Working at the intersection of theater, visual arts, and critical practice, the collective My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade) uses performance to theatricalize social problems and imagine ways of being together. The group’s New Museum exhibition and residency, “The Audience is Always Right,” are organized as part of the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s R&D Season: DEMOCRACY.
My Barbarian, illustration from “The Audience is Always Right,” Pastelegram print annual no. 5 (2015): 58. Courtesy the artists
Working at the intersection of theater, visual arts, and critical practice, the collective My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade) uses performance to theatricalize social problems and imagine ways of being together. The group’s New Museum exhibition and residency, “The Audience is Always Right,” are organized as part of the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s R&D Season: DEMOCRACY. The residency includes a series of workshops, performances, and public programs that culminate the eight-year international tour of My Barbarian’s project the Post-Living Ante-Action Theater (PoLAAT). The performances and workshops bring together performers and artists from different backgrounds and cultural sites—including choreographers, actors, musicians, and visual artists from Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas—to collectively consider current political situations near and far. The title of the exhibition and related residency takes on a critical and ironic undertone in this dangerous moment when politics are more hyperbolic and spectacle-driven than ever before: “The Audience is Always Right.” Except, of course, when they are wrong.
Composed of five techniques—Estrangement, Indistinction, Suspension of Beliefs, Mandate to Participate, and Inspirational Critique—the PoLAAT responds to historic theatrical models that attempted to create social change, including Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s antiteater, and Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s Living Theatre. The project addresses these and other methods, often buried or overlooked, of critical and revolutionary theater from the 1960s and later, while situating its own enactment in (and against) the seemingly antirevolutionary contemporary moment. The PoLAAT occupies a space between memory and rehearsal, joke and laugh, and commentary and critique. It is the theater that happens after an experience but before action is taken. It is a rehearsal.
After developing the PoLAAT during a residency at the New Museum in 2008, My Barbarian initiated a series of PoLAAT performances in international contexts at various host venues, including Townhouse Gallery in Cairo, Egypt, and Galeria Civica in Trento, Italy, which are both now defunct. In each iteration, groups of local participants were brought together for a workshop period that often involved the translation and transformation of the PoLAAT’s five guiding principles through exercises, songs, and choreography, followed by a public performance for a local audience. For “The Audience is Always Right,” My Barbarian brings the PoLAAT back to the New Museum, reuniting a select group of former participants from previous incarnations of the project for a new series of performances and workshops. The exhibition illustrates the eight-year history of the PoLAAT in an installation that documents its various performances and many participants—professional and amateur alike—by means of an archive of ephemera and props, a sixty-minute single-channel video, and a large-scale mural that nods to such strategies as those utilized by the visionary Chicano art collective Asco, as well as artists employed by the WPA under the New Deal in the 1930s and ’40s. This installation both documents and serves as a backdrop for the demonstrations and participatory lectures during the PoLAAT workshops held throughout the run of the exhibition.
The exhibition is curated by Johanna Burton, Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Engagement; Travis Chamberlain, Associate Curator of Performance and Manager of Public Programs; and Sara O’Keeffe, Assistant Curator.
This project is co-presented with the French Institute Alliance Française as part of the Crossing the Line Festival 2016.