It’s the end of the first week of PuSh, and momentum is definitely building. Last night we had three sold-out, or nearly sold-out shows, two of them in large venues: Gob Squad’s Kitchen at the Fei and Milton Wong, SFU Woodward’s; Danse Lhasa Danse at the Chan Centre (1200 seats!); and A Brimful of Asha at the Revue Stage on Granville Island. This in addition to the final performance of The Pixelated Revolution at SFU Woodward’s Studio T and, of course, Club PuSh, where Calgary’s Woodpigeon joined forces with the Coastal Sound Youth Choir for back-to-back performances
Much as one would like, one can’t be everywhere at once, and so from the above smorgasbord of choice, Richard and I opted for Kitchen. A live video and theatrical recreation of several of Andy Warhol’s iconic Factory films, the piece asks what appears to be initially glib and then turns out to be quite profound questions about the relationship between liveness and documentation, reality and simulation, the past and the present. Entering the Wong Theatre single file via its backstage door, the audience encounters not just the members of the Gob Squad ensemble, but also the three makeshift sets on which their experiments will be played out. Once the piece begins, these sets are viewed as black and white projections on three side-by-side screens. In the middle, and comprising the main focus of attention, is the kitchen of the title, in which the mustachioed Shaun and Edie Sedgwick-lookalike Sharon set about channeling the sexual energy of the swinging 60s in order to reenact as authentically as possible the action of Warhol’s original film. Except that the table cloth on the kitchen table is more 50s than 60s, and the foodstuffs they’ve stocked their shelves with have clearly come from Nester’s supermarket, and Shaun’s claim that he likes his coffee the way he likes his men—strong, hot, and black—is ridiculous and deliberately cringe-making in its comic hyperbole.
This is just the start of the mayhem unleashed as a result of the collective’s attempts to make sense of—and ideally make work for them—the ever-widening gap between themselves, the selves they are playing in 2014, and the selves those selves are supposed to be standing in for in 1965. For example, on the screen to the audience’s left of the central kitchen panel, Sarah is trying to sleep—in homage to Warhol’s seven-hour film of his slumbering lover John Giorno. But, as she explains to Shaun, she’s really only pretending to sleep. And so, by said logic, she somehow convinces him to pretend to be her pretending to sleep. Meanwhile, Simon, having completed his single take screen test on the audience right panel, says to Sharon that it’s her turn, and all she has to do is sit in front of the camera and “be herself.” Easier said than done for Sharon, who over the course of the next ten minutes proceeds to drape a number of scarves and other items of clothing about her, eventually putting a plastic bag over her head, which as she eventually says to a panicked Simon was just her playing, but which is nevertheless increasingly uncomfortable for us to watch as we see the bag fog up before us.
At first all of this is played very broadly and comically, and one thinks this is—to borrow a couple of terms from another Sedgwick, this one Eve Kosofsky—a slightly sneering, post-postmodern, “kitsch-attributive” response to material long recognized (and valued) as camp. And, it’s true, there is certainly a way in which the company’s fumbling attempts to figure out how a newly liberated gay male sexuality would have been played (apparently with outsized sunglasses, a white fur coat and an ersatz Brooklyn accent), or whose breasts—Sarah’s or Sharon’s—are more authentically feminist, or even how one would have danced back then—exposes some of the closed clique-iness and narcissism of Warhol’s self-anointing superstar world. But then, one by one, the Gob Squad players begin to break the cinematic frame, coming out from behind the projection screens to seek out audience avatars for their own on-screen personas. This adds yet another inevitable layer of mimeticism. But within this feedback loop—and what remains among the most moving aspects of the piece—these audience members are also allowed and indeed encouraged to play themselves, to translate their quotidian lives in the here and now into something timeless and mythic within the space of the camera’s frame.
And so it was in Shaun’s interactions with Fiona in Screen Test and Sarah’s with Jane in Sleep—and then, quite beautifully, in Kiss—that I was not only able to witness what of the revolutionary spirit of Warhol’s era remains today, but also how, through the remediating temporality of performance itself, we all have the potential to be superstars.