I know embarrassingly little about Andy Warhol. That much was clear to me while watching Gob Squad’s Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good). But it was also clear that I didn’t need to know that much about Andy Warhol. This piece was about so much more than recreating Kitchen. (As they say in the program notes, the film is simply a “starting point.”) It was asking about the possibility of recreation at all, of authenticity, of fungibility, of time and timeliness, of here and now, past and gone, of eras and epochs, zeitgeist.
I’m sure I would have gotten many more references if I had half an arts history education, or at least a better knowledge of Warhol and the Factory, but the performers charmingly filled me in on what I needed to know, telling me what they were recreating in an appropriately meta way. And there is no surer way to my heart than charming performers and heavy doses of meta.
That said, charming performers can sometimes be a dangerous thing. In a piece that concerned itself with realness and authenticity, a too-knowing performer becomes cute, camp, commentary-less. I felt hints of this near the beginning in the glances and addresses the performers sometimes shot the camera, but as they finessed the continuum of “real” to “performed” (with all the fun complications of performed realness and real performance) I was completely won over.
Those complications were at the heart (or maybe one of the hearts?) of the piece for me. As the performers slowly replaced themselves with “real” people from the audience, feeding them lines from their headsets, coaching them, the distinctions blurred. How lovely to recreate your re-creation. How else can you find innocence? (What a loaded term. Maybe naiveté? That overused and mysterious concept authenticity?) The problem was set up early on in the far right screen, where one performer, Simon, explained the process of Warhol’s famous screen tests to the other, Sean, in order for him to recreate it. Of course knowing the process spoils it. How can you be authentic when you know what you are doing?
And somehow, Gob Squad got us there. To a place of naïve knowing. Or knowing innocence, if I can reuse those wrong words. The four audience members, who had been watching and learning the show, who knew what the performance was doing, still managed to not know, to be coached along line by line, moment by moment. It feels like this is the kind of recreation something like Kitchen needs. If that film could portray a slice of the era, a sense of the newness, a truth of the ‘then’, then this film/performance had to show a truth of the now, our knowingness. We are in the information age, the time of meta, irony, recycling, collage. We eat everything up and vomit back out bits of different pieces, ending with a partially digested new old. Everything has been done before and we can only complicate it. Innocence (I have to keep using that word, as much as I abhor it) can only be real once. We can’t keep burning our bras without knowing full well where bra-burning has (and has not yet) brought us so far. There is no way to tap into the freshness of that feminist anger. You have to find the fresh anger now. I loved seeing Sharon go from her feminist “Fuck the man” speech, struggling to recreate a cliché, into some strange immortal monologue that felt both of a trippy past era and yet somehow real to the moment.
The moment is important. As Sharon asked her “stronger, wiser, more balanced” stand-in, “would you rather your life were a painting or a movie?” A painting is a perfect moment. But a movie, the wiser Sharon responded, was many moments. Gob Squad’s Kitchen had to be a movie, and it had to be live performance. The many moments, each of them now, collecting onstage behind the mediated projection- it was the right complication. It is new every night, and the same Kitchen every time.
(from Theresa of Mad King Thomas)