They Are Gone But Here Must I Remain

They Are Gone But Here Must I Remain

They Are Gone But Here Must I Remain discusses cult documentary film The Fall and the artist's role as objective or active participant. Also, there are chickens, tits and guns. Because why not?

Performance pieces are tricky art forms to blog about because my interpretation of what I saw has the potential to be entirely different from what someone else got out of witnessing it. But there's the catch; did I just witness it, or was I a part of it, too? That was just one of the many things to think about after seeing Sister Sylvester's performance of They Are Gone But Here Must I Remain, a piece that springboards from British filmmaker Peter Whitehead's 1969 documentary The Fall to discuss the connections between the artist and activist as well as the image and the action.

The performance starts with director Kathryn Hamilton giving the audience an overview of The Fall and explains how during the film, Whitehead evolves from the man behind the camera filming the 1968 SDS occupation of Columbia University to an active and on-screen participant. This blend of objective and autobiographical filmmaking, bridged together via an experimental sequence of Whitehead showing himself editing footage, was directly reflected in the performance aspect of the piece itself. In it, Hamilton and her colleagues meld together clips from The Fall with their own personal experiences regarding the film, in addition to movement-based sequences. Various parts included a live chicken (standing in for Whitehead) and tits and guns. Their words, not mine. Shocking? (Not exactly.) Thought-provoking? (Yes.)

Though I am certainly not a connoisseur of performance art, I am highly educated in film and felt I had a solid fact-based perspective from which to observe the piece. The discussion of filmmaker as both artist and activist is forever ongoing. You see, when documentary filmmakers shoot their film objectively, they are still ever-present within the film even if they are not actually themselves shown on-screen. The audience sees what the filmmaker has chosen to show them. A filmmaker actively (whether purposeful or not) points a camera at something and records it. Conversely, the audience doesn't see whatever it is that is just outside the frame or what was left on the editing room floor. Documentary filmmaking never completely shows truth because things are consciously being included or omitted in the final product. The same can be said for They Are Gone But Here Must I Remain; the performers actively included words and movements they wanted the audience to see, hear and feel. But what about what wasn't said? What about what wasn't shown? Why chose to recreate certain scenes from The Fall and not others? Why share those specific personal stories?

Politics and social change are dynamic topics and I had never really been exposed to that kind of interpretation and presentation of them. The piece was very meta and I appreciated the way the performers wove fact with fiction, video with real-life, creation with deconstruction. There is no one way to experience a performance piece because each person who sees it has his/her own interaction with the material. Maybe your world is expanded that much more. Maybe you understand something a little bit better. Maybe you're confused as hell, but that's okay because you don't have to know exactly what is going on. Ask questions. Seek answers. Ask more questions. Isn't it amazing how art can make you think about so many other aspects of life?

The Fall was rumored to be the catalyst for political change in Greece years later. They Are Gone But Here Must I Remain might or might not start a revolution, but it certainly will get people talking. Performances are Thursday-Saturday nights thru September 19 at JACK in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Tickets are $20 and are available online though Brown Paper Tickets or at the door.

Photo: Kathryn Hamilton (L) - (holding Molly von Cluckers) and Kelsea Martin (R) in They Are Gone But Here I Must Remain, running now thru Sept 19th @ JACK.
Photo by Jill Steinberg

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