Jim Roche

John Doyle Gallery

Jim Roche’s one-night performance of 10 tapes, selected from about 500 1970–75 audio pieces, has problems similar to his ongoing gallery show of drawings for park sites and photos of the installations. All the work as presented is little more than a tease. We see diagrams of mechanically animated horseshoe crabs, but where are the real ones for us to watch? We see aerial photos of Roche’s park sites as football-field float arrangements of flowers, mechanical toys, moats, etc., but the photos are small and 2-D, and the sites are massive and 3-D. Why no installation of flowers and moats in the gallery? I really do want to see and contact this material, but it’s all in Florida! That’s the tease. If it weren’t so provocative, the secondhand presentation wouldn’t hurt.

As for the tapes, we heard Roche’s thoughts but via tape recorder. Like an art-tribe around a chieftain tape-recorder, we listened to a warmly intended voice. The talk on nature, religion, social values, and personal fantasies came through in a “talking blues” style which Roche is very good at. With tone, drawl, pace, rhythm, words meshing into words, it’s like being rocked in an audio cradle, and the form often overtook or became the message. Or else, there was Roche in a “1961 Cadillac drivin’ down the road . . . rattlesnakes, seat cover, all made of $2 bills, long fins, upholstery, flyin’ saucer, lil sparklin’ things.” And there was Roche “findin’ magic in the power of the pole . . . the right pole, magic comin’ into me.” And there was Roche “seein’ lil whales follow big whales . . . God’s gonna git freaky cause they gonna make it.” And there was Roche with “no use for the man with alligator shoes . . . alligator jes tryin’ to keep his own shit together, like to see some people in the jaws a that Dadee Gator sometime, too.”

Is this a modern way to explore “what do I think?” or “who am I?” But flesh and vibrations can’t be captured in a machine. What comes through the video or audio waves ain’t the whole truth, or else there’s something drastically deficient in the human source. It reminded me of the video narratives in which artists get some video equipment, film a sequence of personal importance, play the sequence back, and see their own reality, but objectified. I, as listener, got directly involved with Roche when he stood in denims and long skinny pigtails, blushing, hopin’ we’d like his stuff. That was the experience for me.

In a direct performance—i.e. when the artist does it there, no prior editing—be it theatrical event, poetic metaphor, visual structure, or improvised contact movement, my thought and feeling is plunged into the content just by my being there. But a tape-recorded performance takes the whole responsibility for the “art as experience” onto itself. Tape becomes object. I am separated from it. The material is essentially dead. I’m not necessary to it. It’s not necessary to me. The one-time, direct impact of Roche’s love for crickets in the country is okay. But ice cream is all right too. And at least I can change the channel on TV. When the direct experience of performance is no longer an apathy-jolting event that gets a repressed society back into its own thoughts and feelings, but only an imposition, then performance as an art loses its reason to exist.

––C. L. Morrison