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Image ofsmokingshirton one of the mobilescreens. which seemed to offer a self-reflexive comment on Whitman's own aesthetic of impermanence . Visually, however, the images ' outsize scale and dim, Kodak-quality color seemed impositions on the forbidding landscape, inadequate to its alienating power. More films continued in a stately procession around the swale, projected on fabric held aloft on poles, before the intrusion of man-made events: a window concealed among some bushes was shattered, smoke poured from the wound, and the sound of the vandalization was repeated over a tape. 46 Fireworks were set off behind another pond. The live shadow play of performers pounding hammers or sawing at a wrist with a knife were projected on the now tattered fabrics. Films of oil refineries and freeways appeared-one, superimposing freeway headlights on a gently lapping tide, was the single most beautiful image of the evening. A neutral face stared down at these proceedings from the largest screen: a modern-day Dr. T.J. Eckleburg impassively observing a wasteland of man and nature's contrivance. Whitman's familiar interests in denaturing natural events and naturalizing human ones was perhaps a little too obviously illustrated by all this. The synonymity between human violence and "natural" deterioration urged a pat ahistoricism which I find problematical: I may want to look at an oil refinery spewing fumes in the same way that I view the death of a rose, but I certainly don't want to stop there. In welcoming perceptual experience, Whitman remains silent on important social questions: What is a non-renewable resource and what isn't, for instance? Roses bloom again, but will industrial sinks? What is susceptible to human agency and what is inevitable? And what, after all, do we need to know about what we're experiencing ? Whitman prefers to nullify the difference between human and non-human processes-a legitimate option, but not without visual and aural imagery capable of redeeming an indiscriminate social vision through transcendent shock. Robert Coe Robert Whitman, Light Touch. 512 W. 19th St. (December). The performance space was black, immense (a garage/warehouse), and chilly. Real objects: crumpled paper bags, a bathroom sink, truck stop coffee cups, packing boxes, all represented on film, were inert characters/performers. The "theatrical" stages were projection screens, an open work space, the garage door opening onto the street, and a stagewithin -a-stage of a truck backing into the space, open for loading. The human performers were "workers," loading and unloading boxes, carrying objects about, opening doors, and supervising the backing in of the truck. Although it can be said that Whitman's piece was in the world ofthe life/art dialectic , the play of real and fictive, this formulation has become too banal to convey the excitement of the piece. The objects floated in transition among uses and presentations. A coffee cup which was taken from the back of the truck, for instance , was serially and simultaneously projected on a scrim (which at times gently floated in the breeze from the street) and a screen. It was not always possible to identify the object being unloaded from the truck until it appeared in film projection. The perception of the re-presentation ofthe object was more convincing and more informative than the object "itself." This became a game of sorts, not so much to figure out what would happen next in the piece, but to decipher what it was that it was happening to. The workers/performers had specific tasks in this piece: to move objects, to drive a truck, to lift boxes. But what is the substantiality of "real" work? To get things done, or to generate a product of ultimate profitability ? Whitman's workers performed their tasks with absolute attention to detail. One task was to carry an open-ended box from the left side of the stage to the truck in the center. The box "contained" the projected film image of a boulder which moved within the box, occasionally filling the entire space. The precision and nuance of "real'' gesture with which this sequence was done was as sensually pleasureable as a virtuosic "theatrical'' performance. The real work was in the realm...


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pp. 46-47
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