Neill Bogan and Susan Loftin, Theater

Nexus Contemporary Art Center

Theater was a collaboration between performance artist Neill Bogan and sculptor Susan Loftin, combining sculpture, video, and theater in a coherent, stimulating, and eerie performance work. Loftin reconceived the interior of the Nexus Theater by blocking off the seats from the aisles with ceiling-high, pastel-colored chain link fencing and, at the same time, connecting the stage and the audience via two wooden bridges and linking a chair at front row center (occupied by Loftin during the performance) to a chair onstage with a “corridor” created by two suspended ropes made of yellow tape. The fencing and the careful articulation of space are characteristic of Loftin’s previous installation work. Bogan’s contribution was evident in the activity on the stage itself. Actors—most of whom were members of the ACME Theater Co.—presented various vignettes, performing snatches of melodrama, busying themselves at makeup mirrors in the backstage dressing room, reciting a monologue on Oedipus to the seated Loftin (from the opposite end of the rope corridor), patrolling the audience in usher’s uniforms, and conducting previously taped music from a lighted podium. These various activities went on simultaneously (and were performed several times in a row, in overlapping repetitions) while the audience walked through the different performance areas. Bogan himself sat onstage in front of a video screen, studiously imitating the grimaces of a face on screen and making careful notes about the video and his own performance of facial expressions.

Loftin’s fences forced most of the audience down to the stage and led them through the piece. Those who chose to sit in the fenced-in seats were as clearly “inside” the piece as were the patrolling ushers and the backstage actors. The inclusion of the audience was in part an exercise in group behavior: the majority of those onstage were uncomfortable there and avoided the empty spotlight at center stage, shyly clinging to the outside walls instead, while others demonstrated their exhibitionism by spontaneously performing. But the potential shallowness of such an exercise was overcome by the presence of Bogan and Loftin. Loftin’s physical passivity suggested the artist’s eye, a controlling presence who nonetheless remains passive in confrontation with the complete object, whereas Bogan, by his concentration, the deliberateness of his movements, and his hypnotic stage presence, communicated a sense of the ritual origins of theater. As in the piece he performed at last year’s Atlanta Biennale at Nexus (along with David and Stacey Kaufmann), Bogan’s total involvement in and his oblique, nonverbal conception of the piece suggested both Joseph Beuys and Samuel Beckett. Theater, however, was less concerned than the earlier work with the Beuysian accumulation of autobiographically charged objects (typical of the work of several young artists in Athens, Georgia, where Bogan was a member of a theater group in the ’70s). Loftin gave Theater a cooler, more sculptural and visual emphasis, bringing out the analytic rather than the demonic side of Bogan’s work. The piece was performed in conjunction with the opening of “Modern Art Since 1984,” an exhibition of regionally and internationally known artists working in ironic, neoconceptualist styles, and the juxtaposition merely emphasized the depth, visual impact, and singularity of Bogan and Loftin’s Theater.

Glenn Harper