New York

Laura Parnes, Tour Without End: Twenty-One Portraits and a Protest, 2014–19, digital video, color, sound, 92 minutes. From left: Cameron (Jim Fletcher) and Cookie (Kate Valk).

Laura Parnes, Tour Without End: Twenty-One Portraits and a Protest, 2014–19, digital video, color, sound, 92 minutes. From left: Cameron (Jim Fletcher) and Cookie (Kate Valk).

Laura Parnes

Guilt frames Laura Parnes’s feature-length video Tour Without End: Twenty-One Portraits and a Protest, 2014–19, on view as part of the artist’s multiplatform installation at Pioneer Works. In its opening sequence, Joan (played by musician Lizzi Bougatsos) sings a song on-screen in a voice that’s at once sultry and girlish: “I feel guilt / I feel guilt / Though I know I’ve done no wrong I feel guilt.” As her lament continues, Parnes cuts moments later to a view out a car window through which we see a sign declaring HILLARY FOR PRISON 2016, then to a white lifted truck flying an American flag, its door stenciled with the message MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! We see shots of police in the streets: A gang of them stride down a sidewalk in slow motion, as Joan glides past without looking at them—or perhaps without seeing them at all.

Tour Without End returns its audiences to the time leading up to and including Donald Trump’s election and presidency; it does end, in fact, a year prior to Joe Biden’s win. One might be hard-pressed to believe that Parnes had predicted at the outset of her project that she’d be addressing American politics in this way, if at all. The video’s largely comical story—such as it is—is loosely centered around the frolics and foibles of a band called Munchhausen, its three members played by Bougatsos and two of contemporary experimental theater’s great actors, Jim Fletcher (as Cameron) and Kate Valk (as Cookie). Most of the video’s other players, from major to minor, are also of note: Matthew Asti of the band MGMT, author Gary Indiana, artists Nicole Eisenman and K8 Hardy, poet Eileen Myles, performance artist Kembra Pfahler, musician/producer JD Samson, and singer/songwriter and founding rrriot girl Kathleen Hanna, among many others. All Parnes’s performers knowingly tread the line between person and persona—vanity, vapidity, and a certain selfie-centeredness are traits we see throughout—their notoriety subverting any defined notion of character. (For vibe, think of the meta-narratives of Yvonne Rainer’s classic Lives of Performers [1972], as though it were run through Michael Azerrad’s hyperbolic history of American indie rock, Our Band Could Be Your Life [2001].) The scenes are partly scripted, partly improvised, at times crosscut with footage of live-music performances at venues around New York, a few now shuttered. There is little in the way of plot, structure, or touring. There is a visit to a protest. There are a lot of white people who talk a lot.

Parnes is nothing if not canny about the power of performers, of celebrity, seeming to understand that being hyper-watchable is more important to sustaining a narrative arc (no matter how wayward) than being believable. Yet this fact isn’t a wholly happy one, formally or otherwise. Musician, writer, and dancer Brontez Purnell has the sharpest lines in the piece, delivering swift critical punches alongside some exquisite punch lines. An hour into the video, he tells a friend about how he decided to fuck with people by telling them he was voting for Hillary instead of Bernie. “This fucking white man ain’t gonna save me from shit,” he says, adding: “They all want a white man to save them, right?” Here in 2021, we may recall that 2016 brought not only the election of Trump, but also the bestowing of the Nobel Prize on ur-rock star Bob Dylan—two points on an uncomfortable (to some) continuum of white American radicalism that in turn connects moral code to entertainment value. Tour Without End unfortunately never truly wrestles with or reconciles itself with the political upheaval it is compelled by history to admit into its frame, offering up self-awareness—and irony, that enfeebling Gen X fallback—in lieu of genuine self-examination. Yet the video, perhaps unwittingly, does perform as a compelling document of that moment in which one reality overtook another, leaving some of us searching for truer stories than the ones we’d been telling ourselves.

Jennifer Krasinski