and real characters. Observations of crisis exist in meditative suspension, urgency amidst timelessness. Sometimes there’s a palpable tension between these worlds; engulfing sections of music accompanied by those equally captivating Arctic images seem to swell up in visceral response to all the scientific research telling us things most of us have heard but feel helpless to control. Apart from the video, Hopkins herself is the main focus on stage, often in the form of and/or accompanied by life-sized projected videos of herself. Her image seems to be everywhere and vulnerable, but also nowhere, mediated by technology or hidden behind personae (surely the fact that she’s appearing on the heels of Cindy Sherman is no coincidence). Witness versus participation; inevitability versus choice. It accumulates very quickly into something much larger than one human.
“She’s trying to tell a story she do not know how to tell,” remarks Hopkins-as-alien toward the end. And maybe this accumulation of paradox, the impossibility of fathoming the world on our own, becomes the point. Perhaps the real story of climate change begins as we find each other in shared space to look, and listen, and respond, together.