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THEATER | "Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good)" at the Walker Art Center: Authentically muddled
Gob Squad, the European performance troupe who presented their take on the films of Andy Warhol last weekend at the Walker Art Center, have a lot of tools in their Kitchen—maybe too many.
Andy Warhol is a tough artist to riff on, because his work is so conceptually complete: it's hard to start with a Warhol piece and turn it into something more than, or even simply other than, it is. His ideas—the embrace of mass production and commercialism, the genius of bald appropriation, the importance of chance—still seem revolutionary when applied to more conventional art, but if you try to apply them to Warhol, your piece just eats itself.
You can't fault Gob Squad for lack of ambition. With recreated sets behind a large screen (audience members are invited to visit the sets before the show begins), the troupe members begin by self-consciously replicating Warhol's films Sleep and Kitchen, as well as one of his "screen tests" in which subjects stare blankly at the camera for minutes on end. With great, intentional, awkwardness, constantly and ironically declaring their intentions, the troupe members pose in the kitchen and proceed to approximate the sloppy circumstances of Kitchen, in which cast members repeatedly forgot what they were supposed to be doing there in a kitchen in front of a movie camera.
In time, audience members replace the members of Gob Squad, who come out to the audience and feed directions to the "found actors" (Gob Squad's term) through headsets receiving signals from wireless mics. As the audience members share very personal stories (repeating lines fed to them), attempt to sleep, and ultimately kiss a troupe member in a recreation of Warhol's Kiss film, sound and editing are used in pursuit of drama, momentum, and a kind of minor profundity. At its best, Gob Squad's Kitchen demonstrates the truth of Andy Warhol's dictum that "virtually anyone can become famous." By taking the mundane acts of (nothing personal, folks) mundane people and blowing them up both literally and figuratively, Warhol challenged the idea that art was qualitatively different from life.
But Gob Squad aren't content to simply replicate Warhol—they have their own, more traditional tricks up their sleeves, and they're not about to let those go. The resulting production is left in uneasy limbo: it never coheres as either a scripted entertainment or as an avant-garde experience. In this Kitchen, Gob Squad lose their cake and don't eat it either.
©2011 Jay Gabler