TBA Review: Luke George's 'Not About Face'

This audience participative work from the Melbourne/Brooklyn artist found the chilling common denominator between ISIS and Jeff Koons. Thru Sept 18

By Randy Gragg September 16, 2014

Not just any artist can make me feel the common denominator between my normally disparate reactions to ISIS and Jeff Koons. But this Melbourne/Brooklyn conceptualist and performer sent the icy chill of fundamentalism and art world megalo-narcisism running down my spine.

It all begins with a roomful of  Halloween-sheeted ghosts. But let’s first back up and review what you need to endure this performance: hydration. On Monday night, in the last heat wave of summer, in Conduit’s fourth-floor space, every window closed, it made for an experience that, first and foremost, was drying to the point of dizziness. Come, not with a bottle but a belly full of water. In the first of many commandments by George: bags must be checked at the door.

Upon entering, a quartet of handlers fits each audience member with sheets, ritualistically. The room full of Caspers, distinguished by nothing more than their heights and the sheets’  pastel pinks and greens and blues, begins the 1.5 hours of George’s mix of ritual and megalomania. Depending on your point of view, it may be this performance’s high point.

The first indication of performers being amongst those under the sheets arrives with thespian flourishes of phrases like: “It’s the intangible that defines who you are.” The intent seemed an evocation of classical theater, but it also reminded me of Monte Python and the Holy Grail, specifically the vignette, “Knights who say ’Ne.’”

Those who enjoy morning “boot camp” exercise routines may relish what follows. But as one who quit Cub Scouts because of the rules (and feeling queazy from the heat and claustrophobia), I slid over to the growing sidelines of the partial and non-sheeted. So quit reading now, if participation is a requirement of critical credibility.

Luke George
Sept 14–18 at 8:30
Conduit Dance
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As I watched what George describes as “fake ritual,” I became entranced at the culture he soon conjured in that airless room. Was it metaphor or a parallel reality? Did it illuminate meaning of followers and followed or just recreate the circumstance? What made the audience applaud at the end: satisfaction or obedience?

As George beckoned—and increasingly ordered—the audience in “Simon-says” cadences, and as those who stayed mostly obeyed (notably, several artists among the assembled left), I began to feel the ISIS/Koons chills. Maybe it was the sheets (funny, but also anonymous, like the executioner in ISIS videos, the tortured in Guantanamo, and the subjugated in fundamentalist societies ). Maybe it was George’s exercise of power and strutting (the self-absorption somehow, for me, conjuring Koons and his “Made in Heaven” series of fuck photos with his then wife.) Most likely: a combination of both.

I found myself recognizing in fresh ways that the yearning for belief can make people do many things:  imagining beheading as justice or that, someday, a stainless-steel Balloon Dog might someday be worth a lot more than $58 million, or that this performance is worth devoting 105 minutes of your life to. Spoiler alert: it ends with some solipsistic dance moves and voice-over conjuring Big Time wrestling.

High Note: The roomful of ghosts: a bunch of strangers, covered in sheets, following orders to spoon.

Low Note: George's long story about imagining a dance performance by another artist—telepathically—right before it happened. Even one seemingly patient member of the audience put it best midway, “We’re with you: What happened next?”

Bottom line: Go if you if you urge to be challenged—and your patience—is high, but smuggle in a bottle of water. Prepare to be obedient. Or, in the spirit of experiment, revolt.

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