”Yeah I'll check out a movie
But it'll take a Black one to move me”(1)
One of the first thoughts prompted by CNN’s coverage of the WTC bombing was that this broadcast was in fact live kitsch, not live news. It is a short step from the documentary theatre of the 1960s and 70s, the aim of which was to “inform the audience of social wrongs and thus cultivate a critical attitude to conventions and prejudices”(2), to TV-produced docu-soaps, and ultimately CNN’s instant kitsch. It has now become commonplace to regard the WTC bombing as primarily a US/Arab co-produced action soap – and CNN has long since realised that it has a problem in its portrayal of world news.(3) Toril Goksøyr and Camilla Martens carry these issues over into the artistic field, where they are subjected to treatment in a number of media that are probably among the least communicative we possess: theatre, visual art, performance. In the show I Will Do Anything For You, Goksøyr & Martens takes up the issue of the interfusion of the media. At the same time they show us the problems we encounter when we apply tried and tested polarities to unprecedented historical events unfolding right before our eyes – live.
The rhetorics of these polarities grow simpler in proportion to the increased complexity of the situation. It’s just a matter of choosing your opinion. Here are some of the traditional slogans of the left: Anti-Capitalism, Anti-Muslim Bashing, Anti-Imperialism, Anti-Dumbing Down, Anti-Americanization. And here we have those of Osama Bin Laden: Anti-Capitalism, Anti-Muslim Bashing, Anti-Imperialism, Anti-Dumbing Down, Anti-Americanization. There is broad agreement that terrorism is bad, but what if terrorism is what is takes to get the discussion going and to start things happening? Has Bin Laden made it or has he just messed things up for himself and his followers? It’s difficult to say. Possibly Michelangelo Antonioni’s remark: “There’s nothing like a little disaster for sorting things out”(4) has become more relevant than ever.
And what about that champion of black rights, Michael Jackson, who found that being black was such a hassle that he decided not to stick it? He has dedicated his CD to Benjamin Hermansen, and turned the fate of the boy from Holmlia outside Oslo into a world event, yet somehow his polarisation of black and white doesn’t quite work.(5)
From the times of Dada up until today, via the 1960s and 70s, it has been difficult for artists with any political and social awareness to explain (to themselves) why they don’t simply go out into society and make a ‘real’ contribution. Within the fields of both art and politics, the turn of the millennium inspired young people with a mixture of protest nostalgia and fresh commitment (witness the post-Seattle demo wave etc.) In a global perspective, there are now more issues to confront than ever before, but most are more insidious than they were in the past. Paradoxically, the concept of international solidarity is fading just as the world is getting properly webbed up, and watching the demonstrations in Genoa and Gothenburg, it is difficult to decide whether they are in fact fashion shows, political demonstrations, or displays of some new kind of extreme sport. Indeed, concepts such as Prada-Meinhof and Rebel Chic had already been introduced several years ago, as it became clear that even rebellion, terrorism and revolution could be fetishized and marketed.
Young western Europeans or Americans who have grown up with a general I will do nothing for you attitude, having enjoyed conscientious and politically correct upbringings, see that it is equally difficult to badger oneself into commitment as to force oneself into passivity. It is here, in the gap between true commitment and hyper-reflection, that the performance of Goksøyr & Martens at Kunstnernes Hus is situated. Throughout their collaboration, the two have restricted themselves exclusively to galleries (the art scene) as their arena, and to theatre performance as their medium for a political reality. By coupling the traditional arts (including classical music) with contemporary phenomena such as the sentimental news broadcasts of the mass media (Hva må gjøres? UKS, Oslo, 1998), the game show (Hele havet stormer, Galleri 54, Oslo, 2000) and popular music (Fall, Stenersenmuseet, Oslo, 2001), Goksøyr/Martens seek to accelerate the discussion in their own field by putting the brakes on forms of cultural expression that are already turning at a frantic pace.
In the performance I Will Do Anything for You, Goksøyr & Martens turn documentary theatre into a music video— the preferred means of communication among Michael Jackson fans, who in this case also constitute the actors. The music video serves to filter the good/evil rhetoric of George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden, or the inverted black/white rhetoric of Michael Jackson. It takes the limited success of the school system in its attempts to wean stubborn kids from thinking in stereotypes, and mixes it with a semi-choreographed performance of the youngsters’ own vague sign language, culminating in the unequivocal, raised fist of the Black Panthers. That fist became familiar throughout the world during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, although in the present context it occurs rather as a question mark between Michael Jackson’s commitment as sponsored by PEPSI, and the political ambitions of the Olympic Games, as sponsored by Coca Cola.
The result is a performance that deals with mass suggestibility as a means of communication, whether it be blind idealism, racism or terrorism as such, the mass sentimentalism of world news, or financially motivated entertainment.
(1) Public Enemy; Burn Hollywood Burn, Fear of a Black Planet, 1990.
(2) Kunnskapsforlagets Teater og Filmleksikon, 1991.
(3) “I do not believe that this is happening.” CNN, 1999. CNN’s anchor man doubts the substance of his own broadcast, as it cuts frantically back and forth between Clinton’s lawyers, who are struggling to parry the statement’s of Kenneth Starr during an interview in front of the White House immediately following the release of the Starr report on the internet, which CNN’s backroom boys are busily scouring in search of sleaze, and Clinton himself, who at that very moment is round the back of the White House, together with his family, speaking in support of the people of Ireland.
(4) Michelangelo Antonioni; Blow Up, 1966, MGM/UA.
(5) Benjamin Hermansen, a fifteen year old black boy, was killed by neo-Nazis in a suburb outside Oslo on the 26th of January, 2001. t.c.