Saturday, March 31, 2018

From a whisper to a shriek: Diamanda Galás's "Schrei 27"

from Schrei 27--
a film by Diamanda Galás and Davide Pepe

What has kept Diamanda Galás's metal-shredder voice going, decade after decade, while gentler singers' pipes rust over? It must be more than "drinking plenty of water," the discipline she cites in a 2017 interview. Should we revive that old legend--a secret deal with the devil? Tartini. Paganini. Robert Johnson. Diamanda Galás?

Schrei 27 (2011)--her installation in collaboration with video artist Davide Pepe--can't quite make up for the total shock-and-awe of Galás performing live right in front of you. And yet, the film--screened for the first time in the US at Performance Space New York--delivers its own body blow.

The work originated, in 1994, as a commission for radio. Then Galás transformed it into a live performance--Schrei X, 1996--set in darkness at Performance Space 122 (now Performance Space New York). So, this week's screenings were a kind of coming home, part of the newly-reopened institution's season of remembrance of the avant-garde artistic history of the East Village.

For Pepe's half-hour film, viewers entered a theater lit only by its movie screen, picked their way to seats and then took a steep descent into the hell of a mysterious medical institution. A prisoner, arrested for treason, suffers torture suggested indirectly in stark, surrealist detail--an eye is a mouth; a mouth, an eye; x-ray flashes reveal the bones of restrained hands and wrists; teeth loom like a row of tombstones in moonlight. And the sounds...those caustic, scorching sounds....

Galás's painted and drawn imagery, Pepe's photography, and the precision sound work by Blaise Dupuy and Dave Hunt create a flickering nightmare intent on seizing and scrambling the brainwaves of witnesses as we try to watch and fail to watch by squinting, looking aside, shielding our eyes. What, I wonder, do they hope to make us confess?

For information on upcoming performances and exhibitions at Performance Space New York, click here.

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