When I arrived one Saturday last month at Clinton Hill, Brooklyn’s 321 Gallery—the site of David Kirshoff’s collaborative performance Postictal Paradise, which runs twice more in December—I was immediately greeted by a masked, aquatic Gollum-like figure who took my jacket and replaced it with a white lab coat. In the center of the gallery there was a table adorned with airline bottles of alcohol, which visitors were encouraged to grab. A canoe decorated with ceramics and filled with a black liquid sat in a corner. Eggs rested in pouches on the wall. Along with 20 or so attendees, I stood around, unsure of what would transpire next. “I’m growing wearier by the moment,” I overheard someone mutter jokingly.
What actually followed was an hour-plus interactive show that combined multimedia and food into a somewhat insane nautical-focused piece of abstracted dinner theater. The night included a trilogy of videos broken up by performances and four relatively basic courses of food.
Starting things off, the very table that just moments ago had seemed simply to house a booze banquet was quickly revealed to be a collection of small square stools, which were dispersed for seating. Kirshoff was then wheeled out on a stretcher of sorts, cartoonishly masked and dressed in a puffy, stuffed bodysuit. This was, as I would learn later, in a post-show interview with the artist, the character of The Grampa, who delivered the night’s opening salvo. Under the stretcher were bowls of popcorn that were quickly passed around for the first course.
After the initial video—each of the three was a collage of lo-fi footage, primitive green-screen tricks and homemade animation, heavy on the water imagery—the second course appeared: an egg volcano. The eggs were picked out of pouches on the wall and cracked into a bowl by the masked amphibian hosts, who then slid the yolk up and down a twisty volcano made out of panels of food grade aluminum, which, when laid out on the stretcher, functioned as a discrete work in its own right.
Kirshoff told me later that the inspiration for the show came out of a convergence of major life events. First, he had an incident on the water with the police (he didn’t really elaborate) that led to him losing his prized sailboat. Around that same time, he started to experience epileptic seizures. Kirshoff said that he was in “this weird state where my brain was tired and also sort of like I was having these weird bursts of thought and creativity but also I was forgetting how to speak for a few minutes.”
From these conditions, a new workflow emerged. For Kirshoff, the performance is both a way of “making work from disturbance” and “turning trauma into some content.” The videos were assembled over eight months from a variety of sources, both archival and new, including the aforementioned animation and green screen work. 321 Gallery has a kitchen in its back room, a fact that naturally opened up Kirshoff to the idea of doing food. “[I was] using all the tools I could,” the artist explained. For Kirshoff, the show is an attempt to “weave food into storytelling into object making into performance.”
Personally, I have limited experience with interactive performances, food-based or otherwise. I’ve never been to Sleep No More (and in fact my only reference point for it at all is an episode of Gossip Girl, a show that was always looking for an excuse to hinge a plot point around a party involving masks), and I sadly wasn’t able to attend that recent Marina Abramovic Spirit Cooking dinner that the Drudge Report got so excited about.
The third course saw Kirshoff wheeling out what at first looked like a cluster of dead fish hanging from a surgical hook. He told a tall tale about catching progressively bigger fish (actually written by Amsterdam–based writer David Bernstein, who in the text described the process as a “trickle up” effect) and then squeezed some salmon mousse out of the hollowed-out faux fish carcasses–actually custom pastry bag coverings–onto some toasted bagels, which were then passed out into the audience. The mousse and the fish pastry bag itself were designed by Roxanne Yamins, who was one of 11 collaborators who contributed to the piece.
The night climaxed in a performance that utilized the canoe in the corner alongside sculptures and marionette puppets to tell the story of Kirshoff’s boat troubles, taking the form of a kind of action movie chase scene, documented live on a handheld camera and then projected on the wall in real time. There was dry ice involved. The projected feed recalled a primitive-on-purpose reenactment aesthetic seen everywhere from twee indie cinema to contemporary art. Perched in the corner, guitar player Sudeep Chary provided a wailing, funky accompaniment—a quick glance at Sudeep’s Twitter shows that he is a fan of the band Ween—and after that, everyone got cookies.
By the end of the night, the floors were covered with detritus from the performance—bits of food, sculpture, and other things broken down or thrown around. This is not new territory for Kirshoff, who has an ongoing gonzo cooking show with Bernstein called Wacky Delicious that invites children and adults alike to take part in some colorful and abstract food manipulation. “I’ve always worked with some kind of mess making,” Kirshoff said.