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Reviewed by:
  • Dodo by Jeffrey Carpenter et al.
  • Shelby Brewster
DODO. Co-created by Jeffrey Carpenter, Gab Cody, Tami Dixon, and Sam Turich. Bricolage Production Company, Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh. October 20 and November 4, 2017.

In the late 1890s, famed US industrialist Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History. Bricolage Production Company’s immersive work DODO, co-created by Jeffrey Carpenter (director), Gab Cody (lead writer), Tami Dixon (director), and Sam Turich (director), gave audiences a dreamlike journey through the public and private spaces of both museums. Through a series of encounters with performers, museum staff, and collections, DODO explored the social and cultural meanings of collecting in light of climate change.

Upon arriving at the museums, I joined the small group who would journey through the performance with me. A representative (Fred Frances) of the “National Self-Preservation Society” welcomed us to our “donation process”—what we were donating remained mysterious at this point. He interviewed each of us and based on our answers gave us an object that would determine our path. The first time I attended, I was given a sprig of eucalyptus; the second time, a small bone. We took a service elevator into the art museum, where the Docent (Emilie Sullivan) guided us through the darkened galleries. After asking to see our objects, she directed each of us to contemplate a particular piece of art until she came to retrieve us. While enjoyably meditative, the connection between this first encounter with museum collections and the performance’s framing was unclear. Standing before John McCracken’s sculpture Untitled (Blue Leaning Plank), I wondered exactly how I should respond. Being in the gallery after hours created a delicious sensation of breaking the rules, but the lack of framing left me feeling lost.

We crossed into the natural history museum’s polar exhibit: dioramas of Canadian Inuit seal hunting and taxidermied polar bears. The gregarious Explorer (Michael McBurney), a high-society type with a penchant for hunting, regaled us with tales of his exploits. He lamented the loss of his sport as he and his fellows were hunting their prey to extinction. Our engagement with the Explorer brought out questions of the provenance of the museums’ acquisitions: How do the legacies of colonialism continue to play out in contemporary cultural institutions?

Across the hall in the Egyptian exhibit, two of my counterparts and I were met by a pensive Yasmine (Watipaso Kumwenda). She described her home in a future where it was difficult to breathe unless you could afford your own climate. Surrounded by funerary boats, she asked us what would be left of humans? (The answer: plastics.) Yasmine sent my companions off, asking me to crawl through a small tunnel behind a sarcophagus. Suddenly, a flashlight interrupted us. A guard scolded me for being in a restricted area, then led me away.

On a catwalk above the museum, I entered the nest of an avian couple: Maeve (Kelsey Robinson) and Marvin (Tyler Ray Kendrick). Maeve treated me and another participant to a song on her ukulele. The jovial mood was broken when Marvin announced that they could keep only one of us. He asked me: What makes me keepable? As I dumbly blurted out that I make a good chicken pot pie, he shouted my answers to Maeve. They decided that I was not worth keeping and sent me away. With two other participants, I met a museum scientist preserving the body of a small bird. As we entered her work-room she asked one of us to open a chest freezer and remove a plastic bag containing a specimen. I expected to hand it to her, but instead she asked me to hold the frozen bird in my hands, thawing it. For the next several minutes, as she showed us other specimens and tools of her trade, I held the cold, plastic-wrapped bird between my palms. These encounters drew attention to the ways in which life is circumscribed as worth conserving within the confines of the museum, and the ways that life is deemed valuable (or not) outside of it.

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pp. 544-545
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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