Monday, September 26, 2011

Kurt Johannessen : The Almost Secret

We enter a room with chairs placed in a circle around a big stack of papers and a large glass vessel filled with something beige that could be sand. Theatre lights are on, but someone switches them to the overhead fluorescents. The effect is much less spectacular. Kurt Johannessen enters, tall and barefoot. Affectionately, he touches the lip of the glass and turns his attention to the tower of paper. It is so, so quiet. You can hear the voices of people in the bar down the hall, the sound of the street from an open door.

With great deliberation, Johannessen begins a construction built upon a queerly absurd and subtle logic. Single sheets of paper are placed precisely in random positions on the floor, adjusted this way and that until they are just perfectly so. Tiny objects emerge from Johannessen's pocket. A glass jar that looks like the top of a test tube. A tiny glass vessel filled with black-eyed peas. Tiny pieces of paper become little tents that populate the edges of the 8.5"x11". Each sheet, each object, is the focus of Johannessen's rapt interest. He is holding something so small, so thin, I must squint to make it out. It looks like two thin wires, held in the curve of thumb and forefinger so that they form a delicate cross. One is placed in the world of meticulously arranged paper, another is slipped somewhere between the pages of the giant stack. Some detritus, a tiny speck of paper, is discovered in a corner of the performance space and brought to rest at the corner of a sheet of white paper.

Amidst this order, chaos is introduced. Johannessen picks up a small stack of papers. Walking slowly around the space, he lifts a sheet up in the air and lets it flutter to the ground. A gentle expression of awe as he observes the individual trajectories of each falling sheet of paper. He pauses to examine a bit of fluff on the floor. Papers scatter across the room. He, we, are transfixed. The fluff is re-found and given a special place at the top of the paper tower.

When a sufficient number of papers have been distributed, he places the remaining papers in his hand on the floor and stands on them. Not enough. He takes perhaps ten sheets more off the big stack to raise himself up a few millimeters. This seems acceptable. On this tiny platform he takes out another two very thin wires. Upon later examination, I discover that these are leads for a mechanical pencil. One in each hand, he tentatively spreads his arms out, lifting the lead up a few times before finally dropping them into the tiny glass tube on the floor.

Johannessen takes up a paper tent and approaches a group of people. He is showing them what is inside. More dust, perhaps nothing at all. He walks up to a friend and myself, holding another little tent. We peek inside to view its inhabitant, a single dead fly. Most of the people in the room do not know what we have seen. Like the other elements of this performance, the fly operates at a hidden level. We are aware that something is happening before us, but the details are too minute to see.

The most dramatic gesture of the performance is when Johannessen approaches the glass jar of tiny beige particles and places his hand inside. Twisting his arm slowly, the contents of the jar are displaced, raining quietly on the floor. With a grunt of great effort, he sinks deeper into the jar, emerges with his hand plastered with tiny things. Bent with great concentration over a sheet of paper, he slowly cups, straightens, and turns his hand, causing the grains to fall upon and around the paper. As he repeats this action, I finally can see that these tiny grains are sesame seeds.

Johannessen's focus upon the pattern of fallen seeds and the trajectories of fallen paper belies an interest in the arbitrary patterns created by his own hand. Speaking later with him, I am delighted to discover that he is interested in chaos theory, which tries to explain such random movements, trajectories, and patterns. Chaos also links large and small movements together, for example the swirling movements of a weather system and the swirling convection in a hot cup of coffee. Similarly, from Johannessen's world of the very small, one can extrapolate a greater logic that is at once strange, natural, and beautiful.

- stacey

1 comment:

contactos barcelona said...

Here, I do not actually imagine it will have effect.