I climbed into a shipping container in the parking lot of The Waldorf Hotel on Friday September 14th.
This was the location of FIT; “a filling station for the creative spirit” by Dida Zende. A project by the Goethe-Institut in cooperation with Revised Projects and the Waldorf Hotel.” http://www.waldorfhotel.com/the-fit/
I (barely) entered during a music performance of ambient sounds and soft vocals; a woman was standing on the stage at the end of the container, singing. It was dark, packed, muggy and close. A man came up behind me also barely FITting in, almost falling out, back into the parking lot like a splash of water out of a full bucket ‘What is this whole thing?” he whispered loudly disturbing viewers in front of me. I answered very quietly, ‘its art… installation… music’
The schedule of artists that night was impressive but I saw only three. (My companion, not digging the contained space of the container, persuaded me to go to another event). The list includes videos by Kevan Funk, Mitch Speed, Simon Redekop, Kalli Anne, Lauryn Youden, Ryan Smith, Daniel Rincon, Frieda-Raye Green, Mel Paget, Zahid Jiwa and Cherry Honey. There were performances by Aerosol Constellations, The Passenger and Waters. Unfortunately, the one and only schedule was at the bar and I missed the names of the works I did see, but I feel so strongly about my experience that I am going to write about them anyway.
The next work I caught was a video of a wooded area. It was a still shot of long, stringy branches with green leaves that swayed in a breeze like a set of beaded curtains. This was matched with psychedelic guitar/synthesized noises. The image went unchanged for some time…leaving everyone concentrating on the reverb felt in the metal walls of the container that gently transferred vibrations into our backs.
The last work I saw was also a video. It began with a blurry scene; in fact it was a double vision drunk view, of two young women sitting on the floor in an empty apartment, centered in front of a balcony door. The women were shooting Vodka and laughing harder with every drink. I couldn’t help but laugh with them. Then it cut to a shot of one of the women standing in a fountain (unfortunately in a white t-shirt) watching the water, and lights. The next scene was an excerpt from a Mariah Carey concert, obviously shot during her prime sometime in the 90’s, (I couldn’t help but connect Mariah Carey to the other woman’s wet t-shirt) complete with big hair, gyrating back-up dancers and FIT African American men lusting after her. Layered over this visual trip back in unfortunate music history, I assume, one of the Vodka drinkers was singing badly to the Mariah Carey song.
Being in the container was great. The almost pitch-dark box was (is) the perfect venue for art. Squeezed into the space with only two small benches on each side, the audience is forced into a physical intimacy that doesn’t usually occur in a gallery context. In contrast to the physical closeness, the darkness creates an anonymity that facilitates honesty, confidence and a sense of freedom in the viewer. In the dark, people are released from the visual representation of themselves and therefore insecurities and social preconditions become irrelevant. It’s like we all become those two women shooting Vodka. Laughing freely just for the sake of laughing, inhibitions tossed aside, and singing terribly to a song that we don’t care is terrible. We stay present and experience.
I don’t expect gallery owners to shut the lights out in order for the audience to concentrate on the work, so what is another alternative? What will make us forget or at least ignore our subjectivity long enough to truly experience an artwork when we’re not packed into an industrial cargo box in the dark?
Darkness is like a set of ‘blinders’ used on horses that forces them to concentrate only on things directly in front of them. Only on things that are relevant in the moment, preventing them from becoming overwhelmed, skittish, and anxious.
We all need blinders.