- Out There 2014: New World Visions
The Walker Art Center’s month-long Out There series has been bringing international, avant-garde performance to Minneapolis for the past twenty-six years. Along with institutions like the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus and REDCAT in Los Angeles, the Walker belongs to an American touring route for internationally acclaimed experimental performance groups. As Shannon Jackson argues in Social Works, these institutions—and in particular for this review, this series—are part of a global performance circuit that privileges the nonlocal, unwittingly (or not) participating in a neoliberal politics that values the flexible, the moveable, and the “new”; in this case, the transferable performance, the nomadic performer (or, to use Jackson’s term, [End Page 454] “the migrant cultural worker”), and provocative performances from elsewhere.1 While the resolutely post-dramatic aesthetic of the work in this series forced the audience member to critically reflect on both self and performance as socially, politically, and, thanks to director Kuro Tanino, psychologically constructed, the series itself remained unexamined within the work presented. United under the title “New World Visions,” this series did, however, offer a way to think through the values and risks of the “new world” circuit of globalized performance.
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The Walker Art Center commissioned Wunderbaum and LAPD’s Hospital, the first work of the festival. Wunderbaum, from Rotterdam, and LAPD, from Los Angeles, are companies dedicated to performance that engages with community. LAPD, founded in 1985 by John Malpede, works with the homeless on skid row to create grassroots, community-based theatre; Wunderbaum collaboratively creates theatrical performances that are site- and community-specific. What, then, becomes of work, grounded in the local, when it is presented to an audience that has not been intimately part of the collaborative process?
Hospital depended on an expanded notion of community, identified through an issue common to every citizen: healthcare. The performance was, in one way, a direct-address lecture to the audience on the history of American healthcare (interspersed with occasional critiques of the Dutch system). The lectures, however, occurred through the frame of Malpede’s own healthcare narrative, beginning with his birth in an ER-inspired hospital scene (complete with performers wielding handheld cameras to project images of televised chaos on the large screen at the back of the stage), and ending with his imagined death in 2033.
The self-performances of Malpede and Henriëtte Brouwers, his wife (her presence was clearly in relation to him), iterated that this story was indeed a lived healthcare reality. The other performers from Wunderbaum and LAPD, breaking in and out of the roles of Malpede’s friends, family, doctors, and assorted healthcare bureaucrats, enacted and narrated events, occasionally retreating to tables piled with the tools of the bureaucratic trade (telephones, papers, computers), which surrounded the performance space (overwhelming the lone symbol onstage of actual care: the hospital bed). Whittled [End Page 455] down to a retelling of Malpede’s particular health insurance woes, the narrative lost sight of a larger societal critique in the very sea of bureaucratic minutiae that so defeated Malpede. After a countdown to his Medicare eligibility at age 65 and an intentionally premature celebration of Obamacare, the performance moved to a fantasized futurist utopia of community care, with a dying Malpede, entwined with Brouwers on the hospital bed, isolated and glorified by a spot of white light. The connection to the community, so integral to the work of LAPD and Wunderbaum, was lost, not only in this overtly aestheticized final image, but in the already isolated narrative of Malpede. The one moment of explicitly opening the story occurred when performers queried audience members about their experiences with Obamacare. The unrealized opportunity to enlarge the picture beyond that of Malpede’s healthcare curriculum vitae as an educated white male was, however, at all times present onstage with the LAPD and Wunderbaum performers. The exclusive focus on Malpede made explicit...