In early February of this year, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) faculty and alumnus Mark Booth began a series of text and sound performances in conjunction with his exhibition, “The Sea is Represented by an Irregular Shape,” at the gallery Sector 2337. The performances, described by the gallery as “an opera for our ecological age,” feature a rotating and indeterminate cast of Booth’s artist friends, students (both current and past), and colleagues playing a variety of roles as the main text is read aloud with sonic and visual accompaniment.
The following is an excerpt of my notes made during these performances.
As a reader participating in “The Sea is Represented by an Irregular Shape,” I am often conscious of how my perception of the performance/event can slip away from me. While reading lines from Booth’s long-form text/sound work, my awareness of my own body performing the text eclipses my consciousness. I look in the direction of the audience as I read, but my focus is on the microphone and how it will receive me. I am preoccupied with the text’s resonance within my body, and then my body’s translation through the electromagnetic vibrations of the mic signal, and then the mixer console, the speakers, and finally through the gallery space to pairings of human ears — my own ears as well. This cycle is mirrored in the text itself, which consists of an expanding series of lines which use metaphor to alter and complicate perception as they loop into each other.
A section of Booth’s performance text:
- A RECTANGULAR EMERGENCY BLANKET IS REPRESENTED BY THE RINGS OF SATURN
- THE RINGS OF SATURN ARE REPRESENTED BY SATURATED EARTH IN A CULVERT
Am I performer or what is performed? Is there an audience for the work that can remain autonomous from the event’s execution? In a set of instructions given to readers and sound artists asked to assist with the work, Booth includes a note for “… /NON-MOVEMENT ARTISTS,” who “may sit in meditation, being an active listener — fully present in the moment, … contributing [their] awareness and focus.” I have not yet met any non-movement artists/participants, but there are times when I question if I am not one of them. When I am not reading, I sit behind the two readers, the shape holder and the artists working at the sound table. Directly across from me on the other side of the gallery space is the audience, who appear to be as actively engaged in following the text’s mutations as myself. The semi-circle of black chairs they sit in mirrors that of the readers, and together we complete another loop.
A section of Booth’s “polyp text”:
(B-8) A CLAPPERLESS BELL IS REPRESENTED BY A CIRCULAR MEADOW
(B-9) A CIRCULAR MEADOW IS REPRESENTED BY A VOCAL STAMMER
(B-10) A VOCAL STAMMER IS REPRESENTED BY AN OPEN PEONY
(B-11) AN OPEN PEONY (EXPOSING A BRILLIANTLY COLORED ANTHER) IS REPRESENTED BY A STRAND OF HAIR ACROSS THE CALDERA OF AN EAR
Mark Booth’s “The Sea is Represented by an Irregular Shape,” has a final performance this Saturday at 2:30pm, at 2337 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The exhibition closes Sunday, March 13th, 2016.