Performance/installation earns a rare perfect score
ALISON S.M. KOBAYASHI at Gallery TPW (170 St. Helens), to March 26. 416-645-1066. See listing. Rating: NNNNN
In a twist on the found snapshot trend, found audio acquired from obsolete technology inspires self-described “identity contortionist” Alison S.M. Kobayashi. The Toronto artist’s latest performance/installation, Say Something Bunny!, digs deep into the early 1950s through recordings of a Jewish family from Long Island that a friend unearthed at a New York City estate sale.
A primitive device about the size of a toaster oven recorded sound on wire, and Kobayashi’s pored over the often unintelligible voices (they frequently talk over each other) to create a transcript of the 1952 and 54 family celebrations.
She structures the installation as a table read of her script. Individual copies, augmented with photos and documents, are assigned to each character (including pets), and you follow along on paper as the audio plays. Kobayashi’s audio asides and archival and re-enacted video snippets draw on her extensive research into the family and references in their conversations.
She’s consulted only generally available resources like ancestry.com and the New York Public Library, avoiding contact with any descendants, to fill in the stories of the folks at the gatherings, especially that of the young man who made the recordings and his later career in showbiz and pornography. Many documents have disappeared, and she sees the work as a combination of fact and fiction.
Although the live component – in which Kobayashi, a very appealing performer, enhanced the audio using costumes and props and gave directorial notes – is no longer running, the two-hour installation version remains a fascinating experience.
The project is a work of profound empathy, lending meaning and drama to ordinary lives and inviting us to join the artist in inhabiting people from another time and culture.