Art Here and Now
Daring creativity happening now around the world
Endurance Art – Six Hours is Too Long

Over the past few weeks, Elevator Repair Service has been in Portland and Seattle performing Gatz, their performance which involves the complete six hour reading of The Great Gatsby. I intended to go. But I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m up for any strange art thing, I mean I’m one of the odd kinds of people who would even hear “six hour performance” and seriously think about it. But you know, I have things to do. Laundry, walking in the park, making art, writing this blog, seeing other art, eating, etc. If I can’t bring myself to go to this thing, who does go to it? If I had gone, maybe I could have interviewed people in the audience and asked them.

There are other ridiculously long performances out there, like Philadelphia’s Brat Productions, which tours with a 24 hour marathon performance of Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. The play isn’t 24 hours long, they just finish and start over again and again for 24 hours straight. I almost saw that one too (a long time ago), but I just couldn’t do it.

There are also abnormally long films. I love Peter Greenaway but have never brought myself to sit and watch The Falls because of it’s mere 3 hours 5 minutes running time, which really isn’t that long. (There’s a legend that the original cut and showing of the film was 6 hours long, but I can find no record of that online.) There are other truly long films, like The Longest Most Meaningless Movie in the World, running at 48 hours long. This seems more like ambiance and you could come and go if you wanted, drink heavily, take a nap, go clubbing with friends, then return where you left off.

And of course, opera is notoriously long. Get there at 6, leave at 11:30.

Certainly it is an amazing feat for performers, and acts to strengthen and train their focus and abilities. You could say the same for audiences, that it allows them to test their endurance, after which a three hour movie doesn’t seem so bad. For the ambient work, where you can come and go, eat, drink, talk with friends, the endurance isn’t really there. It’s incidental art that doesn’t require your full focus, and if a performer messes up or needs a break, nothing is broken.

In a time where most people find it hard enough to go see a two hour performance, busy with other things in their life, and someone like me won’t go who isn’t that busy and has devoted their life to art of various strange sorts — who and how many show up for a six hour performance? Why do they go?

Read more: Peter Greenaway’s The Falls, interview with Brat Productions about the 24 hour Bald Soprano, and a review of Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz.

Get: the work of Peter Greenaway, The Great Gatsby, long operas by Richard Wagner, great strange plays by Eugene Ionesco

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posted by Trout Monfalco