Reviewed by Myron Meisel
Cloud Eye Control at REDCAT
While all live performance derives some of its irreplaceable uniqueness from its ephemeral nature, little art dates faster than performance art (rivaled secondarily by just-past-contemporary architecture). Often founded upon, and foundering on, its structural reliance on a bald and uninflected conceptual component, the most profound exemplars of performance art tend to rely more upon allusive expression rather than articulable ideas, in which the synthesis of the gestures and effects suggest multiple meanings and a complex consciousness.
Cloud Eye Control, a Los Angeles-based multimedia performance collective comprised of Miwa Matreyek, Anna Oxygen and Chi-wang Yang, has fashioned something exceptionally powerful out of materials so delicately gossamer. Their hour-long piece Half Life played five performances last weekend to impressively sold-out houses,
The experience will doubtless be perceived disparately by each observer, and I would presume that my own apprehension, received through the prism of distinct generational, attitudinal and identity differences, doubtless would diverge from that of the artists themselves. No matter: the intellectual and sensual stimulations of the work can survive, indeed thrive, on the validity of contradictory personal interpretations, not least because Half Life is so resolute in its own idiosyncratic vision of how it precisely orchestrates its elements.
Ostensibly a reaction to the enormity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, Half Life makes only the most oblique visual references to its particulars. Instead, it immerses the audience in an intricate physical and psychic space comprised of large, thin, oblong moveable screens, on which a foreground surface of animated and still projections sinuously gives way to a more layered perception of varieties of intuitive perspectives of depth. This sensation bears no tangible resemblance to a commercial 3-D movie, though it has some of the feeling of multi-planar simultaneity visible in Jean-Luc Godard’s current Goodbye to Language, without its assaultive in-your-face postures.
Part of the admirable rigor of the endeavor is how it manages to imply a certain Japanoiserie in manner and theme without recourse to coarse Orientalisms (save for a few motifs that crop up late in the score, perhaps ironically). Instead, the highly disciplined interplay of designs – whether those piquantly abstract projections, the more concrete set materials, the inventively flexible lighting, the music and sound mix (which seems unafraid to garble the spoken words), the somewhat obscure verbal gesticulations, or the gawkily awkward body movements – all coalesce into a sense of tactile coherence, even when didactic meanings are consciously obscured.
Cloud Eye Control traffics extensively in both global and internal anxieties, yet its transcendent beauties provided for this viewer an antidote to the ineluctable angst. It’s less a call to arms or commitment to change than an aesthetic alternative to despair, and though it’s only January, I doubt there will be a theatrical mise-en-scene to rival its supple tapestry of stimuli for a while to come.
It put me in mind of the inspirations of Robert Wilson’s The Old Woman at UCLA, though that creation was grounded as much in text and histrionic grace, while Half Life somewhat solemnly eschews any hint of droll absurdity. For all its originality and its enchantment with current technological tools, the show nevertheless falls squarely in a long tradition of avant-garde poetic theater juxtaposed with sonically innovative music, dating back at least as far as the 1942 Kenneth Patchen-John Cage radio play The City Wears a Slouch Hat, along with a partial debt to Dada, the Futurists and to Kurt Schwitters.
I must concede that an otherwise oriented viewer could experience instead an hallucination of hell and desolate hopelessness, so meticulously do the creators avoid articulating their purpose, let alone belaboring any points — a vital strength of the copious fecundity of their artistry.
Cloud Eye Control at REDCAT. Closed.