TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT February 2020

TOP TEN

Annie Dorsen

Annie Dorsen is a writer and director for performance. Her most recent project, Infinite Sun, is an algorithmic sound installation that was commissioned for the 2019 Sharjah Biennial. Previous performance projects, such as The Great Outdoors, 2017; Yesterday Tomorrow, 2015; and A Piece of Work, 2013, have been widely presented across the United States and abroad. She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2019 MacArthur Fellowship. 

MY TOP TWO FOR EACH DECADE OF MY LIFE (AS FAR AS I REMEMBER):

  1. 0–10: MIGHTY MOUSE

    When I was four years old, I really liked Mighty Mouse.

    *Promotional poster (detail) for Paul Terry’s cartoon _Mighty Mouse,_ ca. 1940s.* Promotional poster (detail) for Paul Terry’s cartoon Mighty Mouse, ca. 1940s.
  2. 0–10: 42ND STREET (1980)

    I saw this musical when I was eight (for a friend’s birthday, I think). I don’t remember a single thing about it except that famous first image, the curtain slowly rising . . . then pausing just above the ankles of what seemed like a thousand tap-dancing feet. It was thrilling! I later discovered that the director, Gower Champion, DIED on opening night. The producer came out and announced his death at the curtain call.

    *Gower Champion’s _42nd Street,_ 1980, in a production directed by Lucia Victor, 1983.* Performance view, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, November 1983. Photo: Martha Swope. Gower Champion’s 42nd Street, 1980, in a production directed by Lucia Victor, 1983. Performance view, Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, November 1983. Photo: Martha Swope.
  3. 10–20: STARSTRUCK (GILLIAN ARMSTRONG, 1982)

    This is one of the greatest worst films ever made. The main character wants to be a famous singer, and she performs at a New Wave club wearing a giant red kangaroo costume and does lots of porny publicity stunts to get attention. At one point, she falls for a very handsome TV star, and he invites her over to his place, where she discovers that he’s not interested in her at all! In fact, he’s gay! And then he and all his friends perform an amazing Busby Berkeley/Esther Williams–type pool-party-fantasy number called “Tough.” It’s all totally glorious. I watched this movie on VHS about a thousand times between the ages of ten and twelve. 

    *Gillian Armstrong, _Starstruck,_ 1982,* 35 mm, color, sound, 94 minutes. Jackie Mullens (Jo Kennedy). Gillian Armstrong, Starstruck, 1982, 35 mm, color, sound, 94 minutes. Jackie Mullens (Jo Kennedy).
  4. 10–20: HOWARD BARKER, ARGUMENTS FOR A THEATRE (RIVERRUN PRESS, 1989)

    I read it as a teenager and I liked the boldness and contrariness of it. I’d only ever experienced mainstream theater before, and this was the first time it occurred to me that an artist might actually like it when some audience members leave the theater dissatisfied, angry, or uncomfortable. 

    *Cover of the 2016 edition of Howard Barker’s 1989 _Arguments for a Theatre_* (Oberon Books, 2016).  Cover of the 2016 edition of Howard Barker’s 1989 Arguments for a Theatre (Oberon Books, 2016).
  5. 20–30: A LONG-LOST COMPILATION ALBUM OF CONCRETE POETRY AND DADA MUSIC

    When I was in college, I finally started learning some art history. I came across a double CD of original recordings of pieces by Luigi Russolo and Richard Huelsenbeck, a few different versions of Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate (1922–32), and lots of other things. I think it was listening to these discs that got me interested in nonsense and gibberish.

  6. 20–30: JAN RITSEMA, PHILOCTETES VARIATIONS, 1994

    I’ve only ever seen excerpts of this theater piece on grainy video. But it occupies a big place in my imagination: It changed how I thought about acting—especially the relationship between actor and role. It was Ron Vawter’s final performance before he died of aids complications a few weeks later. On camera, it is obvious how ill he is; I think he performed most of the piece from bed. It might have seemed like a romantic gesture, right out of Edmund Wilson’s 1941 essay “Philoctetes: The Wound and the Bow.” The artist’s gift comes with a curse. Or maybe the artist can transcend her curse through art. But in the clips I remember, it didn’t seem at all romantic—it seemed like hard work.

    *Two stills from Leslie Thornton’s _The Last Time I Saw Ron,_ 1994,* 16 mm transferred to video, color and black-and-white, sound, 12 minutes. Footage originally shot for Jan Ritsema’s _Philoctetes Variations,_ 1994. Two stills from Leslie Thornton’s The Last Time I Saw Ron, 1994, 16 mm transferred to video, color and black-and-white, sound, 12 minutes. Footage originally shot for Jan Ritsema’s Philoctetes Variations, 1994.
  7. 30–40: RALPH LEMON, HOW CAN YOU STAY IN THE HOUSE ALL DAY AND NOT GO ANYWHERE?, 2010

    This dance starts with an absolutely gorgeous film, which Lemon narrates live, and includes astonishing performances, particularly by Okwui Okpokwasili. But the part that I couldn’t stand while I was watching it—the “formless” choreography that constitutes the work’s middle section—is also the part I learned the most from and that I can’t stop thinking about now. The movement is inchoate, disordered, like pure negation—or grief.

    *Ralph Lemon, _How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?,_ 2010.* Rehearsal view, Harvey Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, October 12, 2010. From left: Djédjé Djédjé Gervais, Darrell Jones, David Thomson. Photo: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times/Redux. Ralph Lemon, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?, 2010. Rehearsal view, Harvey Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, October 12, 2010. From left: Djédjé Djédjé Gervais, Darrell Jones, David Thomson. Photo: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times/Redux.
  8. 30–40: MAHBOONKRONG (MBK CENTER) IN BANGKOK

    The stage director Michael Laub once told me that if I wanted to see what is “truly contemporary,” I should make sure to visit this mall. And I did, in 2011. Everything Mahboonkrong sells is counterfeit; it’s the ultimate gray-market paradise. Indeed, it’s a pretty compelling version of the contemporary: It is stuffed to the ceiling, floor after floor, with unbelievable amounts of crap—everything fake, a copy, a rip-off—all of it destined for the landfill. In a way, it’s like the internet: hyperproduction gone berserk, any logical relationship between supply and demand totally broken; like each half of the market system let loose from the other, going off and doing its own thing.

    *A vendor at the MBK Center shopping mall, Bangkok, September 17, 2010.* Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. A vendor at the MBK Center shopping mall, Bangkok, September 17, 2010. Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters.
  9. 40–: LYDIA H. LIU, THE FREUDIAN ROBOT: DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE FUTURE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS (UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, 2010)

    I can’t believe someone wrote so comprehensively about exactly what I wanted to know. Liu connects the early history of cybernetics to psychoanalytic theory, avant-garde literary experiments—such as symbolic language or automatism—and the uncanny. There’s a great section on mathematician Claude Shannon’s Ultimate Machine, and an even greater section on Jacques Lacan’s game of evens and odds and how it relates to the I Ching, John Cage, and the whole field of algorithmic art. It’s wonderful to be reminded of all the weirdness lurking behind the smooth, friendly interfaces of the internet.

    *Hanns-Martin Wagner’s _The Most Beautiful Machine,_ 2003, modeled after Claude Shannon’s early 1950s Ultimate Machine.* From Lydia H. Liu’s _The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious_ (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Hanns-Martin Wagner’s The Most Beautiful Machine, 2003, modeled after Claude Shannon’s early 1950s Ultimate Machine. From Lydia H. Liu’s The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious (University of Chicago Press, 2010).
  10. 40–: METTE EDVARDSEN, BLACK, 2011, AND NO TITLE, 2014

    These short Beckettian pieces create a perfect diptych of language and choreography about how words can create worlds. In both works, Edvardsen performs on a bare stage and pulls off a kind of linguistic magic trick, making objects and spaces appear (in Black) or disappear (in No Title) by naming them. The work might remind you of Adam and Eve’s claiming authority over the earth by giving names to the animals, or of Hannah Arendt’s insight that language is what makes a shared reality possible. When language is lost, then thought is lost, and so the self is lost, and then finally the world is, too.

    *Mette Edvardsen, _No Title,_ 2014.* Performance view, Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid, April 1, 2016. Mette Edvardsen. Photo: María Eugenia Serrano Díez. Mette Edvardsen, No Title, 2014. Performance view, Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid, April 1, 2016. Mette Edvardsen. Photo: María Eugenia Serrano Díez.