A prison ship home com­pan­ion

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

Art may be the only pro­fes­sion in which in­san­ity is not only con­doned but ven­er­ated. An­tonin Ar­taud, a drug ad­dict and un­di­ag­nosed schizophrenic, was at the fore­front of the Sur­re­al­ist move­ment in early 20th-cen­tury France. His rad­i­cal ideas and writ­ings about per­for­mance in­flu­enced every­one from The Liv­ing The­ater to Möt­ley Crüe. Get­ting through day-to-day life was an­other story.

Ghost Ship Rodez is a per­for­mance piece cre­ated by Santa Fe-based mu­si­cian/artist Terry Allen as a com­pan­ion to his in­stal­la­tion at SITE Santa Fe, part of the One on One exhibit on dis­play through May 9. Ar­taud was all about shak­ing up a com­pla­cent art world, but Allen, us­ing live mu­sic, pro­jec­tions, and sculp­tural scenic el­e­ments, chooses to en­ter­tain more than to ag­gra­vate, to fo­cus less on Ar­taud’s ideas and more on his angst.

Fea­tur­ing Allen’s wife, ac­tress Jo Har­vey Allen, as nar­ra­tor and Ev­ery­woman, Ghost Ship Rodez re­counts events in the artist’s life dur­ing 1936 and 1937. Delu­sional and suf­fer­ing from drug with­drawal, Ar­taud went to Mex­ico and lived with the Tarahu­mara peo­ple, whose cer­e­mo­nial tra­di­tions in­clude the use of pey­ote. He then trav­eled to Ire­land, where he in­tended to re­turn to the Ir­ish a wooden stick he be­lieved had be­longed to Je­sus Christ, St. Pa­trick, and Lu­cifer. His re­turn trip to France, in a strait­jacket and chained to an iron bed in the hold of a freight ship, led to the fi­nal phase of Ar­taud’s life, which in­cluded elec­troshock treat­ment and con­fine­ment to a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal in Rodez.

Allen is a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist who works in mu­sic, the­ater, sculp­ture, paint­ing, draw­ing, and video. The in­stal­la­tion at SITE fea­tures many of the same el­e­ments of­fered in the per­for­mance piece, in­clud­ing video pro­jec­tions of Jo Har­vey Allen nar­rat­ing Ar­taud’s sor­did trav­el­ogue and the fic­tion­al­ized mus­ings of a man gone mad. The walls of the gallery are filled with text-based pieces and draw­ings of rats, the ocean, Mex­ico, and Ar­taud’s tor­tured face.

In the per­for­mance, how­ever, Allen and his wife, who hail from Lub­bock, Texas, present orig­i­nal mu­sic and the­atri­cal de­liv­ery that sends the in­ter­na­tional jour­ney on a de­tour through the Lone Star State. Us­ing coun­try mu­sic and nar­ra­tive with a twang to de­liver a fic­tion­al­ized take on the in­te­rior mono­logues of a crazed French ge­nius takes some get­ting used to. There are no rules in ex­per­i­men­tal the­ater, Allen seems to be say­ing. Ar­taud might have smiled — or screamed ob­scen­i­ties.

Fea­tur­ing the di­rec­tor on key­board and vo­cals, his son Bukka Allen on ac­cor­dion, Richard Bow­den on vi­o­lin and man­dolin, and Brian Stande­fer on cello, the mu­si­cal score was the op­po­site of tor­ture and in­san­ity and more like down-home fun. Jo Har­vey Allen brought a comedic charm to her role. Even when she was chan­nel­ing Ar­taud and howl­ing at the uni­verse, there was a sense that she would stop it soon enough and then wink, as if there should be lim­its to a story about one man’s agony.

Ar­taud’s sem­i­nal writ­ings about the “The­atre of Cru­elty” pre­sented the idea that per­for­mance should not be ruled by text. Ghost Ship Rodez sug­gests nicely that move­ment, ges­ture, im­agery, and sen­sa­tion can also com­mu­ni­cate. What seems miss­ing, how­ever, is Ar­taud him­self. By de­sign, Jo Har­vey Allen never steps into that role, but that seems ex­actly where the heart of the mat­ter lies. For all its sug­ges­tion of depth and in­ten­sity, this per­for­mance was easy lis­ten­ing, not cruel by a long shot.

— Michael Wade Simp­son

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