It’s the last two weeks of the semester and I should be focusing all my time and energy on finishing final projects and worrying about what to submit to the upcoming school show, but instead I packed my bags and headed upstate to perform at a gamelan concert in Oneonta, NY.
Considering how behind I am on my work, I shouldn’t have left. I barely made a deadline last week and presented a half-finished video collage based on La Tentation de St. Antoine by Georges Méliès, a seasonably appropriate homework for Easter. The original film, made in 1898, was a brilliant piece of cinematic wizardry in which actors performing before a painted set would appear and disappear through clever choreography and editing. In my version, I worked with Geetha Pedapati to play every character and animated the scenes through digital means.
Since the recent vandalism of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ was still fresh on our minds, during critiques, my classmates questioned why I decided not to place a crucifix in my video and whether it’s important to do so. Truthfully, I didn’t include it because I simply ran out of time. But we had a great discussion on why artwork like David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly would incite such anger from certain groups of people who deem it alright to crucify the statue of liberty. In conclusion, the class wanted me to finish the piece.
And then came the concert. Admittedly, I spent my time upstate with a little bit of resentment for this hiccup in my schedule. My sour mood didn’t last long, however, because I got to spend some time with our talented vocalist, Jessika Kenney. She and her husband, Eyvind Kang, has been causing quite the stir with their avant-garde take on traditional world music and performance.
Jessika asked me about my work and I fell into my usual mumbling about how dance and theater echo history and paranoia. I am the worst when it comes to pitching my ideas, especially when they are still underdeveloped. Unlike others, however, Jessika listened very intently and was quite good at dissecting my logic. She immediately brought up the folk theater Randai of Northern Sumatra, which mixes martial arts, dance and oral tradition. I have been researching Randai for months now, trying to wrap my head around the complexity of this simple folk performance. She even sang to me some couplets in the Minangkabau language, which I had never heard live.
I got the courage to start speaking about the other projects I’m working on, such as an experimental shadow puppet performance based on traditional Javanese Wayang Kulit. This is a touchy subject because some people find the traditional puppetry sacrosanct. Instead of brushing it off as a fad or criticizing me for sacrilege, Jessika gave me some significant leads for my project. She herself had done several experimental wayang performances. Meeting and speaking with her was like discovering an oasis in an endless desert. And without her, our concert would not have been such a resounding success.
I was pretty inspired by this weekend. I’m now ready and raring to sew up a glittery Jesus costume, dig out my make-up and jump deep into AfterEffects. I’m excited to finish the code for my digital shadow puppets and am ready to present it unflinchingly. But now comes the hard part of getting them done.