By SHALWAH EVANS
A word to the elderly, you’ll be lost. With all the sounds and visual images to look at all at once, David Szlasa’s “GADGET” was an excess of penetration of the senses. But wait, there is reason to stay.
A mix of elderly and hipster viewers entered the dark space together. Twenty minutes later only one older man remained.
The small performance installation’s space was open, with three gadgets hanging from the ceilings. They sort of resembled old school salon hair dryers with broken lights inside. Each was large enough for three people to put their heads inside while the men sitting in seats in the back controlling the show (including Szlasa) lifted and lowered the gadgets sporadically.
Some people stayed inside and chatted with others. One man played to see how far he could move, dropping all the way down to floor to see if the gadget would follow him—it did. It was confusing as to why people stayed inside of them for so long, until I got under one.
Inside the gadget was like being in a horror film or a thriller that takes place in an insane asylum where all the rooms are white (though in Szlasa’s sanatorium all the rooms are black) and you constantly feel like a bright light is shining on your face. There’s always that point in the film when the protagonist listens to interviews of the killer, and figures out the root of the issue. This was similar, except you could barely make out what the people being interviewed were saying. Without reading the history of the piece you would never know that they were interviews with former members of the Manhattan Project.
Szlasa’s view, however, is clear: that the U.S. minimized the atomic bomb’s devastation.
If this was the point of the piece, okay we got it. After the first few times the footage of the test bomb dropping in Alamorgordo, New Mexico played, the message becomes embedded. But couldn’t Michael Moore or the Discovery Channel have driven the point in just as well, sans the weird gadgets and seizure-like dancing (we’ll get there in a second). The way the video skipped and played back, and became louder at very calculated times illuminated the creators views as subtly as the mayor passes a budget.
Kira Kirsch’s enters the piece, however, quietly. I noticed her initially because I was admiring her menswear outfit. But after a few minutes I was convinced she was following me around. Then halfway into the installation, she began the performance, making subtle jerking movements. The audience (almost all sitting on the floor by now—sans helmets) didn’t seem to notice until she began to make large sweeping arm motions towards the floor.
While unsure how her movement related to the bomb (at one point she was on the floor doing what looked like the worm) her presence was powerful. She pulled me back into the piece just as boredom had set in and my thoughts began to drift to what I would make for Shabbat dinner.
I watched her. I wanted to watch her. I wanted the screens to go black. I wanted the interview noise to stop. I wanted the maestro to raise the volume on the electro bass beat and just stand there and watch her jerk her body around. Though some might have just seen convulsive seizure-like movements I saw power in her body.
The way she threw her body around without inhibitions mesmerized. Her isolations were synonymous with the beat. The electro-pop soundtrack that accompanied her movement worked well and made the viewer want to pay attention.
I wished the dance had been separated out of the installation. Kirsch — who studied modern dance at the Conservatory of Vienna— deserved more attention as it was clear that she has extensive dance training.
GADGET was an hour of consecutive weird experiences. As part of the audience you’re unsure of what to do with yourself or what to make of the space and people around you. The good news for Szlasa is that people often don’t understand conceptual art, especially the first time they experience a piece. The bad news for Szlasa is that people often don’t understand conceptual art, so they won’t give a piece a second run. The installation performance was a brave attempt at showing a piece of American history in a different way. But it leaves the audience wondering exactly what the artist was trying to show us.
Repeats Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 27 at 8 p.m.