Pushing the post-human absurdity of Google glass to the next level, the unofficial host of Saturday night’s Dada Bomb event, the artist Clarina Bezzola, greeted guests arriving at the Whitebox Art Center, with a piece of framed glass covering her entire face–a rectangular, flat-screened monitor that instead of augmenting her reality, rendered her blind to the world. A digital video of her face, speaking and smiling, played over her hidden, real face, with audio of her speaking timed to match. The effect was both eerie, absurd, and enchanting, as was the evening to follow, presented as part of the citywide festival Zurich Meets New York: A Festival of Swiss Ingenuity, which takes its inspiration from the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Dada movement.
Just inside the door at Whitebox, sitting on pedestals, the guests encountered the first work by Giants Are Small, the duo Doug Fitch and Edouard Getaz, also the curators of the evening, a trio of sculptures of tombstones that read “Death of Privacy” (the theme of the evening) with the day’s date inscribed on them. Just past them, in the main gallery, two women in nude body stockings offered white wine from the tubes of IV-like bags that formed part of their costumes. Above it all, huge candy colored sculptures of eyes mounted near the room’s ceiling, slowly swiveled back and forth, surveying the room. While on stage, Marc Mueller on didgeridoo, filled the room with wild, tribal electronic music, the main focus was on food as art. Splayed pieces of sausage, cubes of meat and cheese, and green apples hung at face height from strings falling from the ceiling. A similar mix of meat and cheese protruded from sticks stuck into silver foil panels covering the walls. More conventionally, waiters brought around hors d’oeuvres on platters. Some of what they held were rather ordinary, but more often the concoctions were utterly creative and delightful–a small wedge of roasted potato on a plastic pipette filled with sour cream, an “apple”, a lollipop sized globe of green, tasting of exactly that but of undecipherable origins.
A one point in the festivities, Clarina Bezzola, still outfitted in her digital face climbed the stage with some help, and superbly sang an operatic piece by Schubert, stopping to compare aspects of its lyrics (in English) to the internet, before being carried away in an improved litter made of two by fours lashed to a chair. The audience was ushered to follow her to the second venue of the evening, the nearby Box. Speaking mostly in French and German, the crowd trotted through the streets of the Lower East Side, chomping on carmel popcorn that had been given out at the door, as if still part of the performance. At one point an usher had to shout urgently for us to stop as the light turned red–the real world suddenly intruding on our Dada revelry.
The second half of the evening was billed as a revisiting and reimagining of the great Dada acts of 1916 Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Out front of The Box, each member of the crowd was given a ticket for a “Dada cocktail” which turned out to be a mix of vodka and soda served in a glass rimmed with orange pop-rocks with a pipette full of bright teal Curaçao stuck into the ice. With the pop-rocks exploding in my throat, host Anthony Roth Costanzo greeted the audience from the stage in a black sport jacket emblazoned in baroque flourishes. As the curtain opened behind him, a man’s disembodied head emerged from the darkness. It appeared, as in Bezzola’s performance piece, to be a screen with a recorded image of a face. But this time, the head inhabited a whole room, furnished with a chair, lamp and telephone. The performer enacted a lengthy monologue before, to my surprise, the screen pulled apart into four pieces, revealing the performer David Prum, standing there in the flesh–it hadn’t been a screen, but an amazingly devised piece of trompe l’oeil all along.
Revisiting the theme of “Death of Privacy” performer Justin Vivian Bond in a duet with Costanzo, considered its gravity with campy levity in “Me and My Shadow” with lyrics about the recent, much-publicized incident in a hotel elevator between Solange Knowles and J-Zay, interjecting “what’s the world coming to if you can’t give your brother-in-law a kick in the nuts when he deserves it?”
Doug Hughes, as a professorial “Maestro Manifesto” declared from behind a podium, “Once upon a time, the Future did not exist.” He went on to warn, “We stand a mere millimeter, a millisecond away from total obsolescence, but refuse to notice,” throwing each piece of paper into the air as he read. Following, dancers from the American Ballet Theatre performed a short piece in street wear, skillfully managing not to slip on a single one.
Magician Geoff Sobelle, wearing a completely ridiculous 70’s style tuxedo, assisted by Julianna Zarzycki, sporting a mustache that matched his, treated us to an act that involved making an empty can of soda reappear as unopened, and a fake nose bleed. Inviting an audience member onto the stage, he asked her to cut an article from that day’s New York Times (about the hearing on net-neutrality, we were told) in two at a random place. Asking her to read the first whole word that appeared, she answered “cycle,” to which Sobelle unfurled the handkerchief he had been holding to his nose to reveal that exact word in red letters.
Clarina Bezzola emerged on stage, soon after which she was “shot to death” by the host, who then launched into a splendid operatic version of “Milord,” slowing stripping down to his underwear.
Paying homage to one of the founders of Dada, Doug Fitch reenacted a famous performance piece by the poet Hugo Ball. Dressed as a proto-Edward Scissorhands, gesturing with hand covered with what looked like turkey gills, he performed a commanding monologue made up entirely of nonsense words. Ending the evening, Costanzo emerged from the wings fully clothed and called the rest of the night’s performers to the stage. Announcing the end of the show, he playfully urged to guests to exit the venue swiftly. The audience continued to stare at him from the cozy banquettes. “But you really must leave now,” he announced, “it’s time to go.”
Zurich Meets New York: A Festival of Swiss Ingenuity continues through May 23, 2014.