To step into Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble’s The Art of Luv (Part 6): Awesome Grotto! is to step into a different atmosphere. A soothing aural landscape merges with a striking visual one of an extremely large moon-like surface that takes up the entire height of Abrons’ Experimental Theater. The lights are dim and performers dressed in long white tunics are at a calm attention. Soon they speak quietly to the audience, asking if anyone would like to come down from their riser seats and onto the stage floor, which is covered in grass, for some special sounds. The many willing audience members descend and lie down, and the performers take them through a kind of meditation (or at least it seemed as such from where I was sitting, in the risers). Other audience members file in and try to find seats, and chatter is sometimes audible from the hallway outside and the people inside, but the atmosphere holds. Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (ROKE), which describes itself as a “musical priesthood,” has created a ritualistic space in its very unique way.
ROKE’s sincere, sacred attention continues into the performance itself, but after it allows the audience members to return to their seats, its focus shifts dramatically: to a barely-viewed shopping haul video from Labor Day 2013 that ROKE found on YouTube one year later. Soon after ROKE found the video, it was deleted off the platform without a trace, leaving ROKE to wonder and research and ruminate on it almost obsessively. The video, which luckily ROKE had saved, is played in full, and there is a fantastic authenticity (or, to use ROKE’s word “authentacity”) to this young woman’s description of seven things she bought on sale on that Labor Day, when she says instead she should have been working on her senior thesis (that is focused on Harry Potter, of course). The video itself is a fascinating artifact, and ROKE treats it as a sacred text, reading it extremely carefully, trying to discern everything it can about this woman–where she might live, what type of place she might work, where she might go to school, what she might study there–and the items she bought, which include one item from Starbucks and six from Kohl’s.
The idea of treating the video sacredly might initially seem humorous, and at times The Art of Luv (Part 6) is very funny. But at other times the sincere treatment feels more than merited. After all, this woman decided that what she bought one day was worthy of other people’s attention, and that way of thinking merits serious consideration. What are we as a society doing by recording ourselves–or watching others who have recorded themselves–talking about something mundane, posting it online, and hoping to gain friends and/or followers and/or fame from it? Is there some kind of beauty within this quintessential unknown woman’s simple–perhaps even pure–belief in this path to success and in this excitement over capitalist activities? Should there be only disgust in the corporate model to which she falls victim: that of overpricing items just to later put them on sale to convince people to buy things they don’t need because they seem to be a good value? There are so many screens today, so many lenses–both literal and figurative–that it’s hard to know. But ROKE’s remarkably thorough, meditative engagement with one example of a person looking into a lens forces the audience to contemplate it all.
Photo: Maria Baranova