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Amy's Column 02 - Stories and Songs before Bedtime

Age of the World Spreadsheet
A seven night performance by Steve Kado

Over the last few months in Los Angeles I’ve become more and more aware of the blurring of normal art viewing occasions with other night-time activities – music, performances, gigs and general partying. The times and places you expect to see work seem, just as often as not, to be healthily intertwined with the other night time activities. A prime example is the recently opened ‘Night Gallery’ which, like many good things in Los Angeles, is tucked into a strip mall, and true to its name has opening hours of Tuesday to Thursday, 10pm-2am.

The ‘Age of the World Spreadsheet’ a performance that took place every night for a week at the Machine project, earlier in the year, was a particularly interesting example of the jiggling between genres. Machine Project in Echo Park has a wider agenda than just presenting art. It is a non-profit community space that is invested in creating a forum for discussions around technology, natural history, science, music, literature, and food, and is used more often as a meeting space for talks and events than as a space for normal gallery installation.

It seemed fitting therefore that Steve Kado’s ‘Age of the World Spreadsheet’ could be described as a performance, a presentation, and an opera. Kado stood in front of a room-sized projection wearing a tweed jacket, holding an iPhone in one hand and a remote prompting device in the other. With these two small black rectangular wands he tweaked both the volume and pace of the background sound – repeating bars of twinkling plastic electronic drones, and the image on the screen – alternating infinite repetition of space created through a live video feed, and projected phrases such as ‘and thoughtful’, and ‘in time.’ ‘We talked about it,’ Kado intoned, ‘This is a record, I’m sitting on a bench next to myself,’ in a dreamy, slow, sing-songy manner, reminiscent of both beat poetry, and a certain brand of relaxed preaching. His text was a wandering narrative of quasi-philosophical, semi-conceptual musings, on subjects such as standing, and speaking ‘in time.’ It was hard to grasp if there was a central narrator whose story we were following, or even a concrete set of poetic images, and yet the combined effect of text, sound and image did convey that we as an audience were moving somewhere, guided by Kado. The destination was probably no more than a place where one can be a little more relaxed, surrounded by Kado’s combination of digital pastels, new age mantras and virtual space, where semi-structured beat philosophising is standard, but I would happily partake in further evenings of such stationary travel.

The performance that was the central focus of the opening night of Tris Vonna-Michell’s show ‘Not a Solitary Sign or Inscription to Even Suggest an Ending’ at Overduin and Kite, consisted of the artist with minimal props coaxing the imagination of the audience out of the gallery, by simply standing and talking.

The show itself consisted of a series of pin boards, with photos stuck to them, and several slide machines showing images of street scenes – corners of buildings, pavements and legs. Many of the images pinned to the boards could also be seen projected by the slide machines. Similarly, an audio track could be listened to either through headphones in one room, or through speakers in the neighbouring room. The audio when broadcast became more directly related to the images flicking through on a slide carousel.

But it was the artist‘s presence and his performance that really brought the fragmented visual documents together. Vonna-Michell presented live a version of the narrative that I had listened to ten minutes previously through head phones. His delivery of the narrative was impressive, simply because of the speed with which he spoke. The rapid delivery of the narrative was highlighted by his use of egg timers which he placed on the floor in front of him. He began the performance by stating his goal of presenting the narrative within the total of 14 minutes for which the egg timers were set. The race to tell the story mirrored the contents of the narrative, a race around the city of Berlin to uncover the story of a solider who had been present in the city during World War Two. I find it hard to remember what it was about this soldier’s story that was worth hunting down, but I think my inability to remember the story’s specifics is consistent with the approach used by Vonna-Michell, of using a specific character to draw us into historical moments, or far-away sites, and then jettisoning this character or episode once they have been used to lead us into such moments or places.

What was most memorable about his narrative was how convincingly he portrayed the urgency of a search, while transporting the audience out of Los Angeles and into Berlin. Through his storytelling he took the audience both back to the Berlin of recent years, and also to the Berlin of the Second World War. Picking out the discrepancies between the recorded version of the narrative with the live re-telling, became an key component of absorbing the performance. The sequence of events changed slightly, a conversation he had had with a friend over the phone became a conversation he had with a friend in person. These small narrative inconsistencies were effective in highlighting the fallibility of memory. Vonna-Michell’s own memory acted as a metaphor for cultural memory.

The narrative presented both in the show and in the live performance drew me into the history of Berlin since the war, a city divided and then reunited – the signs of that division being erased by urban development. It also made me question the production of that history. Narrative was used to engage and distance simultaneously.

Kado has referred to the performative aspect of his practice as ‘Public speaking’ and I think this term ties together nicely what is best about what he is doing. What is appealing about both his and Tris Vonna-Michell’s performances is that to witness them is to necessarily be absorbed in a collective moment, a public experience. Seeing a good performance is so much better than just going to an opening; it’s like an art concert, it’s like going to the movies live. These performative acts of story telling are a productive synthesis of image and language; a verbalised guiding through place and ambience, a way of being collectively entertained in the moment, which is what a good night out should feel like.


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