Thursday, January 12, 2017

APAP SEASON CHOICES: "Blind Cinema" by Britt Hatzius

Blind Cinema
(photo: Britt Hatzius)

In 'Blind Cinema' the audience sits blindfolded in a darkened cinema. Behind each row of audience members is a row of children who in hushed voices describe a film only they can see. The children watch the film for the first time, and each performance involves a new group of children all aged between eight and eleven.
--from program notes for Blind Cinema 

I'm not sure why the job had to be done by kids, but Blind Cinema--offered by the film, video, sound and performance artist Britt Hatzius in this year's COIL Festival--is certainly one of the more curious events this APAP season. Presented by PS 122 and SVA Theatre in partnership with East Village Community School (from where the youngsters hail), this forty-minute experience feels like a combination of torture, mind-altering experimentation and goofiness. Years later, you'll be able to say, "I did that," but what exactly "that" was or if it was necessary might remain open to question.

Intentionally or not, my experience of Blind Cinema began in the SVA Theatre's lobby, standing around on line forever waiting to enter the cinema as staff members wordlessly wandered back and forth, possibly counting us. From the noise of people's chattering and the extended wait, energy drained from every fiber of my being. When we were finally admitted to the hall, it was further dispiriting to be forced into the front row abutting the edge of a high platform stage. I don't know about the legroom for the rows behind us but, in the front row, our knees and feet jammed pretty close to that platform. And we had no choice. As we entered, we were ordered to fill the rows all the way across, and I had the great good luck of being one of the first folks in that front row. Add blindfolds to this look and an audio cone that must cover one of your ears, and Blind Cinema is not a good move for anyone with claustrophobia.

The cone helps you hear your assigned movie viewer/whisperer. I hope my fellow audience members found their cones helpful. My ability to hear my young attendant came and went--partly because the child wasn't always very clear-spoken; partly because when you darken a room and cover my eyes, my body gratefully cries sleep time!!! and hijacks the situation. This is actually a healthy thing though inconvenient for this particular sample of performance art.

For me, Blind Cinema was a truly surreal experience, a matter of letting go of understanding WTF was being said; why some people in distant rows, who were not children, were giggling when I could find nothing funny; what was happening on the platform stage where certain noises coming towards us suggested potential danger; and, overall, the ability to stay conscious. I don't think I actually ever fell asleep, but I did go into that liminal "tween" state. When I was most conscious and actually catching words, I was also worrying about how my neck and shoulder were scrunching up as I struggled to maintain connection to the cone. I was, simultaneously, worrying about the narrative I'd lost and getting to a place where I didn't give a damn what I heard or could not hear.

But, okay, maybe Hatzius would find every bit of that well aligned with her purpose as described on PS 122's website:
Through Blind Cinema, Britt Hatzius examines ideas around language and interpretation along with the potential for discrepancies, ruptures and (mis)communication.
Blind Cinema concludes this afternoon with a performance at 5:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

SVA Theatre
333 West 23rd Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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