It's the night before tech and Tahni Holt's Culture Machine is missing a dancer, its original lighting designer, a boatload of stage fog, a Dior dinner jacket, and a wall full of large-scale mirrors. Holt's not worried about it, though. In fact, when I sit down to chat with her at a rehearsal preview, I am struck by how calm she is, and by how confidently she talks about her work.
"Well, [Culture Machine] all started as an artistic research tank," she explains. "A place where open-source information could be used by all types of artists to develop work. The group portion of Culture Machine didn't last, but I was able to use some ideas formed there and take the project into the realm of performance."
Holt's been tooling with this Machine for about nine months now, and the performance being staged at Disjecta this weekend is almost completely different from what Holt and her team of collaborators (Suzanne Chi, Kaj-anne Pepper, Robert Tyree, Sally Garrido-Spencer, Thomas Thorson, and Dicky Dahl) originally showed during Portland2010, Disjecta's biennial of contemporary art. At that time, "Culture Machine (in progress) was basically six crazy ideas slammed together," Holt says. "This version probably only uses one of those ideas"—that one idea being Holt's theory that culture is a constant feedback loop, a place where we are consistently trying to construct meaning from our interactions and experiences. It's a bit of a heady theory to stage, but it's one that Holt and crew are determined to flesh out through a series of gestures set on repeat, accompanied by a sound design (some of which is impressively played live by Thorson) that can be both transcendent and extremely jarring. The resulting performance is a comment on narrative structure and how our culture (or culture in general) relies on the formation of stories to find meaning.
Commenting further on Culture Machine at this point would be a disservice, as the full production will certainly gain much from the missing elements mentioned above. I can say, however, that hearing Tahni Holt describe her vision was an engaging experience. Let's hope the final product is equally thought provoking.