NOW CURATING: TYLER KLINE
v i s u a l a r t i s t
Candy-colored and laser-traced, Jenny Drumgoole provides gleefully cryptic dispatches from the hyperurban liminal. Jamming stultified, waspy conventions together with telekinetic ad lib media interventions, Jenny knocks proper taste on its ass and annihilates current art market notions of supply and demand. She understands this is physic warfare against the forces of despair. That’s not clown makeup on Rox Soxx’ face: it’s war paint. Behold Jenny’s mediated meditations created during a recent road trip to Maine.
– Tyler Kline, curator
Tyler asked me to document my week alone with my dog in Maine at the end of August.
Below is a 35 second recap followed by: 1) a souvenir, 2) a thing I learned, and 3) a send-off to remember:
1. This is an “Eat Lightning Crap Thunder” drink coaster I made (next to my acorn fort drink coaster). It’s what Mickey tells Rocky when they are training for a fight in the first Rocky. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a serious love and reverence for Rocky. If you have never seen any of the movies, start with Rocky (1976), then Creed (2015), then Rocky 2 (1979). Everything got weird in the 80’s so watch these before Rocky 4 & 5.
2. I learned that I best understand Marshall McLuhan when I transcribe his writings in crayon. This is the introduction to his 1964 book Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man. There’s some really great stuff about the role of an artist in a media-driven society.
3. In the early morning as my dog and I were getting in the car to leave, we got sprayed by a skunk. We had to make the eight hour drive home like this (my dog is also a car barfer). My first contact with humans upon returning to Philadelphia was at a Family Dollar on Aramingo Avenue covered in skunk oil buying armfuls of peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn. Apply and repeat the next three days, and if that doesn’t work, try tomato paste.
I chose C.J. Stahl for this project for his analytical interrogation of the public object and its relationship to our collective consciousness. C.J.’s evidence of contemplation, his structures that act as residue of psychic alchemy, point toward a very personal and highly sensitive nomenclature of symbolic fetish. Through a rigorous methodology Stahl is able to document the privatization of public spaces and synthesize this visual ethnography through sculptural forms that present both a clear dialectic and mystic talismans. Stahl’s results stand as hybrid/dirty Cartesian calibrations of phenomenological artifacts.
-Tyler Kline, curator
When contacted about this project, I was excited at the prospect of documenting some of my changing surroundings using a single-shot camera. Since January of this year, there has been a development boom in many Philadelphia neighborhoods, including mine of Callowhill/North Chinatown. This was no doubt due to Jim Kenney’s first order of business as Mayor: signing an executive order to create the Office of Planning and Development, intended to streamline the development process for city administrators and investors alike. The resulting rapid appearance of worksites was hard to ignore as a pedestrian. Public throughways like sidewalks and street corners became congested or inaccessible, and once-vacant lots doubled as site and storage.
With the coming of the warm months, I began to consider another public space, one that is more green and seemingly in a dialectical relation to the current wave of development. Outside of the Reading Viaduct Project, under the now green-lighted name of The Rail Park, it didn’t seem that the development of mixed-use buildings was balanced with growth of publically accessible green spaces. I noticed the cultivation of green was looking more and more private. Places that looked like community gardens were actually privately cared-for plots, still very beautiful for the passerby, but not an option for a gardener hoping to fall within a participatory catchment. Individuals’ stoop gardens and armies of planters in front of their homes staked a claim that echoed the prospector’s cry. Space, it seems, is running short, and the need to claim territory is now, a near-synthesis of the dialectic.
This project gave me the opportunity to visualize some of my ideas surrounding the places and objects I encounter daily. The image roll that follows is a small selection of photos taken with the single use camera, as well as two sculptures and a collage that make use of these images. For the sculptural works, I considered the mediated experience of urban green spaces from the point of view of a domestic interior. The objects make reference to a space caught between an aesthetically manicured capacity and the desire for an immersive natural experience. The collaged work picks up on the idea of prospecting, and visually acts as a proposition or survey for sculptural works in a public space. In actuality, the space that is cited in the collaged image is private, nestled behind a condo building close to the Whole Foods on the Parkway. I have fantasized about installing works in this space, but it is hard to know how much longer it will remain vacant.
Constant trip the lighting is Pap Souleye Fall; Anansi weaver of ju-ju phantasms and lank tails. Stitching jitterbug suits of rubarb and rye, aiding celestial footwork to calm young gods and old heads. Yung bull, yung bull, many hands make the load lighter; these Bullman chariot arcades stacked like legit forts guarding against the tomb of a false world.
-Tyler Kline, curator
From bronze to digital, Tyler Kline’s art spans the ages, melding ideas of time, space, metaphysics, and humanity into packages of cast metal that last forever, or into Vine videos that live for seconds in a Twitter feed. Tyler is fearless in his use of materials, generous in his treatment of others in the art community, and one of the smartest artists working in Philadelphia today. He’s a member of the Little Berlin collective and by day he manages the Sculpture shop and the bronze forge at University of the Arts and curates several art spaces at that university.
-Roberta Fallon, past curator
Regarding phenomenology and the sensate, one of the greatest functions of art is to open new ways of feeling, thus eliciting new modes of thought. The following is an abbreviated list of media that attempt to map the landscape of the heart, with a network I created to explore artistic and intellectual connections in Philadelphia and throughout history.
Videodrome, Shivers, The Brood, and eXistenZ, films by David Cronenberg. Using horror as a language to speak as a prophet, these films weave a caustic poetry narrating a tale of a visceral existence mediated by an artificial cognizance.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, novel by Carson McCullers. Whispered gospel from the haunted, secret South.
Audition, a film by Takashi Miike. Tight steel tension lurking and staggering toward a transgressive resolution.
Endgame, a play by Samuel Beckett. One of the most hilarious situations ever wrestled into existence, pointing a fierce klieg light toward the more absurd aspects of the human condition.
Auch Zwerge Haben Klein Angefangen, a film by Werner Herzog. Holy fools and anarchist clowns define authority through pandemonium.
Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, a book by Carl Jung. A noble attempt to plot one of the most elusive yet inescapable forces of the universe.
Delta of Venus, a novel by Anaïs Nin. Prose as lucid and phantasmagoric as it is subversive.
Rigadoon, a novel by Louis-Ferdinand Céline . . . problematic . . stylish . . . assaulting . . . compassionate . . . doomed . . . jovial . . . beastly . . . ravaging . . .
The Impossible, a book by George Bataille. Disorientation as stasis and clarity.
Welcome to the Desert of the Real, a book by Slavoj Žižek. Draws much needed connections in our post Sept 11th psychosocial labyrinth.
Kikujiro, a film by Takeshi Kitano. Bizarre take on the father-son road movie that is so much more.
Being and Time by Martin Heidegger. Extremely important work, dense; I suggest the uninitiated first watch Being in the World and allow Hubert Dreyfus act as a lens into the concept of Dasein.
The Blood of Others, a novel by Simone de Beauvoir. Meditation on what it means to be free.
Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre. This novel meant a lot to me as a young man when I read it during my breaks as a graveyard dishwasher in Athens, GA; it contains a great passage regarding the autodidactic.
F♯ A♯ ∞, album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “The car is on fire and there is no driver at the wheel.” This statement helped usher in the 21st Century.
2666 by Roberto Bolaño. A novel as an infernal biological mechanism, an animated corpse that bears witness.
Defixiones Will and Testament, a live performance album by Diamanda Galas. Art as psychic warfare against the forces of despair.
Hard to be a God, a film by Aleksei German. A spectral madhouse of what might have been, a horror, a vacuous portrait of a society spectacularly in disarray. “…it began with the destruction of the University.” Truer words were never burned into celluloid.
Negative Horizon, a book by Paul Virilio. Tackles issues of speed, scale, late capital, globalization, the military industrial complex, and the role of the urban metropole orchestrating this chaotic dance.
Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, the life of Paul Erdős, and As If Summoned from the Void: The Life of Alexandre Grothendieck. All elucidate a much deeper relationship with the universe that what we merely observe.
You don’t know what shows you want to see in Fringe. That guide is freakin huge, the descriptions are tiny, and there are like 150 shows. And it’s coming up soon: Sept. 9-24.
For two years Curate This co-founder Julius Ferraro has leveraged his experience and knowledge of the Philadelphia theater scene to produce a series of Fringe Bike Tours, helping audiences to navigate the ocean of possibilities that is Fringe. This year there won’t be a bike tour, but you can take a look at his Fringe schedule, below.
-Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder
Fringe always reminds me of firsts! One of my first outstanding Fringe shows was Nichole Canuso’s Wandering Alice, and now she’s back at Fringe in Pandæmonium with Geoff Sobelle, whom I first saw in Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain, also at Fringe. I first saw Mary Tuomanen perform in Vainglorious many years ago (and have seen her many times since then), and now she’s back in another immersive Applied Mechanics show.
If there’s a theme among the shows I’m seeing in this year’s Fringe, it’s that so many fall under the label of “immersive” performance. Think critically about this descriptor, which is inarguably a hot one these days. What does it mean? Is it a new way of engaging “presence” in performance, or is it a gimmick? Is it vital to the changing meaning of theater in an increasingly digital world, or is simply a new way to stimulate oversaturated audiences?
And what counts as immersive? If actors are on all sides of me and sometimes touch me, is that immersive? If I am allowed to choose in what order I see scenes, is that immersive? Or do I have to be picking fruit with the artists, or making real in-the-moment choices with my body which affect the ways I relate with other individuals, for a show to be truly “immersive”?
Look out for my reviews of many of these at Phindie and thINKingDANCE as the festival goes by. Hopefully this list will help you to navigate the notoriously massive and ponderous list of shows. I’ve also tabulated running counts of how many shows I’m seeing and how many hours that means in actual time in the theater. Just for fun.
THURS, SEPT 8
8 pm. Animal Farm to Table by The Renegade Company. Immersive theater and food together. Immerse yourself in both, like an arty jello bath.
Total shows seen: 1. Time spent in theater: 1 hr 15 mins.
FRI, SEPT 9
8:30 pm. Feed by Applied Mechanics. What’s Feed about? I can’t tell from the description and I don’t really care. Applied Mechanics “makes plays you can walk through,” and they’re good at it. Mary Tuomanen was a wonderful Napoleon in their Vainglorious so many years ago. I’m excited to see her alongside Thomas Choinacky again.
11 pm. Crave by Sarah Kane, this production by Svaha Theatre. Kane’s first major production was Blasted, a play which blew up theatrical orthodoxy by having the seedy motel room from the first act bombed by an invading army. Graphic staged (and often sexual) violence was a hallmark of her first three plays; Crave is a departure from this, with the violence still present but abstracted into language and monologue.
Total shows seen: 3. Time spent in theater: 3 hrs 45 mins.
SAT, SEPT 10
3 pm. Cellophane by Mac Wellman, this production by Jenny Kessler and John Bezark. I wrote a preview about this play for thINKingDANCE. Wellman is a master of modern wordplay, “James Joyce reborn as a rap artist.” If you think there’s something weird and wiggly going on underneath the grinning, whitecapped veneer of contemporary communication, take a peek under the sinister skirts of Cellophane.
7:30 pm. Two Stories. In a house, dance happening in different rooms, choose your own adventure. “Immersive.” Why not.
10 pm. Shadow House. Immersive opera directed by Brenna Geffers and with a libretto by Brenna Geffers. Another choose-your-own-adventure, follow the performers around the house and get a different story depending on where you go play. I saw Geffers’ La Ronde in the same building last year. My choices didn’t seem to matter because I was able to catch everything that happened, eventually . . . but Geffers is super talented and experienced so this is worth checking out.
Total shows seen: 6. Time spent in theater: 7 hrs 30 mins.
SUN, SEPT 11
2:30 pm. The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco, created by, of course, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium. Ionesco is the French absurdist who wrote The Bald Soprano, the anti-play which you’ve seen performed in 24-hour cycles with an increasingly exhausted and loopy cast.
7 pm. The Sincerity Project by Team Sunshine Performance Corporation. The hook: two years ago, seven performers signed on for a 24 year experiment. Every two years they’ll perform The Sincerity Project, perform the same rituals, answer some of the same questions, and re-weave their lives together.
Total shows seen: 8. Time spent in theater: 10 hrs 30 mins.
MON, SEPT 12
8:30 pm. I Fucking Dare You by The Berserker Residents. I’m going to this completely by the virtue of the company making it. Wild and wicked; “daft, ephemeral and joyous.”
Total shows seen: 9. Time spent in theater: half a 24 hr day.
TUES, SEPT 13
8 pm. Gala by Jérôme Bel. Join thINKingDANCE after this performance for Write Back Atcha: a post-show “talk-back” combined with a mini-writing workshop, exploring the language you use to describe dance. See the show, pow wow with other audience members and some experienced writers, think and talk critically, write a few lines about what you saw, and then have some of your work compiled with other audience members’ work into a crowd-sourced review like this one.
Total shows seen: 10. Time spent in theater: 13 hrs 30 mins.
WEDS, SEPT 14
8 pm. Pandæmonium by Nichole Canuso Dance Company and Early Morning Opera. Nichole Canuso is a Philadelphia treasure – her Wandering Alice epitomized immersive work for me before I ever knew what that word meant, and then The Garden blew that out of the water a few years later. See her dance with Pig Iron founding member Geoff Sobelle.
Total shows seen: 11. Time spent in theater: 15 hrs.
THURS, SEPT 15
7 pm. 7-Chair Pyramid High Wire Act by Der Vorfuhreffekt Theatre. Puppetry. Elaborate costumes. Props and dynamic sets. Super theatrical performance. This show’s been all over the world and I want to catch it while it’s here.
Total shows seen: 12. Time spent in theater: 16 hrs.
FRI, SEPT 16
7 pm. With Flint and Steel by duende. Improvised music and dance. But, like, they seem to really know what they’re doing.
Total shows seen: 13. Time spent in theater: 16 hrs 45 mins.
SAT, SEPT 17
5 pm. Speculum Diaries by Irina Varina. Varina is an engaging, present, super-talented performer who is also capable of screaming a song at her own vagina on stage. One of my top picks for the festival.
9 pm. Explicit Female by Zornitsa Stoyanova. To quote Kat Sullivan, Zornitsa is a “neo-metal monster and a futuristic Renaissance queen.” Check out my interview with Zornitsa on thINKingDANCE for more info about why I’m psyched about this performance.
Total shows seen: 15. Time spent in theater: 18 hrs 45 mins.
SUN, SEPT 18
7:30 pm. Wise Norlina by Stacy Collado, Hillary Pearson, and Kat J. Sullivan. I don’t know much about this piece; I’m seeing it because I’m interested in Sullivan’s work.
10 pm. Exile 2588 by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. First time I saw Almanac was at Nice and Fresh; they did a little wordless ditty about a SEPTA ticket taker chasing a fare-cheat up onto the roof of the train and then into such unlikely places as the cockpits of fighter jets. Laurel and Hardy joyfulness combined with astounding circus skill.
Total shows seen: 17. Time spent in theater: 21 hrs 45 mins.
WEDS, SEPT 21
7:30 pm. One Way Red by Medium Theatre Company. Dani Solomon first created this piece for 2015’s SoLow Fest. It’s a beautiful and moving exploration of the one-way trip to Mars proposed by popular science recently.
Total shows seen: 18. Time spent in theater: 23 hrs 15 mins.
THURS, SEPT 22
7 pm. Julius Caesar. Spared Parts by Romeo Castellucci / Socíetas Raffaello Sanzio. A nice pairing with Cellophane, this is a Caesar stripped of its words, featuring characters who wrestle desperately to communicate and fail.
Total shows seen: 19. Time spent in theater: 1 day and 45 mins.
FRI, SEPT 23
7 pm. Portrait of myself as my father by nora chipaumire. A dancer who never knew her father “celebrates and critiques masculinity: its presence, presentation, and representation” by producing it in a boxing ring.
Total shows seen: 20. Time spent in theater: 1 day, 2 hrs and 15 mins.
SAT, SEPT 24
2 pm. Le Cargo by Faustin Linyekula. A Congolese dancer explores the elimination of memory and his country’s past.
6 pm. The Performers by Erica Janko. A total toss of the dice on this one. I know nothing about Erica Janko except that she describes herself as “a movement artist who researches social phenomena through performance,” a kind of personal statement which might mean everything or nothing.
10:30 pm. Martha Graham Cracker is Martha Graham Cracker.
Total shows seen: 23. Time spent in theater: 1 day, 6 hrs.
SUN, SEPT 25
2 pm. One Way Red by Medium Theatre Company. Full disclosure: I’m filming this for the artist, so I’m seeing it twice.
7 pm. Macbeth by Third World Bunfight. A bit of a cultural minefield: a South African director leads a cast of Congolese performers in an adaptation of Verdi’s opera Macbeth, translating its events to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the leading man into a warlord.
Total shows seen: 25. Time spent in theater: 1 day, 9 hrs.
Veronica Cianfrano is a multimedia artist who has been examining “the communication breakdown” through photographic images and memories of her familial ties and through our current reliance on digital communication. Her work displays her examinations, whether it be through memory decay, new meanings found in old footage, or the effects of the news media on our state of mind. Since receiving her MFA from the University of the Arts in 2010, Cianfrano has served as both co-founder and curator for Manifesto-ish and Champions of Empty Rooms. Here, she interviews video artist Zach Zecha about his work and the value of art via handwritten notes.
-Julius Ferraro, co-founder
Zach Zecha is a fairly recent Philly transplant, moving here from Colorado in 2013 to get his MFA from PAFA. He was a founding member of Automat, a gallery he started with some fellow PAFA MFA-ers on the second floor of the 319 N. 11th st. building. He makes paintings and assemblages that remind that we are not in control, and that is beautiful. His work is glorious chaos at first glance and then slowly you begin to find meaning in the connections he makes, going from a loud scream to gentle whisper. I never thought hot pink duct tape could make me so sad. An inner conflict ever-present. Symbolism both invented and universal is presented, redacted, and then re-presented in a different form. He cites Baudrillard, Plato, and the like; but really, in the most human terms, his work asks us to stand back and appreciate the beauty of our chaotic, broken world as it crumbles in front of us; at the same time, he asks us to work hard to make meaningful connections. Very relevant work for our current political climate.
-Veronica Cianfrano, curator
Jessica Anne Clark paints, draws, curates, reads voraciously (ask about joining her sci-fi book club), and writes. She is a staggeringly intelligent and empathic human being which makes her an amazing collaborative partner. She wonders what your life is like, who you love, what you love, what kinds of things decorate your house. She wonders these things because thoughtfulness is her superpower and because she comes from a theater and film background. Her work retains these qualities. When you encounter one of her paintings or drawings, you feel as if you have interrupted a staged scene and for a moment, her super power rubs off on you and you begin to wonder and care about her lovingly depicted characters. When she’s not working in the studio, she’s helping me curate and install exhibitions through my pop-up project, CHampions of Empty Rooms (CHER), she’s organizing Philly Art Talks, or she’s managing Manifesto-ish collective’s online artist in residence program. If she tells you to read something or look at something, you should do it because she’s thought a lot about it.
-Veronica Cianfrano, curator
Growing up, one of my mother’s favorite phrases was “de gustibus non est disputandum.” In colloquial English this loosely translates to “there is no accounting for taste.” She’d cart this puppy out whenever my sister and I would turn our nose up at something my mother enjoyed (be it food or entertainment) or when we’d fight amongst ourselves on matters of preference. Her words have stayed with me and as such, I am always hesitant to make recommendations regarding any subject where taste is concerned. However, after much consideration I have comprised the following list of items for your viewing/reading pleasure. They have something to offer beyond pure enjoyment and entertainment. Many provide insight into relevant social and historical issues as well as observations on the human condition. Though you may not share some of the ideas expressed in these works, they provide an opportunity for discussion and understanding.
1. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (book). This book takes place in Australia, post-World War III. A nuclear war has devastated the northern hemisphere and Australia and New Zealand are among the last nations awaiting an inescapable radioactive cloud to make its way south. In a perfect world, I would hope this book would have the power to truly drive home the dangers of military escalation and nuclear warfare. Super important, super relevant. There are plenty of problematic elements to this book. As a product of 1950’s, On the Beach’s presentation of women and gender roles is dated. There are just two main female characters: one a housewife/stay at home mom type (Mary) and one pseudo-manic pixie dream girl (Moira) drinking her way through the apocalypse. Mary spends most of the novel worried about her garden, in complete denial of the coming destruction. In the throws of radiation poisoning, she is found struggling to place mothballs in all the closets. In contrast, Moira’s coping mechanism is brandy and parties. She forms a relationship with an American Navy captain and through this friendship, her last days are improved. While I do not enjoy encountering narrow and ill-defined portrayals of women in literary products from the past, reading these types of works gives me an appreciation for how far we’ve come as a society. On the whole, On the Beach’s flaws do not outweigh the import of its message and the profound sadness I felt upon reaching the last page.
2. Inverted World by Christopher Priest. This book creates a compelling metaphor regarding the subjectivity of our experiences and how our experience of reality can be skewed. I’ve already said too much.
3. Love and Friendship (The Sacrifice of the Arrows of Love on the Altar of Friendship) by Jean-Pierre-Antoine Tassaert. I first encountered this piece during a trip to the PMA. It fast became one of my favorite items in the PMA’s collection. To me, this sculpture exactly encapsulates how art enables us to make connections to artists of the past. It also demonstrates how an artwork can feel like a relic while simultaneously feeling fresh and relevant to the present day. Love and Friendship implies that the movement of burning desire towards far less tempestuous feelings of friendship is a timeless cycle, rather than a product of modernity. At times the past seems so far and foreign; artworks like this circumvent those impressions.
4. Something you don’t like. I think it can be important to force yourself to read/watch/listen to something you don’t like (or think you don’t like). You may be surprised or you might just come to understand something about people who are fans of the things you abhor.
5. Episode 12 (and part of episode 13) of season four of Orange is the New Black. This is a cheat because you kind of have to see the entire series for this episode to really hit home. Partial SPOILERS to follow. This episode tackles the subject of law enforcement brutality and race (the case of Eric Garner comes to mind, specifically). A longtime and much beloved character (who had been in all four seasons of OITNB) is unintentionally killed during a peaceful prison protest. There’s nothing anyone can to do bring back the dead and it often feels like there’s nothing we can do to stop the same thing from happening over and over. This episode feels very of-the-moment in light of events of the past few years/weeks/days. Critics of the show (and this season in particular) call out the use of serious issues for entertainment purposes as being tasteless and exploitative. These arguments cannot be ignored and create an opportunity for important discussions regarding race and the representation of race in popular entertainment. OITNB is definitely a flawed show, but nowhere else will you find depictions of such a wide variety of women’s stories, presenting women of all sizes, shapes, and colors. This isn’t a perfect show but perhaps it’s paving the way for new types of series.
6. The Killing. While I’m hesitant to recommend everyone partake in murder-for-entertainment shows, I think this series stands out in a couple of ways. Each episode represents one day in the murder investigation of a teenager. In this way, the pacing is slowed. This allows the show to really take its time to come to the conclusion. Time usually feels so sped up in TV series/movies, so this is a nice departure. The Killing is just as much about those affected by death as it is about discovering whodunnit. Also, the show does an excellent job of highlighting why circumstantial evidence isn’t always dependable. Just because someone looks guilty doesn’t mean they are.
7. Frontline (PBS documentary series). Each episode of Frontline is essentially a rich investigation on a compelling subject. Frontline has reported on concussions in football, mental illness in prison, physician-assisted suicide, and more. Some episodes focus on an issue/topic at large, others follow a specific person (or persons) and the specific issues they deal with on a daily basis. The New Asylums centers on mental health issues and how prisons have become a repository for the mentally ill (especially people with no support system). Country Boys follows two teenagers coming of age in Appalachia. Watching Frontline can feel a little like an “eat your peas” viewing experience in that the subject matter is not always easy to swallow: the reports are often heart wrenching and may leave you feeling a little hopeless . . . but it’s good for you.
8. Burn This (Lanford Wilson), specifically one night in the run of a Syracuse Stage production of this play in 1999. This night at the theater felt like magic. One of the things I’ve come to value most about theater is the possibility of variation within a run. One night will never be exactly the same as the next. This can cut both ways. You may attend on an off night, a night where actors were not at their best. Or, you could be present on a night where the actors are firing on all cylinders, everything is clicking exactly right and you are invigorated with the energy crackling on stage. That night at Syracuse Stage was one of those nights. I am recommending the performance rather than the play because it is the performance that has stayed with me all these years, not the story. Instead of teleporting back to 1999, take a chance and see some theater. You may just hit one of those magic nights.
9. Translations by Brian Friel. This is a play about language/communication/communication breakdown. It also has to do with cultural identity as well as “cultural imperialism” (thanks, wikipedia). The play takes place in small, fictional Irish town in the mid 1800’s. Issues between the Irish and English during occupation factor in heavily. Language is so essential to our daily lives, but it is flawed and fragile. Can we be understood without a common verbal language? Are we really being understood in our common tongue?
10. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman). This film exemplifies the strength of visual storytelling. On paper, Anomalisa is the story of a man who is really just a terrible, completely self-involved asshole. He’s so wrapped up in his own feelings of dissatisfaction that he is unable to differentiate between any of the people he comes into contact with as the movie progresses. Kaufman allowed us to experience the world as this man does, and it is not a pleasant world. Perhaps you too will be left conflicted, left with the odd feeling that you’ve just enjoyed something you shouldn’t have.
11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman). I saw this a year or so after breaking up with my first serious boyfriend, the absolute right/wrong time to see this film. Anyone who has had the exquisitely terrible/kind of not terrible feelings of heartbreak would do well to see this movie.
12. Moonstruck: Olympia Dukakis. Cher. Nicolas Cage. Treat yourself.
13. Kindred by Octavia Butler. I read this book in one night a couple of years ago. It had been a long time since I had read a book that I could not put down when bedtime rolled around. This time travel story-meets-investigation of slavery in America allows us to experience life on a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation through the eyes of an African American woman from 1976. The effect is really powerful. Why is this relevant? I’d say it’s at least relevant to any and all Americans because this is our heritage. The time of (legal) slavery in America is still so close to the surface. It’s wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. In many ways we are still feeling the effects of that point in our nation’s history. There is a poignancy to sending a woman living in post-Civil Rights era America to pre-Civil War era America, especially in light of the current events (re: police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement). America has yet to reach a point of full fairness and equal treatment for all its inhabitants, for all races and sexes. While 1978 may afford a better quality of life/more rights for an African American woman than 1815, and 2016 may have even more opportunities/possibilities than 1978, things still aren’t what they should be. The scales are still tipped: in this way the specters of past wrongs have not been vanquished.
I first met Rebecca Katherine Hirsch four years ago at a Permanent Wave Philly meeting where we spent many hours compiling entries into the collective’s zine. I remember feeling really loopy from concentrating on the layout, but Rebecca was right there with me as I got all of my giggles out. I recall a few extra cat doodles making it into that edition somehow. I’ve always had respect for the way Rebecca takes on serious topics in her work with a signature feisty sense of humor. While I don’t necessarily share all of her opinions, I am immensely appreciative of how strongly she pursues her ideals through activist art. Rebecca makes art as Humble Mumbles, a podcast about feminism, queerness, Palestine & other stines. Other art projects of hers include the collaborative multimedia bit BARBARISM, the unknown entity Slappy Pancake Private Eye as well as Intensely Staring, a 90s alternative guitarist who has no guitar. She inspires me to “go for it” when I truly believe in something. At the time of this interview Rebecca was traveling in Palestine and Israel researching her work so we corresponded via email.
-Mira Treatman, curator
Mira Treatman: What media are you working in today? What attracted you to them?
Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: Media. What is media? . . . I think, ostensibly, I am working in pod (that is: making a podcast—so I guess that’s the media of audio—as well as writing). The process, I guess, is that first I have the interest, then I collect the audio, then I write the script/story to frame the collected audio, add music, and then hopefully the result is a podcast episode. I first started my weird podcast in (let me check my website) October 2014. A good time, October 2014. I don’t know if anything actually attracted me to doing a podcast outside of Dan from Never Forget Radio doing one. I LOVE NEVER FORGET RADIO, I love how layered and lyrical the political-psycho-sociological thinking is and how much fun it is to listen to, and Dan said, why don’t you make a podcast too, so I did. Also, I’m a writer and a person interested in feminism/Palestine so a pod was a cool new way to write about it . . . using . . . audio.
MT: Where are you currently on your journey as a live performer?
RKH: I read this question fast and thought you asked me how my past experience with Birthright Israel influenced where I am today to which the answer is: WHOA SO MUCH in terms of increasing interest in uses of narrative and manipulation. OK, but to answer your real question, I think I am in a constant liminal threshold purgatory and it is terrible and potentially liberating and SO IS LIFE. Thanks for asking. I am very subjective and unreliable in my answers, by the way, but I guess that’s what interviews are, OK, let me try to think about this. I think . . . I am on the road. That’s where I am on my journey. Not at the starting line, never gonna win the race, just sort of slowly jogging but very tired and reactively overexcited, sometimes. Past live performance experiences with BARBARISM and Slappy Pancake Private Eye have emboldened me and enlivened me, puffed me up with unmerited overconfidence and acted as excuses for subsequent performances where I didn’t know what I was doing but assumed I could just float on the wings of past experiences and I was wrong, so wrong. But bad performances can also be helpful humility-inspirers and instigators to change/actually prepare so that’s cool. Sometimes, especially at NIGHT KITCHEN and at The A-Space things have gone very well.
MT: What can we expect from Humble Mumbles’ upcoming live show, How to Get from Hebron to Ramallah?
RKH: Um, so when that show happens—which it WILL happen unless I stay in Palestine until the very end of my visa here in which case this show will 100% happen but a little bit later than originally expected—I hope it will consist of a lo-fi live-action recreation of West Bank travel between cities, complete with burdensome, Orwellian (strategically needlessly bureaucratic) checkpoints (an excitingly depressing mixture of intimidating bigness + claustrophobia, for the visitor equipped with a trusty American passport and Jewish surname). We’ll also recreate interactions with bored to vitriolic, well-intentioned to power-crazed teenaged Israeli soldiers and a few scary, god-promised-me-this-land West Bank settlers. Why is travel so hard for Palestinians in the West Bank? What mechanisms keep people under control, and what is their function?
MT: Where have you traveled recently? Where are you right now? What brought you there?
RKH: Oh god. I don’t even know anymore. Right now I’m in the sweet town of Beit Sahour, a 10 minute walk from Bethlehem. Beit Sahour is a town with a rich history of resistance (see this half live action, half cartoon movie about cows-as-threat-to-Israeli-security during the first intifada for more!) and also, interestingly, one of the very few Christian majority towns in the West Bank (Christians make up 2% of the Palestinian population of the West Bank; most have emigrated—in large part to South and North America). I was recently in Ramallah, East and West Jerusalem, and another Bethlehem-area town of Beit Jala. And before that, fellow Philadelphian Megan Bailey (!) and I traveled to Haifa and Akka and Nazareth up in the north of historic Palestine (or current ‘48,’ as many pro-Palestine people will sometimes call Israel in reference to the 1948 War of Independence to Israelis, the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’) to Palestinians). I plan to return to Hebron in a few days. Hebron! Oh, so many things to say about Hebron. I’m fascinated by this city of incredible everyday Israeli brutality and humiliation (at least in the H2 Israeli state-controlled area… as opposed to H1, the nominally Palestinian Authority-controlled area… which is still UNDERNEATH Israeli military occupation. So dystopian), as well as incredible kindness and resilience in the Palestinians who live there. I’ve also had some really heartwarming, weirdly unexpected talks with the odd Israeli soldier. Hebron like many (if not most?) Palestinian places has a history of perfectly neighborly relations between peoples of many faiths until it was overwhelmed by one ethnonationalist state (ugh, let’s all just take another moment to be so annoyed with Israel. WHAT THE HELL). I’ve met some of the nicest people in Hebron and I try to interview them about their experiences with the city, with travel, culture(s), etc. I try to be as obsessed as I am without letting it get in the way. Which is hard. I’m bad at humility so I gave my podcast an aspirational/joke of a name.
MT: I often perceive really entertaining idiosyncrasies like surprising non-sequiturs in your humor. Where does this come from?
RKH: Sadness. (America/Ashkenazi mid-century Philip Roth-yaw-shucks Jewish patriarchy stuff led me to believe humor was a magically-native-to-the-Jews trait but no, it’s just a general coping/defense mechanism used by many peoples given many contexts. Better late to de-essentialize my thinking than never!)
MT: What are you most looking forward to when you get back to Philly this summer? What’s the best part of living in Philadelphia? What is the worst?
RKH: Hmm . . . I’m looking forward to editing and making episodes out of much of the audio I’ve collected over the past months (including rollicking Arabic pop music in shared taxis! Sober-minded interviews with smokey-voiced Old City Jerusalem hotel proprietors! Rare snippets with Israeli leftists, Palestinian kids I met on streets, Palestinian rappers in 48/Israel, my mom as we walked on a highway to the settlement of Har Gilo from the city of Beit Jala, etc.) Philly is more affordable than some cities and has thriving arts. It is not New York. That’s cool. I probably like Philly a lot but I like Palestine more, I just can’t stay here. Look what happened the last time Jews got too comfortable in Palestine.
All photos by Rebecca Katherine Hirsch.