Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) is a remount of Andy Warhol’s 1965 film Kitchen.
– Well, not exactly. How can you accurately remount something you’ve never seen, something known more through rumor and recollection than its original form?
Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) is a restaging of Warhol’s Kitchen, a new take on a mid-century film for the contemporary YouTube/social networking/reality TV culture.
– And more…while heavily mediated, it gets at the personal question of what it means to “just be” in the midst of an overabundance of representations of the act of “just being.”
Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) manifests a desire to connect to an imagined feeling associated with Warhol’s Kitchen, to recreate the perceived essence of an era that has passed.
– But it is also about the difficulty of such a project, the impossibility of recapturing the spirit of another time and the degree to which any past – personal or communal – is inevitably viewed through the lens of the present.
Gob Squad’s addition to the Walker’s Out There Series is a performance that continuously references a film while also referencing the company’s on-going act of performing a reference to a film. As part of the SpeakEasy post-performance discussion program, a group of audience members convened following the Saturday evening show to talk about the work. In the interest of establishing an avenue for continuing and expanding the original discussion, this blog highlights key themes touched upon, distilling ideas from a conversation that was itself a reflection upon an insistently derivative and self-referential performance. Let the layering begin…
Borrowing from pop culture and common commodities, Warhol transformed the idea of what has value, of what is worth looking at. Part of his contribution to this emphasis on the everyday involved films stripped of elaborate effects and edits or complex narratives – extended shots of sleeping, hanging out, or in the case of “screen tests,” simply sitting and gazing back at the camera.
Gob Squad began their performance by trying and failing through position, props, and attitude to encapsulate a quality of “everyday 1965,” coming to the conclusion that as performers they simply couldn’t get it right. A performer knows the evening’s plan, has read the script, and can anticipate the lines and reactions of other actors. With each performance, the company therefore takes a risk, selecting audience members to unexpectedly stand in for them and respond in real time. Multiple discussion members expressed a feeling of intimacy that hinged on this inclusion and the openness and trust required of both actors and audience participants.
The question arose, however, as to how a spectator in a theatre can differentiate between real intimacy and representations of intimacy. Gob Squad blurred this boundary not only by including audience members but also by their usage of technology. The camera zoomed in to create private moments, screens faded in and out, and scenes paused to direct our attention. The numerous technologies involved were laid bare, made so transparent that even though obviously mediated, the hyperreal scenes appeared to evoke a deeper “real.” Onstage, actors and spectators mingled and explored the duration of the performance together, responding to whatever direction or stimuli may come while the rest of the theatre watched their choices and reactions unfold. On a bed, their heads and upper torsos taking up the majority of the shot, laid a performer and an audience member (who on Saturday was coincidentally also a performer, a company member of SuperGroup). This scene of a conversation between strangers was new and known, repeated every night with the variable of a different audience participant. It was in this respect both intimate and staged.
Given the involvement of audience members, the discussion turned to the question of whether it is preferable to be chosen or to remain a spectator. On the one hand, in Augusto Boal’s formulation, spectators in a theatre are placed in a passive role that parallels the passivity requested of them in everyday life. In this binary of passive spectator to engaged performer, it is desirable to step out of the role provided to viewers and to become actively involved. Yet in our conversation about Gob Squad’s performance, the passivity attributed to audiences and hierarchy of experiences was debated.
Over the course of the performance, Gob Squad played across the spectrum between performing and “just being.” In one sense it may be possible to partially “forget oneself” while watching a performance – in lieu performing a range of versions of oneself to suit varied social situations, in a theatre one perhaps gets closer to “just being” through projecting one’s attention outside oneself. Yet Gob Squad refused to allow us to simply “forget ourselves,” reminding us of our positionality by commenting that we were all undergoing screen tests from our seats. During an extended kiss between an audience member and performer, three audience participants slowly raised their hands to their lips. From our seats, we watched them watching the kiss, their action mimicking the identification that sutures viewer to viewed, and perhaps paralleling an array of recollections, desires, and thoughts called forth by the scene. While not on-stage, many audience members felt themselves aware of their relationship to the performers and fellow audience members and in this respect felt engaged and included.
This tension between experience and performance presents an interesting quandary. To what degree is what one experiences brought to the theatre by the individual spectator and to what degree is it a response taken away from the evening’s performance? The process of having a discussion about performance is particularly interesting in this respect in that it involves finding a meeting point between the experience commonly shared of having seen the same events unfold and the inevitable variations of interpretations and reactions that each individual uniquely experiences.
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