TBA: A dark, dead thoroughbred

Earplugs, distortion, and a 9-foot figure in a gown amp up the mood for o'neal and gaskin's packed house: "Is TBA a place for rage?"

The press release for Dead Thoroughbred reads, in entirety:

“DT is peri-conceptual, dis-experimental, and a-nihilist.

DT is a blackened performance that is never not happening.

DT is après-queer and post-ratchet.

DT is anti anti-capital capital.

DT is heavy evasion– worthless.

DT is useless currency devoid of value and wide in circulation.

DT has null intension and null extension.

DT is dead frivolous af.

DT is detrital presence; an exhaustion of lack.

DT is at least sidony o’neal and

keyon gaskin.”

The performance in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s TBA Festival took place in the black-cinderblock box of the PICA annex space. Seats and a few spots on the floor surrounded a clearing for a stage, divided diagonally to make space for two audio setups – laptops, mics, an Ableton pad, various pedals. A lattice of what appeared to be IV bags filled with either black or clear liquid hung near the door to the main building.

keyon gaskin and sidony o’neal

It was a packed house, and everyone had been emphatically encouraged to use earplugs. The door shut and the audience had a few minutes to shift in their seats, adjust their earplugs, and then all the lights went down with an audible clank from some switch somewhere.

We sat for a beat in darkness cut by the red exit signs, then the enormous roll door that made up most of the outside wall churned to life and began to rise. As it rose, it revealed the defiant stance of gaskin’s legs, shod in a pair of severe, black stilettos, but as it continued up, their silhouette appeared impossibly tall and massive, draped in a black satin gown. When the door finally opened enough to reveal the whole figure, we saw it was topped with oneal’s head. o’neal was sitting on gaskin’s shoulders, and their whole form fit into the incredible, authoritative garment. The gown would fit just as well at a formal gala for a secret society as at the head of some interplanetary council, where 9-foot figures were expected.

They strutted in, and the room tensed with the precariousness of the situation – gaskin somehow navigating the room he could see only through the fabric over their eyes, walking on stilettos, pulling a black satin train that must have been 20 feet long. It was captivating, challenging, and incredibly effective for how simple an illusion it was. Once fully in the room, o’neal stepped down from gaskin’s shoulders, creating a centaur-like form as gaskin stayed under the trailing fabric and they moved in unison.

Eventually they split to opposite corners of the room, and the lights went down after o’neal lit a hurricane lamp and a cigarette. From there the show became harder to describe, which seemed to be by design.

For the rest of the show, which was about half an hour, gaskin and o’neal dueled on their audio setups, with loops of feedback, distortion, ragged tones, samples, and drones. gaskin worked the room with a movement performance seen mostly in shadow, lit his own cigarette, and o’neal spoke lines, whispered to individuals in the crowd, triggered audio samples and effects, and paced the room, at later points pouring bleach onto the floor. The two kept the audience in this diffuse, angry, dark, and challenging space until the lights clanked on with a brutal clarity at the end.

The mood ranged from ponderous to openly hostile, and I think choices were made to leave interpretations open-ended for much of the show. Many choices were also made to make the audience uncomfortable – filling the increasingly warm room with cigarette smoke, the grinding audio, and the direct interactions with the audience. o’neal’s most repeated and audible statement was “Is TBA a place for rage?” The last part, “a place for rage” was sampled live and later triggered by both o’neal and gaskin throughout the performance, underscoring its sentiment. It seemed to dovetail with the audio of a clip of Jim Carrey tearing down the very concept of New York Fashion Week, which played in full, punctuated by the ongoing dissonant soundscape.

o’neal repeated another phrase, or variations of it, but I was unable to catch the whole thing.

“People are disappointing precisely because they …”

I think the last word was “disappoint,” but I’m not certain.

Out on the courtyard afterwards, in the milling crowd, I found myself straining in the same way to catch snippets of the murmurs of the audience.

“Did you have fun” “Fun” “Yeah, that was the word I used.”

“The bleach was what put me over the edge.”

“…the dark thoughts that you would, like, vacuum the house instead to avoid thinking.”

“It’s a sinker.” As in it sinks in.

*

gaskin and o’neal will be speaking about this performance at 12:30 pm on Wednesday, September 13.

 

 

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