Performing and Dreaming the Archive Vessel : review essay on
Lars Jan / Early Morning Opera
THE INSTITUTE OF MEMORY (TIMe)
Performed at REDCAT, Los Angeles, May 28-May 31 2015
If Dan Flavin’s light sculpture was the last phenomenon Donald Judd experienced before closing his eyes in slumber every night while in his SOHO sleeping loft high above the city streets, then surely he could have dreamt of the netherworldly and penetrating fluorescent light that pierced, flickered and pulsed from the recent onstage design by Christopher Kuhl in Lars Jan’s recent production The Institute of Memory (TIMe) presented at REDCAT.
Photo: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York. Artwork © John Chamberlain. © Lucas Samaras. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM © Judd Foundation.
Lars Jan’s The Institute of Memory (TIMe) induces role players’ wet dreams a plenty. The two onstage characters flip flopped between traditional male and female roles with the male usually making the most domineering decisions with the daughter character occasionally rebelling or standing up for what she wanted to do but mostly agreeing with the male (her boyfriend/mate/father?) actor’s choices. Scenarios unfolded into no semblance of narrative that I can recall other than the telling of terrible and not even funny(no one laughed) Pollock jokes. There were more "What if"(s) than anyone could shake a stick at. But that’s not how the production started. The male walked around the stage with the neon floorplan suspended above and tried to remember the exact layout and objects arranged by Henryk Ryniewicz who could perhaps by the writer/director Lar’s father but there’s no way to be sure. Being introduced to Henryk Ryniewicz by the onstage female character as his daughter confuses the gender relationship even more as does the occasional lapses into European accents and voice manipulations through the amps and speakers.
photo courtesy Steve Gunther
Throughout the evening, the life of Henryk is told rather coldly with very little intonation of happiness by the daughter in pained but sweetly nostalgic stories that are loosely chronological. One of my favorite sequences, however, was when both actors relayed historical and life events that all happened yesterday which strongly supported the socio-cultural factoid that the Aymara people believe the past is in front of the ego since it can be seen and faced while the future is behind it as the unknown. The program notes aka Silva rerum, or a few pages from the TIMe chronicle provide vital clues and pointers toward the way the dialogue continually moves around the stage and in our present while reflecting on events that may or may not have happened to Henryk, his family and his contemporaries.
I have a bit of an obsession with the topic of time and memory(who doesn’t?). Therefore, The Institute of Memory (TIMe) is of particular fascination to me in it’s abundance of cerebral tight rope balance that felt continually taut with the actors’ truly remarkable memorization of their lines. I could not imagine talking that much for 90 min. When the neon lights were lowered by the actors to face us I really felt phenomenally present as the lights created trails as my corneas quickly bounced from actor to actor. It really felt like my brain was getting a total immersive workout by absorbing the dialogue as it was spewed back and forth and simultaneously attempting to comprehend the spoken phrases.
At that point I thought about Dan Flavin and his Lights. I recently saw the running installation of Flavin’s fluorescents in Donald Judd’s SOHO building. It was a delightful shock to encounter them upon entering Judd’s bedroom space. To delight in the shock of memory—of remembering people, places and things that remain dear and create trails of narrative. Put simply, that is what The Institute of Memory (TIMe) does most deeply and strongly—still. Since the play was put on back in May, two months ago, and I am still going back to that pocket of an experience, then Lars Jan deserves the support he has gained in his career as writer, director and stage design.
photo courtesy Steve Gunther
actors: Annie Saunders & Ryan Masson