Warren Arcan's past performance pieces include “Six Gun Sufi” (cowboy ballads and sexdeath mysticism); “Surgery” (hermaphrodism as a metaphor for Abo identity); “Flamingo Killer” (a ‘based-on-a-true-story’ performance featuring a suburban kid and his grisly abreaction to behaviour modifying drugs), and “Flora and Fauna” at the Western Front.
Arcan used to be the Artistic Director of the Centre for Indigenous Theatre, and also ran a video post production company, where he worked on or was associated with dozens of projects, from loops for installations to feature length documentaries.
The playing space was grunt's secondary space; a channel of roughly fifteen by four feet was taped out on the floor. The audience gathered in the main gallery and waited. Everyone received a headset with an infrared receiver, using a piece of ID as security, and waited to be ushered into the playing space in groups of twenty.
The headsets were of the sort used for simultaneous translation, allowing the audience to select seven different channels of audio.
Upon being brought in, they would sit around the playing space. The performance would begin and they would be able to select whatever audio they wanted, mixing their own soundtrack, as it were.
Each channel of audio was a variation on the theme of love. Each channel began and ended with the same audio loops. The opening loop gave the audience time to orient themselves. The end loop gave the audience time to be ushered out. Once underway, each channel lasted fifteen minutes.
#1 A Man Party: Three male friends and I talked about relationships. We sat in a recording studio, drank and talked for about three hours, then I transcribed and edited the conversation to fifteen minutes. Chicks seemed most interested in this one.
#2 Endorphin release: I wanted the sounds of pleasure but I didn't want audio from porn, other movies, or unknown sources. I didn't want to ask friends to fuck for the piece. I didn't I want to do it either: too autobiographical. Plus, that wet slapping of bodies: there's only so much a person wants in their ear. During the recording and construction of the other channels I met a young woman at a cafe. There was drinking and music playing. We started talking and amusing each other. I told her what I was up to and she told me what she was up to. Interesting person. I liked talking to her. Then she said she was a human pin cushion. What's that? Someone into piercing play. We talked a bit more and then I asked her if I could make an audio recording of one of her sessions. I explained my aims and intentions and she agreed. We met later in the basement of a fetish shop in Victoria. Did I say basement? Dungeon. The session lasted an hour. It was arduous and endorphic. She was an Endorphic Oracle. I edited the hour down to fifteen minutes, reducing it to her moans and sighs and screams.
#3 Cree Love: there are dozens, hundreds of ways of altering verbs in the Cree language. I got James Nicholas on the phone and he spoke declensions of the Cree word for Love.
#4 Bird Song: I took an Audubon Society field guide to song birds and edited it to five minutes of bird calls and a narrators' descriptions and explanations of the calls as mating and territorial in an orchestral layering of bird calls upon bird calls. A five-minute piece repeated three times.
#5 Love Texts: I took texts on love from philosophers, writers, medical dictionaries, and other written sources. Then I had Apple's robot voice speak them. Vicki is her name.
#6 Love Songs: A selection of love songs from as many musical traditions as possible - Italian opera, western pop, Bollywood, Hopi Trad and me and my three-year old son making music together.
#7 The Melange: every track mixed down onto one.
The most important element was the audience's engagement with the audio and the headsets and their willingness to make and maintain eye contact.
Just before the performance began, Glenn Alteen gave me an object he found in the street: a reflector from the back of a bike or something. He told me that when he saw it he felt compelled to pick it up and give it to me. I took it and thanked him; it's the sort of thing you accept without judgement, given the context and intent.
The piece was done three times that night. A group was ushered in, the presentation made, and then ushered back out before they could applaud. They sat in the round without chairs.
The main action of the performance was to look around the room from the safety of my taped out playing area, and make eye contact with everyone. For each person, I was to go through the arc of a love affair: first encounter, fascination, passion, the much-regretted end and final farewell. I expressed much emotion; each affair was always the whole world, each and every one of them. Fifteen minutes later it was over. I dropped an emotional screen between myself and the audience and returned to the palate cleansing action of placing the reflector. The audience was then ushered out.
I began with something for the audience to look at as they oriented themselves, something that prepared their attention. Once they were seated the audio started: during thirty seconds of the intro loop they played with the headsets and experienced the audio playing against what they were seeing: me. As they entered and until the intro loop finished, I occupied myself with a simple action. It doesn't matter what I was doing but I'll tell you anyway: I occupied myself with simply placing the reflector on a small side table set at one end of the taped-out channel. Aim: to place it without art or artifice, without premeditation, without quotation marks, as if it wasn't being observed. I occupied myself with doing an action that wasn't an Action, indifferent to the audience, so as to contrast with the performance to come.
The headsets provided the audience a means of altering their experience by changing the audio. There were reports of some audience members choosing audio to regulate the energy of the performance, using the audio to create changes appropriate to their desired comfort level.
The piece was an investigation of love as desire and therefore love as the matter of an individual's destiny, which is to say their power of choice. And choice then is emblematic of an Individual, of the human project. So that chain, love-desire-individual-destiny, as a construct comes to be seen as love itself. I wanted to create breaks in that chain, to decompose it, in order to free certain things.
The show was about love. But not literally because that's too big. So instead I made it about pursuit of love. And in that I made room for the mistakes of communication, the thousand tiny failures, that seem to crowd out or at least gather around the successes of communication.
Better to make it about different kinds of love, as suggested by the seven channels of audio, so that when taken as a whole, the 'superchannel' of the piece is about love as unapproachable as a singular idea and therefore a difficult destiny. The elements of the show describe the outline of the thing, its there-ness sketched by the evidence, the stories, the relics and the remainders, being the best and only and most human thing that can be done. Weeping wordless gestures through a sheet of thick glass. Until it's time to go.
This is a video of Warren Arcan’s performance titled Superchannel, which took place at grunt gallery in 2004. The video shows one of three separate performances from that night. Warren is situated in the middle of the gallery space and uses an approx. 5 X 10 foot space to pace and interact with audience members by making eye contact with them. He doesn’t speak. While he is making contact with the audience members, he goes through a range of emotions from looking pensive to crying and laughing. The audience surrounds him, but no one touches or approaches ’his area,’ nor does he leave his designated area. The audience members are wearing earphones and listening to one of six different soundscapes that Warren has designed for the performance. Many of the audience members are sitting on the floor and often he bends down to their eye level. During a short break between each performance, he picks up a small ’dot’ light placed at one end of his designated space, walks to the other end, puts it on the floor, leaves it there, walks away from it, and then goes back to pick it up and replace it on its original location on a low pedestal.
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