I have such a crush on Vivarium Studio. I have mooned over The Itching of the Wings for two years now, and now have new fodder in L’Effet de Serge. This performance was sweet and heartening, something art seldom manages without cheapening itself. One of the threads that has run through the festival this and many years is one of pure silliness, of play. This is what I appreciate in Reggie Watts, in Tiago Guedes: an unbounded, unapologetic though sometimes mildly self-effacing, vigorous playfulness. This quieter performance seemed to comment on that spirit in contemporary art. Serge, the guy who stages very short performances for his few friends on Sunday nights, is an apt figure for the artist, hopeful, a bit isolated, who uses the small materials surrounding him to create something for a few others. The awkwardness of these shows was touching, hilarious, as the stage-audience attempted to feel out an appropriate response. They were good-hearted, actively suspending disbelief, but ultimately falling back on clichés to communicate their approbation. And Serge remained hopeful, reaching toward though not quite touching others through this sweet spirit of silliness. And there is a connection through the art, a sense that the friends do enjoy and even understand a bit his performances–or at least the hope behind them.
It makes me think, naturally, of us, the TBA audience (and of course the friend-audience in the performance was drawn mostly from Portland). We are very willing, and the artists holds something out to us, something rather small sometimes, though sweet, and they seem to say, sometimes I’m just messing around, don’t ask for too much–just take it and enjoy it. And we do. Much of the art here is about this tentative desire for connection and equally about the huge generous sense of humor the artists and audience have about its possible failure. TBA is a very self-aware festival, and a sweet one also.
I think about trying to teach my college students about post-modernism, and how they mistake it for nihilism. I try to convince them that post-modern texts often make room for redemption, and that often this redemption lies in smallness, in detail, and in playfulness. The detail and the play that Vivarium provides speaks straight to me, and I think to many of us here. In his introduction, Mark Russell said that he thought if the artists of Vivarium lived in the states they’d live in Portland and would be doing what they do here. There is something Portlandy about them, but man a French accent adds an air of enchantment!