I am riding on the adrenaline rush of playing at the Lincoln Center’s Walter Reader Theater to a sold-out audience with my classical Javanese gamelan orchestra, Kusuma Laras. I wasn’t too nervous, because I was blessed with having a gong twice the size of my head placed right in my view of the audience. Donning my finest batik shirt and having a gong for a face, I felt like I was in a René Magritte painting if he went through a Javanese period.
But I have no time to celebrate. Two of my biggest school projects are due within the next few weeks. By Friday, I will hopefully complete an 11,520 by 1,080 resolution video to be projected on a 120-foot wide screen with my friend and colleague, Valentina Camacho. We will be premiering the piece on December 2, 6:00 pm, at the IAC building.
It’s generally difficult for me to work with others, and a mandate to collaborate is never fun. But working with Valentina has been a pleasurable and eye-opening experience. I sat next to her on our first day of class, listening to our professor, Dan Shiffman, describe the daunting marathon we signed up to endure. We turned to each other and made plans to escape. Instead, while discussing the sado-masochism of signing up to give up every moment of two months of our lives for a three minute piece, we ended up brainstorming ideas for a collaborative piece.
After several experiments, we pursued the idea of transforming the lobby’s screen into the windows of a public pool, echoing the works of David Hockney, Bill Viola, and Hayao Miyazaki. Our first attempt was very well received, but the positive responses weren’t exactly what we wanted. We feared that our work would be celebrated as a fancy screen saver on an oversized monitor. We struggled with the fact that our characters were being treated as killer whales in Sea World. And we spent way too much time adding a technically challenging interactive element that no one even noticed.
Thankfully, my advisor Marina Zurkow, whose work is currently exhibited at the Montclair Art Museum, knows a thing or two about creating a successful narrative with new media and site-specific art. She pushed us to explore the parallels and surreality of a lobby and a pool, two public spaces with people coming in and out but serving very different purposes. Valentina and I decided to focus on bringing the calmness of being underwater to the pandemonium of a reception at the lobby of a Frank Gehry building. Our swimmers break the surface, explore the 120 foot wide pool and interact with each other, some cognizant that they are being watched. It is a journey for both themselves and the audience. We committed to a storyboard and ran with it.
Valentina’s video editing skills far eclipse mine. She kindly agreed to put the finishing touches on our piece, which is lovely because I have to complete my other big project, media-controlling drop-crotch pants for the course New Interfaces for Musical Instruments. The piece, tentatively called the Drop-Crotch Orchestra, is a ten minute performance to be debuted at Brooklyn’s Cameo Gallery on Sunday December 11. Four performers form a circle and create rhythms by clapping, slapping their pants on their thighs and hitting the extended groin area of their pants. It is loosely inspired by the Randai theater of Western Sumatra.
I have learned to be extra sensitive and respectful when creating contemporary work based on traditional folk art. It’s rather difficult not to act the goat while hitting the region between one’s legs, but after researching the history of garments with ballooned nether regions I am dissuaded from creating a comedic performance.
Drop-crotch pants represent the paradox of the forbidden and yet sacred harem. They are a symbol of faith that devout Duruze men wear in order to welcome the Messiah’s birth with a cradle of cloth between their legs. They are the armor worn by warriors of Sumatra and breakdancers of the Bronx. I want to make sure that all of this comes across in the performance, and not have it treated as attention-grabbing silliness. But first I have to finish making the damn things.