Carlos Gonzalez: 4More
Prologue. Ahead of time.
Carlos Gonzalez’ compelling performance 4More at Appendix Space last night was about proximity and distance both literally and metaphorically. In four acts, Gonzalez silently drew a capacity audience into (again both literally and metaphorically) a strong performance work that addressed shared experience, the distance(s) between us, public and private space (how we carve it out and how we use it), and an aspect of the artist’s identity at an oblique angle.
The piece begins and ends with Gonzalez’ beautiful hair-free head.
The “stage” is a one-foot wide strip at the back of the garage space marked off with duct tape. Gonzalez gestures to the viewers to come closer. Closer. He closes the garage door. Toeing the line, the few in front watch him disrobe and vigorously, audibly rub lotion on his arms, calves, and scalp. Read this as a reveal, but not a real reveal: 10 of the audience members learn that Gonzalez appears to have no hair on his arms or legs either, implying this condition as a subject of the piece (for those who saw this part of the performance). The rest of us just see him rubbing something on his head that gleams in the pool of light.
Aside: My partner brilliantly called Gonzalez’ movement “impatient Butoh.”
Rock and Roll, Recognition, and Spontaneous Participation
Gonzalez dresses, dons earbuds, bends low, and weaves through the cloud clapping out a rhythm and absentmindedly humming fragments of a tune. In a great moment of simultaneity, it dons on all of us at once that he’s listening to Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part 2. We join in at “Hey!” generating a kind of metaphoric proximity in which we’re not only close to the action, we are the action. Thus Gonzalez cleverly makes us complicit in whatever is to follow.
This raises an interesting aspect of the performance that we dealt with throughout: as we were continually moving toward and away, in and out, we continually made conscious choices about how close we wanted to be to the action, to Gonzalez. I was very aware of the tension between wanting to be close to be able to see and wanting to establish distance so that I’d have the option to participate or not depending on how much I felt I trusted Gonzalez. Sometimes the choice was made for us…
He pushes each of us out of the space, one by one with his shoulder or back. Some make him work harder for their exit than others…which I guess is as it should be if this is to be a kind of metaphor, but I was tempted to drag the final stubborn upstaging few out of the damn garage myself so we could move on.
Note to girl who sat down on the floor: everything is not about you.
Visibly exhausted, Gonzalez shuts the garage door.
Circles and Prisms and Second Guessing
Garage door up on duct tape circle in center of floor. We are motioned to gather close around the circle, and Gonzalez closes the garage door again. Lying in the middle of the circle like the needle on a human compass, he repeated a series of movements/positions at several points on the compass. It took some time for me to understand that the sounds of exertion he was making, the labored breath, were perhaps caused by his lifting himself off the floor just barely with the arm tucked beneath him. Curiously, I just now finally read the description of 4More that was part of the invitation. It says that Gonzalez was “examining the knot of personal identity through abstracted acts of sport.” Oh, prism of reference, how you refract the actual into a million shards of possible. This of course recasts Gary Glitter as a sports anthem (something probably only I missed in the moment). And in light of the description, Gonzalez is perhaps wrestling himself or an invisible other, working himself through a number of holds and pins. Without the sport reference, I had situated this abstract but purposeful exertion as an interesting sequence of task-based contemporary dance.
Possible unintended consequence: one of the positions he held looked like the number 4.
Now It Is Personal
Garage door up. The audience space is taped off on the floor in a flying wedge shape. At the point of the wedge, there is a white bucket. Gonzalez again gestures us to come into the space he has made for us. In this the final act, Gonzalez uses the top of his head to paint on the walls in purple paint, letters as tall as he can reach. We had returned to the spectator role as of the last act, but the afterglow of our participation still smolders. Now there is perhaps the most physical distance between us and Gonzalez that there has been all night. Slowly the letters, painted non-sequentially, cohere into his final invitation, “UNDERSTAND ME PLEASE.”
How does Gonzalez get away with this phrase that could read as trite in other circumstances but here brings the piece into relief with a snap? It’s some alchemical combination of acting with conviction, conviction that the audience can read in every gesture, every expression or lack thereof (do I have to say that I don’t mean acting-acting, but taking action) AND constructing an audience experience…involving us in the performance individually and collectively…that fosters buy-in and empathy to the point where by act 4, we are open to such a request.
Thank you Travis Fitzgerald of Appendix Space for first two photos.