By Jillian Mcdonald
I wait for the performance to start I watch two men undulate past
in the rain, engulfed in thin plastic bags like jelly fish. It's
a dark and stormy night, and the outer windowpanes of the interior-lit
Philip Morris Building create a veritable looking-glass. From the
moment the silver rabbit bounces in we're along for a neurotic and
wild ride. I know the story, but I've never heard it like this,
from the rabbit's point of view. To the tune of White Rabbit comes
the nervous charmer like a bride up the aisle, with flowers that
one by one he shyly proffers "would you like - a - flower?"
The trip through the mirror has
come a long way since Cocteau's optical watertrick. Take my hand
rabbit, and I'm along on this hasty dive to neverneverland where
secreted anxieties spring forth into light. The rabbit plummets
Dorothy-style downwards not upwards in true stunt-man bigscreen
fashion through an inferno of distractions - pausing to spin a few
disks, engage in fighter pilot action, and sing a few bars from
anyone's favorite tunes before being torn from his perch and flung
faster to the depths. There is a lot to cover in one hour. The rapid
rabbit hole stops and starts, like an elevator car grinding - despite
a frenetic pace, Zero Boy doesn't miss a beat.
"Zero Boy is a sort of cyberclown,
infused with punk mythology and the idea of a superhero. People
expect me to do superhero things, which I don't, but Zero Boy is
also about endless creation and weird surrealism, though I'm not
All this and he's barely spoken
a word. When most people describe sound, they start by comparison,
or relative degrees of volume: it's like thunder, as quiet as footsteps.
Zero Boy has a better idea - he recreates the sounds, inflating
them and weaving them together into elaborate stories. This is the
stuff of video games, animated comics, and action movies. It is
highly stylized sound - not the usual 'bang' 'pop' and 'pow', but
the'fhvooojh' of swords in the air, the'quoinngg!'ofthefencingfoil,
the 'pwunj! of a swift karate kick, the 'tsssssswwhshUhUhh' of a
tea kettle and the 'clhli clhlo' of clocks. The things themselves
aren't personified, but rather this performer exhibits the sense,
or sound, of things. His noises run a gamut from the embarrassing
to the sublime, and dialogue is sparse punctuation in a rich soundscape.
The denizens of this netherworld
are unabashed, political, and they like their primal drives raw.
More like Jan Svankmajer's skeletal decrepit crew than Lewis Carroll's
buttery sweet menagerie, the gang's all here, grown up and ready
to party down the rabbit hole. Unlike action comics there's no central
character, but a plethora manifestad by the artist known as Zero
Boy. "Kill your parents", drones the backwards record score. What
is this guy doing this in the Whitney?
In film there is Iittle patience
for 'natural' sound: the sounds of breathing, of scratching, of
wind hiss and moan. There is great fetishization of heavily orchestrated
sounds (except in such independent and decidedly anti-establishment
productions as the recent Dogma trilogy). Zero Boy embraces this
tradition - indeed, the decree is 'constant sound' where silence
is rare, strange, or golden. And dramatic.
"I started making sounds when
I was a kid playing Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and making all
It's all about sound, but where
would we be without Zero's boyish grin, comic stance, and mischievous
eyes. Zero's body, superhero style, is rigid against the unpredictability
of disorder. The weight of his physical performance ensures us that
he is in fact the source of these noises which emanate mostly from
his mouth. Although aided by a superior sound system and a skilled
sound designer, I've seen him under less ideal conditions, and there's
no trickery here (this rabbit knows that tricks are for kids).
"What I'm good at is giving
an impression so that people think they saw, or 'remember'seeing,
more than they really did see. I just hop with my fingers, make
a purrrpurrr boing sound and they see me hopping though there's
Although normally I close my
eyes to hear better, I'm on the edge of my seat, balancing complex
pleasures with bated breath, tasting every aural nuance and listening
to the story. Its like phone sex, but I can see what's at the other
end. There is nothing subtle about our hero: he drops his clues
like deadweights, and finds the seedy underbelly of adolescent dreams.
The rabbit lasciviously points a purring night vision camera on
an invisible couple in amorous embrace. Zero's flirtations will
get him everywhere, or at least lucky in the context of the narrative.
Mr Boy? Can I call you Zero? What do rabbits like to do? "Hop",
sadly, is not the right answer, eliciting a lament for the failing
school system. "Fuck" (the real answer) comes with a visit to Alice
who does live here after all, way down in the hole - portrait of
a lonely housewife seducing the overgrown ("my you're a strong")
rabbit out of his cheezy silver hologram print in a, live (aural)
sex act. The smooth-jazz Cheshire cat likes his tail rubbed but
not too much HlSSshsst! And the caterpillar compels the (easy) audience
to inhale some potent dope, in honor of the tobacco lord whose,
house we are in. What's going on here?
There are children in the audience
and a little celibacy is in order, so we segue to the Mad Hatter,
an unequivocal spinster, spinning riddies and flinging silver sparkle-tea
in the form of chocolate kisses that arc like sleek magic doves
~be free!" through outstretched palms. Children dive under seats.
And a monk - serene amidst an elegantly sound-designed' 'choir'
of (nevertheless, remarkably) one - incenses the garden while ghosted
pure voices rise to heaven the ceiling, suspended for a moment.
The sound is visceral - it hangs
in the air, sculpts space, slows to a halt, slams against flesh,
and dangles precariously. This work shows great spatial depth and
understanding, for all is not perfect in Zero Land - it's sheer
chaos, where one never knows what lurks around the corner. It's
a nightmare full of fears and closet anxieties and the libido is
freed as Zero hops through the script into door numbers 1, 2 and
3. The devils he meets are Rosemary's baby, Captain Hook's hungry
crocodile, and an aggravated video game: Death Match Level 6 wherein
a varied army of skilled combatants challenge Zero one by one -
en garde! He's a force to be reckoned with, and I forget he is alone
on stage. Through his vocal wizardry he constructs his playground,
altering scale and warping time. The rabbit is just hopping along,
terribly late, and like a curious cat getting into all kinds of
trouble. The slow-motion "schompf" blurs giant pursuant footsteps
as pet Fido eats the 'bigger' food and grows enormous.
"Different parts of the audience
respond to different parts of the performance - the love sounds,
the devil sounds, the fart sounds. My favorite sound is whooossshh,
like space ships zipping by."
The scenes change like action
on a speed dial, a radio station flip through the entire cast. Drop
the false pretenses: before I can romanticize about a nostalgic
headless horseman bison hunt death match on the great plains, Zero
Boy squeezes in a round of croquet, sport of queens and mayors alike,
where I'm left with a final impression (his only celebrity "impression")
of Zero Boy - as media darling Rudolph Giulliani- as the ruthless
Queen of "off with their heads!"
"Sometimes the sound and sometimes
the story comes first - it varies. An idea comes, then I act it
out. I open a door and move into a world and away we go. Like the
Rrrrrrriiinnngggg "Hello? Yes,
it's the Whitney" which, in the throes of a Biennial that suspiciously
avoids the entire genre of performance art, puts this badboy of
sound stage "at its other location" neatly orchestrated away from
the ears of benefactors already offended by Hans Haacke's politicized
installation (and Zeroland scapegoats Mr. Giulliani too). There
will be no dancing in the aisles (we are after all on 42nd street,
the mayor's favorite rescue mission, albeit on the clean side),
but a carnivalesque tradition thrives in this virtual bodily fantasy,
filtered through a narrative testing ground.
Lacan wrote of the voice as love
object and signifier of the desired— indeed when we experience performance
we relish the perfect moments, wanting nothing more than for them
to last a little longer. Like falling down the hole, Zeroboy's peerless
anecdotes intrigue the listener-viewer who is left picking up the
pieces, breathless from adventure.
Note: Zero Boy performed as part
of a performance series entitled By Any Means Necessary: New Experiments
in Interdisciplinary Performance in the Spring at the Whitney Museum
of American Art at Philip Morris, a program in existence since 1986
and curated by Debra Singer. In addition to performance art, Zero
Boy directs and acts in theatrical productions, and writes comic
books- most notably Jack Zero, CrackerJack Shot. This Winter, look
and listen for Alice in Zeroland, the Full Edition and find Zeroboy
in cyberspace at www.zeroboy.com.