Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Vile Attraction

photo by Paul Germanos

A Vile Attraction

By Jon Brozdowski
April 4, 2012
From The Chicago Weekly

My companion Chris sits at a decade-old computer adorned with a webcam and surrounded by eight ornate red candles, patiently reading a blog post linked from the desktop: “Born like this / Into this / As the chalk faces smile / As Mrs. Death laughs / As the elevators break / As the political landscapes dissolve / As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree.” He looks down at an odd assortment below the desk, where a large plastic chain link rests on a Macbook, next to prescription bottles, thick grey rubber gloves, and a condom on a tall metal eggcup. “Oops.” He turns up to me and says, “There’s some fake blood on my shoe.”

“Evil is Interesting,” on view at Pilsen’s Antena gallery, professes to “interrogate the seductiveness and glamour of evil.” Michael Workman and Antidote Projects curated the project, which features film, installation art, and interactive pieces by twelve local artists.

Evil does tend to intrigue us: its je-ne-sais-quoi makes it a subject for popular exploration and multivalent interpretation. Its high visibility in modern life has made the idea of evil pack a smaller punch, lose a bit of its taboo, and become somehow charming, Workman suggests.

One installation displays a computer screen repeating Google searches over and over: “loud evil laugh,” “I think I am evil,” “Evel Knievel is dead,” and “my puppy is evil.” However, the pieces that consider suffering, or the display of instruments of evil, like the baseball bat slowly revolving while hanging low from the ceiling, work to dispel the notion that evil has any kind of innocent charisma.
Workman calls the exhibition a concept album in “a totalized environment… between the context of the space itself, all the various different media, videos, net art, the play, a music soundtrack, and the zine.” Due to technical difficulties (perhaps an unintended form of evil), the zine in question is not yet available, and the play’s loose script has yet to be released in print.

The 40-minute dramatic performance, titled “A Conversion,” was set in the gallery space, centered on a red couch, a red carpet, a black coffee table, and a blue dining table. According to Workman, the play is in that “60s, 70s vein of experimental theatre,” with improvised dialogue. The organic veracity of the production is accomplished by its actors’ off-the-cuff and intimate delivery.

The play concerns four characters, each defined by their jobs: Vivian the artist, Ellie the poet, Joyce the sex worker, and Gavin the hedge fund manager. Each offers a take on evil—Vivian attempts to grapple with the actions of her brother, a soldier who killed an unarmed civilian while deployed in Afghanistan. In his defense, Vivian declares that she’s ”trying to tell you this fucked up thing that happened because of the situation he was in, not because of him. All he was doing was doing his job.”

Workman explained, “The brother’s done something that ostensibly is evil, but in service of a better world.” The artist and actress Sarah Weis, who contributed the candle and computer piece and played Vivian, said, “I think she’s the most empathetic of the characters, and also… the most human, and in a way the weakest.”  The central concern of the play seemed to be the characters’ confrontations with the evil in themselves, their jobs, and their lives.

To facilitate this interaction, the script calls for one character to pause in the middle of a sex scene to “address the audience to tell them that she loves them, all the members of the audience the same way, as if they were inside her, too.”

A collection of silent films also works its way into the show.  In “The Language of the Enemy,” Zolten Gera narrates his experience being abused in prison through subtitles, cast over a montage of disembodied hand signs and gestures. In another piece, “Modern Romance,” a woman fidgets in front of the camera while a man describes a “brutal seduction,” once again via subtitles.

Throughout the exhibition, Workman pursued a “narratological” comment on how people interact with evil in their lives. “As the curator I’m saying we’ve built in this ambiguity with [evil], but more importantly, the focus is… the seductiveness of it,” he explained. The exhibition examines inner conflict, moral ambiguity, and where the two intersect with what is seen as evil, perverse, and threatening. At the end of the not-so-cohesive message, it’s unclear if we ought to be disturbed by evil’s prevalence, or entertained by its kitsch.

Antena, 1765 S. Laflin St. Through April 21. Hours by appointment. Free. (773)340-3516. An encore performance of the play is planned for Friday, April 20 at 6:00

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