Photo courtesy Paula Court.
The Chocolate Factory Theater
September 13 –15 & 17 – 22, 2012
As I queued for the performance, a gaggle of pre-adolescent boys flailed down the sidewalk proclaiming, "Oh, a chocolate factory!" "I want chocolate!" The amiable gentleman behind me, last in line, chucked and said, "Sorry boys, this isn't a real chocolate factory," and trailed off with, "though I think there are some Hershey Kisses at the reception window." I didn't know what to expect from the performance; I didn't want to know. I read the delightfully vague description published on the Chocolate Factory's website, and felt contented to know little beyond the fact that this was a theater indeed, and chocolate was not inherent to the performance. Rather than abstractly titled "kisses", (for they certainly aren't shaped as such—perhaps titled by size, kiss-sized, or for their experience, gone in a flash--like a peck) I knew to expect some mediation between chaos and order. That was all that I knew as I filed into the performance space, for I find expectations blinding, and for this piece, I certainly needed my full faculty of vision—both ocular and internal perceptual clarity.
My goal was to channel the event, knowing that the passive act of recording would inevitably be filtered through my consciousness and bear the mark of my sense of it. I read once that a psychoanalyst approaches a session in such a way—listening in a reverie and reserving judgment for later. In that sense, an analytic environment is very much like that of a performance, especially in Hot Box: a contained space in which the otherness of real life is set-aside for a punctuated time (60 minutes in this performance, and interestingly correlative in analysis). The space is something other—not a window into a world or an object altering space, but a space and time whose summation and constituents alike— amount to something more. My goal was not to judge it, or project meaning (which inevitably the mind retroactively reads in the memory and sense residue), but to actively channel my experience of the thing.
I was struck most by the calm that I felt amid what should have amounted to a parade around and through my senses. The elements amounted to a club-like atmosphere, but beyond a few passing flashbacks, my associative impressions took to Blade Runner (Rogers, in the dim light, bore a fleeting resemblance to the pale-haired, chest-out and shoulders drawn back stature of the replicant character Roy Batty, though in the iconic scene, Batty's wetness was rain, whereas Roger’s was sweat—a medium of the piece itself as a mark of ardor in allusion to films life "Apocalypse Now" and "Fitzcarraldo"), the visual throwback stopped there.
My notes from the performance are significantly more reflective of the chaos promised in the press release than I felt in my actual experience of the event. My scrawls bear a striking resemblance to those of a train poet, bedraggled and mumbling beautiful mysteries. My words, in this case, may or may not be beautiful, but they are a certain brash poetry—creations neither of psychosis nor my own creativity, but a stream of consciousness transcription of Brian Roger's artistry.
The event promised a significant endeavor, one integral to organic life from microorganisms up to the complex structure of society—ordered chaos. There are finite, but rather innumerable constituents of a whole that is inherently unified in that it is. This scope is fundamental but nearly unrelateable, and Brian Rogers seems to be seeking the timeless endeavor of creating a controlled environment, a situation in which this relationship can be experienced and felt in a heightening that aesthetics can alone engender.
My notes speak of electric crickets, and drippings and drums; of spotlight orbs and the pressure of a band of light cutting through my vision like a ghost. They speak of the sounds of sex or exercise; of smoke and screens, of marked darkness—visual and opposed to tonal—it was dark, which is why I couldn't see my page to write coherently, but it didn’t feel dark. The pervasive smoke reflected the little light that was present, soaking the colored waves of oscillating spotlights so that they neither illuminated the room nor gave it the atmosphere their presence would otherwise suggest.
Photo courtesy Paula Court.
Despite the smoke, the semi-transparent black screens, the pulsating and oscillating lights, and the immense sound, it felt nothing like a club—like the chaos and violence anticipated. It did not feel loud even though my ears were full of sound. It did not feel isolating, even though I was enveloped in smoke and unable to share an expression with my neighbors only inches away. Conversely, I felt the pervasive connectedness of the haze, unifying everything in a blanket of obscurity. It was as though the fullness in the air, the sound waves and light waves and particles of haze somehow bridged the gap between my peers and me. I didn’t need to catch their eye or grumble a condescension or affirmation. We were in it together, and that was enough.
It was enough to be there. I noted, collecting brief awareness of the situation: I was trapped, or perhaps rather held in a holding tank between here and there, between Scylla and Charybdis without terror—I was in neither space of then but riding the bridge whose left bank was a swath between then (what was) and now, and the other between now and then (what will be). This was not a video or a painting I could walk away from. I was in a room, for an extended time, with strangers and all of my senses engorged in the thick air of the performance—and it felt nice to surrender myself to these cumulative moments.
I felt as though I sat in the dialectic of sensory data, amidst it but separate from it—I sat, literally at times, between, Rogers and his performing partner/collaborator Madeline Best. There were two screens upon which the performers faces were projected, and before each screen on either side sat two rows of audience/participants. The performers were themselves often visible live in the periphery, full bodied and heavy breathing, while their faces were projected onto the screens by a camera whose oscillations they religiously followed. Both visions were rich to behold: live, the performers' whole bodies, heaving chests and gleaming sweat were visible, but from afar and behind a screen, whereas in the projection the grossly amplified scale of their faces brought their expressions—a bit pained but stoic—and a specific glisten in the eye or a note of fear. Both felt connective, to see them live and to see them larger than life on the screen--but both were ultimately fragmented in vastly different ways. One, the performers were behind a screen, and making contact with a device as opposed to the people they knew were watching them; the other was channeled through a device, a shadow of a performance done for something else. It was as if to provide what could be two very revelatory things, but they are ultimately guarded by degrees of separation, and in doing so rather than being overstimulating to behold, they became studies of quietude amidst layers of intent.
What I felt was not chaos but the marked lack thereof, notable in that all of the elements should have given rise to significant overstimulation, whereas I associated more with the sensation of lying in a dark room, hearing sounds from the street and the bands of light lavishing the walls as cars passed, growing and waning as cars turned, approached, and drove away. To feel secure where one is as the world moves around, urban night time cloud gazing—feeling the world turn. I felt the performance turn around me, aware of the passage of time and the unreality meets hyperreality of it all. It did not feel either chaotic nor did it not feel so due to order, but rather, I feel, it felt completely organic amidst all of its contrivance, it's punctuation, it's site specificity, its heightening—mimetic of nature in all of its deviation from it.
The chaos I felt only second hand: in the ardor that the performers experienced; I felt them in Rogers and Best, and that is what made Hot Box such a success for me. Perhaps their ardor was ultimately a predigestion of their experience for a performance, to soften it into something to be nourished by as opposed to berated by. They took the beating, and we got to see them do it for us, and to see what make it so, to see potential and a reprieve from it, to sit back and watch and feel something new. It created a secondary and backwards representation of their endeavor, ultimately more interesting and more human as an unconscious utterance beneath a rich conscious smorgasbord—its layers creating dimension to live within.
The performance will took place September 13-15, and 17-22 at the Chocolate Factory, L.I.C., NY.