Tuesday 24 November 2020

#txtshow (on the internet) - Live Art Review

 What: #txtshow (On The Internet)
When: 24 - 29 November 2020
Where: Digital Fringe
Created by: Brian Feldman
Performed by: Brian Feldman and Morgan Johnson

#txtshow (on the internet)

COVID 19 has kicked the live performance world in the guts, it's true. But what has emerged is an exciting army of artists who have not let themselves be cowered into hiding. Some have tried to tame the beast which is internet performance, some have tried to play with the beast, and then there are artists like Brian Feldman. A devotee of meaningful coincidence (or synchronicity) in his art, Feldman allows the audience to play with each other through Zoom.

From what I can make out, #txtshow (on the internet) is doing the fringe festival circuit across the world - something which has become so very much easier and accessible to artists and audiences alike in this lockdown era. The event has arrived in Melbourne. I suspect the outcomes will have a very unique flavour with this city having just emerged from 6 months of hard lockdowns (give or take a few weeks in the middle).

#txtshow is something of a 'write your own adventure' exercise. Everyone turns up to a Zoom meeting. Feldman walks in with nary a word and then he starts reciting whatever people type into chat. He doesn't just speak it though. He acts it out, trying his hardest to incorporate meaning and intention into what is, effectively, a garble of ideas and outlooks. 

I suspect our isolation brains are going to come up with some rather curious existential thinking after having been confined in body and spirit for so long. I know my writings were very Beckettian indeed.

Before going further I need to explain Feldman's artistry because on the surface it could be mocked as random. Actually, it is random, but that is the intention.

Carl Jung first coined the phrase synchronicity and defined it as two or more events, seemingly unrelated, occurring at the same time and thus creating a relationship. One of the most prominent proponents of meaningful coincidence (synchronicity) was John Cage. He loved it when unexpected sounds such as rain, or trains, or coughing, or bells, or sirens happened at the time of his performances. 

This was the genius of his famous 4'33" - a composition of complete silence. It wasn't about the silence. It was about whatever sound happened in these moments of not playing instruments.

This is the aesthetic Feldman plays with in his art. He sets up a conceit and then lets whatever happens happen. This is the magic of #txtshow (on the internet). Feldman has created a space and an idea and it is up to us to play with the toy he has given us. We find our own way to fun and inspiration.

There are some soft rules to make sure we feel a sense of community. The screen manager (Morgan Johnson) greets us all, explains what is going to happen, and asks us to turn on our cameras and microphones so that we can see and hear each other. Feldman walks into a stark white room with only a table, chair, and his mobile phone. Anything which appears in chat he will recite. Those are the only words we will hear him speak, and the only actions he will make. He is our puppet.

The performance I attended only had a few people so more of my text was performed then may be the case in a larger crowd. It had the weird effect of getting me ridiculously immersed in my own existential drama and I found myself resenting the intrusions of the other writers at first. For the most part I was able to follow their lead but there is a weird lag and the story moves on to something else before you have a chance to hit send. These interruptions, these meaningful coincidences, are analogous to life though. I know I am always getting interrupted on my life path and sometimes there is no going back to that distant yellow brick road.

I found this hilarious and I discovered a rhythm, keeping lines short (almost like a poem) and trying to keep them provocative rather than closed. Our story ended up being something about a cat named Ginger who had entered our Irish white cell several years after going on safari with our pleasant blueberry landlord... The only thing I can add is there was whisky involved.

A word of warning - the camera is on. You can choose to ignore that request, but where's the fun in that? Having been in isolation since forever, completely alone, my brain did not register this until I saw myself and realised I wasn't wearing a bra and my hair was a little bit too messed up to be called fashionable. For everyone who was in the Zoom room with me - I am sorry! I was too busy laughing and typing to do anything about it though.

Apart from the story, however, another strange thing happened. I started to get up close and personal with my inner conspirator. I found myself wondering if everything txt (Feldman) was saying was written in chat or if he was introducing his own stuff. I will never know and it doesn't matter. I don't think that is true because it doesn't match with his artistry but, dammit, the idea still lingers refusing to be swept into the rubbish bin where it belongs.

Another thing I realise as I write this review is the microphones were on. We all could have spoken during the event but we didn't. Talk about an opportunity missed! We are all too Zoom whipped I guess. I will never know if txt would have moved if I gave a verbal instruction. I could have collaborated with my fellow writers about the story being told. I could have sung to a captive audience! 

#txtshow is whatever you want to make it. I suggest going with friends. You will know how they write and think and you may discover artistic synergies which have been lying under the surface just waiting for a meaningful coincidence to emerge. Another word of caution: txt says everything you type including typos. That has it's own irruption of reality fun and games layered in. 

In #txtshow (on the internet) Feldman teaches us to have fun with a technology those of us in Melbourne have been slave to for most of 2020. I wish Digital Fringe had happened at the start and not the end. Lockdown would have been much more fun now that I am discovering all these great games and ideas. Of course, it is meaningful coincidence that this is happening now and not then. Enjoy your own personal synchronicity!

4 Stars

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