Walker Art Center

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Super Night Shot

By Robin Arthur

OK, it goes something like this: there are four of them and one is Hero (although later on he decides to be the Villain), one is the Location Scout, one is the Publicity Agent, and one is the Casting Director, and it all starts at the end, when you’re in the bar before the show has really started and you get given these sparklers and streamers and you’re asked to welcome the performers back into the theatre. And you wave them about a bit as they come through the bar and disappear into the theatre.You take your seat and opposite from where you are sitting is a screen that is divided into four sections, they light up and there is a lot of confused talking, some people appear to be getting ready to do something and some of them sound a little bit nervous, and at a certain point they all say something like ‘Synchronize watches’, although I think in fact they say something else, but that’s the gist of it.

And then it begins. Or at least what I mean to say is that then the bit of it that lies in the centre of the piece begins, because of course it all began back there in the bar with the bit that will actually turn out to be the end. And it begins with them all going out of the theatre, and the cameras are mostly pointed at the floor and swinging about a lot, but if you know the venue then you recognize that they are walking towards Kastanienallee, although of course it doesn’t have to be there, it could be somewhere else, but on this night (which is a cold night, a fucking cold night in Berlin in December), that’s where they are. In my head it’s all a bit confused what happens next, but or sure they all split up. They are no longer all in the same vicinity, and the cameras start not to point just at the floor but up at the protagonists:

  1. Simon as the Hero going up to people and asking them if they have anything heroic they’d like him to do, and somebody letting him carry them across the road.

  2. Sean as the Location Scout hanging around in a lot of ill-lit alley ways complaining that they’re not the right place.

  3. Berit as the Press Agent, putting up posters with Simon’s face on, and announcing the appearance of a hero to the bemused looking passers by.

  4. Elyce as the Casting Agent trying to persuade people that they’d like to be in a film, and not having much luck, and eventually getting so frustrated that she flags down a rather confused looking guy on a bicycle and asks him if he’ll give her a lift, and him rather uncertainly agreeing, although looking a bit concerned when he asks her ‘Where to?’, and she says ‘Anywhere’.

I’m being thrown effortlessly backwards and forwards between these narratives by the way in which the sound is being edited, and I feel as thought I have been invited into a very strange place indeed, although it is still mostly recognizable as the area around Kastanienallee. Elyce is in middle of trying to explain to this guy with the bike that she’d like him to be in this film she’s making, and that he’d have to kiss someone, and that he looks just a little bit disappointed when she explains that this someone is not going to be her. The hallucinatory quality is upped just a little bit more as all of the screens begin to show the same image, or the same action, or more precisely, on all four screens the cameras are circling the protagonists, who are standing still in the middle of the picture, and at this point the piece goes somewhere else, because now you understand that although this piece is in love with the random events of the city at night, it is also a kind of dance, a strangely imposed symmetry, where the chance encounter is given a shape and a consequence. In a strange way I’m reminded of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although, of course, this is Midwinter Night, or near as dammit, and the woods outside Athens have been exchanged for the streets of Prenzlauer Berg. And as we are all watching these for rotating cameras we are happy. You can feel this still sometimes in what I will persist in calling the theatre.

It goes on:

  1. Simon rejects the role of Hero and adopts that of Villain. ‘Internet is over,’ he shouts in an internet café, ‘Why don’t you get out and talk to real people?’ – ‘Because I spent $700 on phone calls home last month’ replies a pissed off customer.

  2. Elyce is chatting with her cyclist in his apartment. He seems to be coming round to the idea that he could do this film thing.

  3. Berit is in a tram, warning people not to approach Simon the villain. People are looking a bit bewildered.

  4. Sean has put a wolf’s head mask on and is howling. (Did this really happen, or am I making it up?)

There’s a kind of menace in the air. I am increasingly concerned that this piece will end with some kind of violence (I mean, is it really sensible to go back to the apartment of somebody you don’t know at all? When will somebody punch Simon? What the fuck is Sean doing? How often can you rail at people in a tram before some conscientious citizen calls the police?) And it’s at this point that the form asserts itself and we find ourselves pulled back from the edge. The moment we have been waiting for all through the piece has happened and in many ways it’s not much – a man embraces another man wearing a rabbit head. In other ways it feels like an epiphany – a moment beyond time, the construction of the something from nothing, the triumph of a persistent kind of hope over a brittle adversity. Like a bad teller of jokes I’m left with the same line – ‘you had to be there to understand it’. Not perhaps such a bad thing to say about a show, something live, something not reducible to text.

And then there’s the aftermath. Bodies pile into a car. There is something that threatens to be a final crash, but is thrown away, and lastly, the performers enter the bar to their deservedly triumphant greeting. And you do look. You do look to make sure that you’re there in that crowd of sparkler-waving streamer-throwing people, just to be sure that no tricks have been played, that this hour was a real hour, and of course you pick yourself out on the screen.

Tarvosky titled his critical autobiography Sculpting in Time, and I was constantly reminded of this phrase during Super Night Shot. A piece of time shaped and made good. But time is an ephemeral medium, and memory is poor paper. That was Super Night Shot, fading slowly in my mind, but strangely present still, and destined to remain there all my life.

Robin Arthur is a member of Forced Entertainment, Sheffield (UK). He saw Super Night Shot in Berlin 2003.

This is an excerpt from The Making of a Memory: 10 years of Gob Squad remembered in words and pictures (Berlin: 2005).