On Thursday evening, artist and music producer SOPHIE, wearing a short white robe, walked into the all-white basement of the New Museum in New York and settled comfortably into his seat at a long white table onstage, in front of his black laptop. Without looking up from the screen, he welcomed audience members to his symposium, titled Pupture, with the ear-splitting, self-referential sound of a ringtone (SOPHIE’s music is sometimes categorized as post-ringtone), followed by a distorted British baritone voice that intoned, “Good morning. There is a violet.”
SOPHIE continued, allowing for pauses between each sentence fragment. The split-second pauses were filled with an unsettling cacophony of squelching noises, as though the microphone were placed directly inside his mouth.
“That does not escape the spectrum that I can manage. The spectrum that I can manage. But the eyes are closed and the blackness that is people is everything. Everywhere. A violet. Radiant and pulsing with every beat of my closed lids. Beating. A violet, dilating and contracting. Replaces the blackness that is my pupils. The blackness around it. The iris whose name as a flower has lent its color to this new pupil. Feathers the edges of this new pupil with a faint silhouette. That is the city. Its skyline feathering. This radiant violent. The city is forgotten. And its feathers are coarse hairs. Circling this purple-blue violet. Pupil dilating. Radiating. Contracting. It is here—”
The sound of an alarm, the sort that might air on TV to announce an imminent weather emergency, both interrupted and concluded his screed. Somewhere in the middle, it became clear that SOPHIE, looking a little sleepy, was actually lip-syncing along to a recording.
“Violet. Violet. Viiiiiiooooooletttttt.” SOPHIE yawned out the last word, just before glitch sounds erupted from his laptop.
On the opposite side of the table, performance duo FlucT, comprised of Monica Mirabile and Sigrid Lauren, sat in identical positions of prayer. They, too, wore white—thin white turtlenecks. Except for nude lipstick, they wore no other makeup, and their hair was styled in thin braids that appeared to be descended from Princess Leia’s buns.
Up next was Matthew Lutz-Kinoy, who wore a blue jacket with black stripes and blue pants. He passed three ceramic works to audience members in the front row, telling them to pass the pots back through the audience. He read from a piece of paper:
“On Okinawa, there is a collectively run kiln in the Gomi-Tong village. Okinawan ceramics aims its aesthetic trajectory through a style that fills an impoverished and violent gap in its historically leveled landscape. All clay is native. Through a style. Outside of the workshop there are burlap sacks that drip their contents onto the floor. The kiln is fired three times a year. Everyone gathers at its unloading, and like a festival, people come from all over the world to witness this amazing task and to disperse these wood-fired vessels.”
The light dimmed, and new lights began to swirl like disco-ball reflections over him.
SOPHIE began to play music from his laptop. It was soft and soothing but also caustic, not unlike the sounds I imagine a baby Velociraptor would enjoy.
“I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t want to eat any raw seafood so I had two oysters and a rosé instead, and all of the sudden we turned onto the smallest, darkest country road, and we traveled through that night tunnel. She said I passed out, and from that moment, we ran from time.”
Lutz-Kinoy grabbed a shiny, rubbery-looking black air mattress and laid down on it, pretending to paddle it like a boat for a minute or so. Then he stood up, crying, “I would like to see this situation from outside, not to be myself, to escape the body, corporeal everything, the motor, the revolt of the mind, a relentless force, centering and pulling up and out and in. Your cravings? It’s in the mind, and that is the problem.”
After several cycles of soliloquy followed by more paddling, Mirabile and Lauren began to dance. One moment they were squatting, imitating dog sounds and panting, and the next they were grabbing each other by the waist and flipping the other over, or martially pushing and pulling each other from one end of the stage to another. At one, climactic point, one of them grabbed a man—the artist Travis Boyer—from the audience and violently fell back with him against the mattress. He laid there, stunned.
The performance transitioned into a video of a shirtless man in black jeans, visible from the chest down, who was dancing exuberantly to a typically synthetic but sensual-sounding new track by SOPHIE. Boyer continued to lay on the mattress, supine and confused, as though under the effects of a spell. In a particularly frisky conclusion, the dancing man in the video drew his right leg back and kicked up at the screen, his toes exposed.
When the video ended, the artist Hayden Dunham, who also performs as QT—an act that is also represented by PC Music, SOPHIE’s label—emerged, wearing a black vegan-leather dominatrix getup and wielding a long, high blond ponytail. She approached Boyer, who now appeared to be in a narcotic-induced daze, and poured water from a ceramic pitcher onto his head. The water then dripped into a matching ceramic bowl. After rinsing his hair, she wrapped a towel around his head. He attempted to stand, but fell to the floor, so she dragged him around on the black mattress a little before shoving him under the table onstage. The towel fell off his head. She then crawled underneath the table after him.
At this point, all panel members physically present—SOPHIE, Lutz-Kinoy, Mirabile, Lauren, Boyer, and Dunham, who, in a moment of total contempt for traditional panel etiquette, now stepped onto the table and began singing a heartfelt, pre-ringtone-sounding song while SOPHIE helmed the sound. Mirabile and Lauren rested their heads on each other’s shoulders while Boyer and Lutz-Kinoy sat in comradely silence. A feeling of denouement was in the air. At one point, SOPHIE stepped away from his laptop to wring out the wet towel into the ceramic bowl.
When Dunham was finished, she stepped back down from the table and sat in her seat. The lights turned back on. SOPHIE, who is known for never giving interviews, asked softly, “Does anyone have any questions?”
There were several beats of silence. SOPHIE looked around the room searchingly. Lauren Cornell, who later confirmed to me that her line was staged, spoke from the right corner of the room, with a hint of laughter in her voice: “There’s no time for questions.”
And that was that. All five panel members filed out of the room, leaving the audience in a stupefied silence.