Opera meets New Age meets Spandex. Last night was the single performance of Whispering Pines 10. Nick Hallett (vocalist and composer) is the collaborator to Shana Moulton, a Brooklyn-based artist, who has been working on her Whispering Pines series for nearly a decade. (This particular performance was shown previously at both The Kitchen and the New Museum.) Believe it or not, I actually saw Whispering Pines 7 a couple years ago at the Channeling Festival at DIVA, in Eugene. I remember being confused, mostly, plus a little annoyed (Neck braces? Bioré pore strips? The Last Unicorn? WTF??), though I was pleasantly surprised by this tenth installment.
There are plenty of moments to fulfill the question, “What should we go stare at now that we’re stoned out of our motherfucking minds?” Yes, there’s even peanut butter on the face, but the there’s also plenty to absorb, ponder, and amuse.
The piece is one act, and follows a loose narrative; the interplay of live performance and digital interaction creates food for thought. Here’s the gyst:
Moulton has really fleshed out a visual vocabulary for herself, drowned with kitsch. The two talented vocalists—Nick Hallett and Daisy Press—act like a Greek choir; Moulton is dolled up with heavy eyebrows and synthetic hair (in a Cindy Sherman kinda way), playing her alter ego Cynthia, who is the only performer in the piece. Her affectation is spot-on: Well meaning and a little desperate—stooping, slouching, and schlepping across her digitally projected bedroom. A favorite quirky scene involved a rainbow feather duster, and a giant version of the Mac Dock. As Moulton moves her feather duster over top of each icon, the words being sung in the opera pop up, like a sing-a-long.
PICA billed the performance as an “update of the ‘mad scene.’ ” The performance is jammed with pop-culture references, if you can catch them, and the reoccuring one is that kitschy glass ceiling from the ‘70s horror film Suspiria—which alludes to the hysteria (the “mad scenes”) in that film, as well as a similarly dated and constructed environment. Usually Moulton references more familiar images, like Mac’s Spinning Wheel of Death, and she twists it, expands it, and makes it into something bigger and metaphorical, rather than just some colloquial visual cue.
Earlier this year the Museum of Contemporary Craft had an exhibit curated by craft commentor Garth Johnson, which showcased a number of seemingly dated pieces from the museum’s permanent collection. The questions were: How do we link a time period with a work of art? What does it mean to say something is “so ‘80s?”, or "so '90s?" Is this necessarily a negative thing? Whispering Pines 10 seems to pose some of the same questions.
A lot of the work grapples with self-improvement efforts, especially as a woman in our society, with the ridiculous and small, canned ways we try to better ourselves. This, as well as how we seek happiness in the comfort of a virtual environment: just how immersive, comfy, and “real” can the digital realm get?