The hold’s got a hold on me

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

Terry Allen’s fa­ther, “Sled” Allen, was a slick-field­ing catcher who had a cup of cof­fee in the ma­jor leagues a hun­dred years ago. He played 24 games with the St. Louis Browns in 1910 and left be­hind a .130 life­time bat­ting av­er­age. “He couldn’t hit a lick,” Allen told Pasatiempo.

But he could tell sto­ries. “My mother was a bar­rel­house pi­ano player, and my dad was a barn­storm­ing ballplayer,” Allen re­mem­bered. “My dad was 60 when I was born, and my mom was nearly 40. Be­cause of their ear­lier lives, I was caught up in this whirl­wind of sto­ries.”

The sto­ries and the mu­sic of his par­ents were the fab­ric from which Allen cre­ated Dugout, a mul­ti­me­dia ex­hi­bi­tion and per­for­mance piece “which was re­ally based on grow­ing up with th­ese two very ec­cen­tric peo­ple who told great sto­ries, and th­ese sto­ries changed over time. I had al­ways wanted to build a work based on th­ese sto­ries. Which I did. And it be­came Dugout.”

Allen pre­sented a ver­sion of Dugout at the Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton in 2005. The work com­bined writ­ing, paint­ing, video, sculp­ture, and mu­si­cal the­ater in what Allen de­scribes as “a love story, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how mem­ory is in­vented, a kind of su­per­nat­u­ral jazz-sport-his­tory-ghost-blood-fic­tion.”

The French con­sul in Hous­ton saw the show, and af­ter­ward asked Allen to come to France and cre­ate some­thing sim­i­lar there. “They in­vited me to do a new piece at this place called Les Sub­sis­tances, which is in Lyons. It’s a big artists’ work­shop; they in­vite artists from all over the world to come and build pieces and per­form them in progress. I had al­ways been an ad­mirer of An­tonin Ar­taud and had al­ways had it some­where in and out of my mind to do a piece based on him.”

Ar­taud’s name con­jures up a lot of things, among them bril­liance, orig­i­nal­ity, and mad­ness. Ar­taud (1896-1948) was a French poet, play­wright, ac­tor, di­rec­tor, mu­si­cian, painter, and the­o­rist who had an enor­mous in­flu­ence on artists who came af­ter him. Allen dis­cov­ered him while he was at art school in Cal­i­for­nia. “I had gone to City Lights Book­store, and I saw this book. It just had this guy’s face on it. And it said Ar­taud An­thol­ogy on it. And I started looking through this book. I’d never heard of Ar­taud, and it was re­ally th­ese pho­to­graphs of his face that com­pletely mes­mer­ized me. I had no money, and I re­mem­ber [Beat poet Lawrence] Fer­linghetti was be­hind the counter. It was his book­store, and I went up to him and told him, ‘I don’t have any money, but I’ve got to have this book.’ And he just said, ‘Take it.’ And so that kind of started this whole real in­trigue for me with Ar­taud.”

The work that evolved out of that in­trigue, Allen’s mul­ti­me­dia Ghost Ship Rodez, is di­vided into three sec­tions. One is a mu­si­cal the­ater piece that is sched­uled to be per­formed at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on April 9. The other two sec­tions fill two rooms at SITE Santa Fe as part of One on One, a suite of solo shows (the other par­tic­i­pants are Hasan Elahi, McCallum& Tarry, and Kaari Up­son). Ac­cord­ing to SITE, each artist’s work fo­cuses on “the artist’s ob­ses­sion with an­other per­son.”

To be­gin work on the project, Allen and his wife, Jo Har­vey Allen, went first to Mex­ico, where “I started do­ing some draw­ings and work­ing on ideas. Ar­taud also spent some time in Mex­ico,

and that’s piv­otal in this whole body of work. There was an in­ci­dent that hap­pened to him — he’d trav­eled to Ire­land, and found this stick that he called the staff of St. Ge­orge — some peo­ple say that he called it the staff of St. Pa­trick, but in ev­ery­thing I’ve ever read, he called it the staff of St. Ge­orge.

“Af­ter that, he was in Mex­ico, where he went to par­tic­i­pate in pey­ote cer­e­monies with the Tarahu­mara In­di­ans, which prob­a­bly had very dis­as­trous psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences for him, be­cause he was in bad shape when he got back to France. He de­cided that this staff of St. Ge­orge needed to be taken back to the Ir­ish peo­ple, that it was too im­por­tant to take away from them. So he went to Ire­land. He got into a big fight with the cops in Dublin and ac­tu­ally hit a cop in the head with the staff. They con­fis­cated it, and it’s never been seen again. They put him in jail and then de­ported him. They put him on a freighter, theWash­ing­ton, where he raised so much hell that they strait­jack­eted him, chained him to a cot in the hold of the ship. He says it was for 17 days. Who knows, it could have been 17 hours. But I’m sure if you’re chained and in a com­plete men­tal and emo­tional col­lapse, it felt like a long time.”

Ar­taud’s trip back from Ire­land in chains in­spired Ghost Ship Rodez. “Af­ter he re­turned to France, he was never re­ally out of men­tal in­sti­tu­tions again,” Allen said. “And one of the in­sti­tu­tions, where he re­ceived nu­mer­ous elec­tric shock treat­ments, was Rodez. So that’s where I got the name Ghost Ship Rodez. But the idea of the piece came from what might have hap­pened dur­ing that 17 days.”

One room of Allen’s pre­sen­ta­tion at SITE fea­tures works on pa­per that he calls the Momo Chron­i­cles. “Ar­taud called him­self ‘Momo,’ which is kind of a charmed idiot,” Allen ex­plained. “And th­ese chron­i­cles are a very fic­tion­al­ized jour­nal of his Mex­i­can trip. It’s kind of a log that starts with him com­ing from France to Cuba to Vera Cruz to Mex­ico City, and then tak­ing a train to Chi­huahua, and then horse­back into the land of the Tarahu­mara, and do­ing the pey­ote cer­e­monies, and it pretty much ends there as far as the chron­i­cles go. You’ll hear the au­dio com­ing in from the next room, and the au­dio is text that’s avail­able for you to read on the draw­ings.”

In that ad­join­ing room is a sculp­tural fig­ure called Momo lo Mismo. “This fig­ure is kind of like a big video pup­pet. It’s about 17 feet tall; it’s got a mon­i­tor for the head, a mon­i­tor for the chest, hands, and feet, so it’s six mon­i­tors. But it’s all one face, so the hands are the eyes, the head is a fore­head, there’s a nose that’s the trunk, and then half of the mouth on each foot. It’s a full body, and it’s a face. And it speaks. All of the text that’s in the chron­i­cles is read by Jo Har­vey, my wife.

“Then there’s a ship, which is also one of the main props in the piece. It’s like a metal cot with sails that videos are pro­jected on. I’ve pulled im­ages from films that Ar­taud was in, like (Abel Gance’s 1927) Napoléon, where he played Marat, and (Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928) The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc, where he plays the priest. And those are kind of frag­mented, the way they’re pro­jected on the sails.”

The frag­men­ta­tion is a re­flec­tion of Ar­taud’s artis­tic vi­sion. Ar­taud writes: Who am I? Where do I come from? I am An­tonin Ar­taud and I say this as I know how to say this im­me­di­ately you will see my present body burst into frag­ments and re­make it­self un­der ten thou­sand no­to­ri­ous as­pects a new body where you will never for­get me.

“An­other thing that had a big im­pact on me when I would read Ar­taud,” Allen said, “was this quote: ‘ The hu­man face is an empty power, a field of death.’ He said it was a black hole. Which prob­a­bly came from some of his ex­pe­ri­ences with the Tarahu­mara; when he’s trav­el­ing there, he sees frag­ments of an­i­mals and faces in the rocks. “

Of the mu­si­cal-the­ater com­po­nent of Ghost Ship Rodez, Allen said, “Jo Har­vey plays a char­ac­ter called the Daugh­ter of the Heart. Ar­taud con­sid­ered all the women who were im­por­tant in his life his ‘ Daugh­ters of the Heart to Be Born.’ That’s what he called them. Th­ese women were girl­friends, hook­ers, his mother, his sis­ter, it was ev­ery woman with whom he had some in­tense emo­tional con­nec­tion. So Jo Har­vey plays this kind of chameleon clair­voy­ant, and lit­er­ally, th­ese im­ages of th­ese women, th­ese dif­fer­ent per­sonas, go through her. She’s like a ve­hi­cle for th­ese dif­fer­ent women. But then she’ll be Ar­taud for a few min­utes. And she’ll be th­ese women. She shifts. But it’s fo­cused on au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal as­pects of Ar­taud. Jo Har­vey is phe­nom­e­nal in it!”

Allen is fas­ci­nated with Ar­taud, but he in­sists he’s not ob­sessed. “His fail­ures, his lega­cies, his in­flu­ences— all of this stuff is in­cred­i­bly mys­te­ri­ous and cu­ri­ous to me. The way I work is I throw my­self into the idea of in­ves­ti­gat­ing some­thing, but al­ways from the point of view of fic­tion. I’m al­ways mak­ing stuff up. I’m not try­ing to be a bi­og­ra­pher. But I think Ar­taud was a cli­mate— an in­tense cli­mate that you can go into, and things hap­pen in there. It’s like a storm, but it can also be like some­thing in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful.

“I have no idea how peo­ple will re­spond to this work. I hope that peo­ple are cu­ri­ous, and that they re­spond to their own cu­rios­ity. But the idea of try­ing to get them to leave with any spe­cific thing, I learned long ago that’s just a waste of time.”

Terry Allen: Study for Momo lo Mismo, 2009, graphite on pa­per; cour­tesy the artist and L.A. Lou­ver Gallery Op­po­site page, Ghost Ship Rodez in­stal­la­tion (work in progress), 2009, books, bed frame, video pro­jec­tion; cour­tesy the artist and L.A. Lou­ver Gallery Vaunted but haunted: An­tonin Ar­taud (1896-1948)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.