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LETTERS



By Jillian Mcdonald

As 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 so weird."

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 the sounds."

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 no bouncing."

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 rabbit."

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.

>END

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.

 


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