Tim Crouch, ENGLAND, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Wed., Sept. 10, 6:30 pm
There are few things more difficult this week, apparently, than gaining entry to a Tim Crouch show. The normal strings could not be pulled. You could be gallery staff, media, a favored local artist, even a TBA performer (Reggie Watts waited outside, his berth in jeopardy)—it didn't matter. The gallery could not be corrupted. The list was first come, first serve, and the list was the list. My companion and I, audience members 49 and 50, were the last two to make it in.
Tim Crouch, in tandem with fellow performer Hannah Ringham, disrupted every game they appeared to be playing. By the end, unlike much performance art and theater—soulless, goofy rather than absurd, topheavy with concept—it was clear they weren't playing games at all. By the end, one of the gallery patrons had been reduced (as they say—though I disagree) to tears, and when I left she was still there weeping on the sidewalk, unable to stop, clinging to a small birch tree for support.
As it began, however, it seemed like an affable exercise in meta-. Crouch and Ringham completed each other's sentences, spoke as the same person—man or woman, who knows?—about his/her boyfriend. They thanked us for saving their lives, thanked Elizabeth Leach for saving their lives, thanked the boyfriend for saving their lives. They recited the mission statement for Elizabeth Leach's gallery, repeated things the boyfriend had said. They moved to different points throughout their (standing) audience at prescribed points, interrupted each other, never let a normal or easy rhythm take hold.
Crouch did this with bright-eyed flat affect and a million-yard stare, with the tightly fixed bureaucratic smile of the already dead. Ringham treated the audience more intimately, holding her gaze intently until an individual audience member broke, spoke lower and more intensely than the often hilariously ebullient Mr. Crouch.
In fact, at first, everything was funny, childlike, full of repeated bromides and artistic in-jokes. It was a portrait of a person who existed only between two people, only within the crowd and within a gallery, and only at the behest of an absent art-dealer boyfriend who doubled as an angry God of art. The performers, together, became a de-centered person who could speak only in terms of received language, for whom everything was only received. As Crouch said, "I don't have any languages."
I won't reveal what the piece becomes, later, but will only say that its form morphs—slowly, then abruptly—into something much more serious and more disruptive, attains a true sense of tragedy and disconnection but in its form rejects all bathos. Ultimately the play becomes an exploration of what lives take from other lives, and what it means to be a life or alive, and, of course, a reminder that art won't save you. Surgery, after all, is not an art.
And it was the earlier laughter that left us painfully open to the day, took us off our guards. If he hadn't made that woman laugh, he couldn't have made her cry, as I would have, too, if I were a better person. But I did leave shaken, stunned, and in the aura of something that felt important and true and essential. This is a rare feeling, one that should never be taken for granted, and one I'll be unlikely to forget.