New York

Jim Pomeroy

Artists Space

Protest against art is the subject for the fertile mind of Jim Pomeroy. A Bay Area performance artist and malcontent, Pomeroy is fluent in the language of the technocrat, cognizant of the vocabulary of the modernist, wired for the message of the mass market, geared for the timing of the standup comic. Facility in one of these domains is to be expected of the artist in the age of mechanical art (Pomeroy’s own bowdlerization of Walter Benjamin), but Pomeroy exercises his facility in all four—and in concert. His is an art against art. A little dialectical, a little diabolical.

His recent performance was a concert, a selection of four pieces incorporating these different modes. The titles, Mozart’s Moog: Nocturne and Apollo’s Jest (a little night musing), are appropriate to the varied musical and literary tastes of this congenital punster. Mozart’s Moog has a visual background and an audio foreground. Background: a large sheet of brown butcher paper, creased with a Minimalist grid, is lit with a match by Pomeroy; during the performance it will burn in orderly diagonally bisecting lines, self destructing, like a Jean Tinguely, before our eyes. Foreground: a bank of microphones and electronic equipment, the property of some demented disc-jockey or composer, tangled in wires-crossed disarray.

Pomeroy speaks. Something about a Moog recently found in W.A. Mozart’s basement. The mock seriousness of the tone is strictly Peter Schickele and PDQ Bach. Is this Avery Fisher Hall or Artists Space? But, this is reductive formalism in action: the self-performing drawing is consumed by the flames of its own marking. Pomeroy in the wind-up: he literally does wind up (like the clock in Tristram Shandy) dozens of dials. The music from Mozart’s Moog revealed: Muzak gone tinny. A celesta with the flu? A zillion Salvation Army bellringers clumsily chiming out Beethoven’s Fifth, “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” “La Cucaracha,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Theme from The Godfather,” “Born Free,” “Love Is Blue,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Tea for Two,” “Auld Lang Syne” . . . “I Am Woman” . . ? Then a laugh track comes on to hint the appropriate audience response.

The laugh track is a segue into the Nocturne. Appropriately, it’s an audio-tape about dreamers and dreaming. “I dreamed about a man who thought Noel Coward was a man afraid of Christmas,” “I dreamed about a man who said he’d give his right arm to be ambidextrous.” This is a self-sabotaged nightclub act. The voice on the tape reciting these nocturnal remissions is interrupted by feedback noise, sound of tape machines, and lights projected around the darkened room. The voice (which is Pomeroy’s) dreams about any number of ditsy people; it’s definitely fool’s night out.

His final act, “Apollo’s Jest,” is a slide/tape presentation about how N.A.S.A. faked documentary footage to make us think the U.S. landed on the moon. Lunatic in every sense of the word, a female reporter’s voice tells us news of the most disconcerting kind (how N.A.S.A. lied to the people), insinuatingly presenting us with the recognizable San Francisco and Los Angeles locations (including an appalling Beniamino Bufano sculpture) N.A.S.A. used as sets for its counterfeit operations. This low-budget version of Capricorn One, with its the public-has-a-right-to-know tone, doesn’t have the frantic energy of Pomeroy’s previous acts. The audience has been given 3-D glasses to view the stereoscopic slide show, and listening to this ’60s paranoia while wearing this ’50s paraphernalia is like being a victim of a sci-fi Ralph Nader. What’s Pomeroy up to here? Showing us Renaissance problems of depiction next to modern problems of governmental budgetary allocations? Pomeroy’s funny, allusive, quick on his feet, but is he addressing or redressing the problems of production in the age of mechanical art? He’s good when he’s on the offensive, given a balloon to deflate.

Carrie Rickey