Codified desperation in a high school gym. Oct 15, 2013

by Eric Olson

After attending The Quartet, I drove home with a friend and we talked about the show. Our discussions touched on vulnerability, narrative, hopelessness, and desire. The sparse and repetitious performance left room for a lot of self-reflection, and I was left questioning the worth and value in production.  What is pushing me to continue the never ending cycle of art production?  Is all the exhaustion worth it?

Stripping down many aspects of the performance, we were left with an industrial minimalism, a machine-like production line, and an authoritarian determination to continue.  Does art making create a similar social alienation, boredom due to repetition and specialization as production line efficiency?

Why do we put ourselves through it all?  I know for myself the desires to be popular and accepted ran deepest as a child in middle school and high school. The bleachers and raw space of the show were a not-so-subtle reminder of those times.  During that time I was fixated on building a successful future as I was beginning my path towards adulthood.  My obsessiveness and  perfectionism all started during those times as a way to try and control the things that I couldn’t, to create some calmness within the chaos of my family.  I was constantly putting exhausting goals on myself so that I wouldn’t repeat the shortcomings of my father,  feeling an urgency to achieve something way beyond the poverty of my past, and engaging in the subversive struggle to be the first violinist of a quartet.  

A desire machine.  

We all desire something unique, but in this performance the desire machine seemed to strip the performers of their freedom of choice and their individuality.  Yet at other times the repetition and monotony made their differences stick out like a sore thumb.  Both my friend and I vividly remembered the performer counting in spanish, and the performer without Nike symbols taped to his feet. Is it possible to be an individual in this struggle towards success?  Or are we all chasing an unknown structure of perfection, forced on us by the unseen forces embedded in culture, capitalism, and the commodification of the American dream?