Manure and Poetry #3 by Labor Camp: When art, music and politics meet time and labor

Manure and Poetry #3 is the performance culmination of Labor Camp’s work as part of the We are  Working All the Time exhibit at the Weisman Art Gallery although the scope goes back to Piotr Szyhalski’s work reaching back until 2007 when Manure and Poetry #1 was performed in the same space.

Temporal art or performance feels so special. A moment in time where strangers share an experience that will not happen again in the same way. Some pieces I remembered or at they least reminded me of part experiences with Labor Camp. It build upon the idea that we learn (or should learn) from the past. The performance features vignettes based on the work. Trying to recall the action is like remembering a dream.

Words play a large role. Empty Words plays on the work of John Cage. Actors read a script of sorts where words are often made up and lose their meaning or as Szyhalski says, the words become demilitarized. Demilitarization is a theme also seen in the use of white flags, stripped of national affiliation or directive meaning. They are furled and unfurled. They are central in the reenactment of the statue of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Being fair, I couldn’t pass much of a test on the battle itself but that image of the soldiers raising the flag was iconic to everyone in the room, drawing on our commonalities.

The art feels like propaganda and it pulls from the language of propaganda especially when bookmark-sized confetti is thrown to the crowd with messages such as, “Raise the white flag! Flee immediately.”

Multimedia shows battle scenes from the perspective of GoPro cameras affixed to the helmets of soldiers while actors read transcript from the battle scene, which sounds like chatter of a multiplayer video game. Then video of dancing money, American money, rolls as a former student of Szyhalski recites Ecclesiastes verse from the Bible. The mashup of money, war and religion being both sacrilege and commonplace. There’s music and droning that sound like a heartbeat and the workshop floor.

After the performance Szyhalski described the German phrase zeiteuge – or time witness. It refers to the idea of bearing witness to the times in which we live. A concept I think we all understand more intimately after surviving the height of the pandemic. We watch the horrors but we live our lives and the impact on each life is different. Szyhalski remembered the millions who died but also recognized that the time gave him opportunity to hyper-focus on the work of his art.

During the performance, on stage and without cessation, a team produced silk screened posters. They are always working; we are working all the time. An added bonus is that attendees were rewarded with a poster. Labor has its rewards, although they are unevenly distributed. Attending the show is a labor in itself. We are called upon, to think, to pay attention and to stop the whirlwind of life to take in life. Again, we were rewarded.

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