The blogosphere has been mildly abuzz recently with talk about William Pope.L’s traveling performance piece called “The Black Factory.” I had forgotten that it was going to be at the Arlington Arts Center on Saturday and arrived just in time to catch a bit of it. Here's a blurb from the AAC Web site:
The Black Factory, artist William Pope.L's art performance action installation on wheels, sails off on its final voyage, traveling from Maine to the Rocky Mountains sowing provocation and discussion on race, difference and community across the heartland. On Saturday, July 15, from 1-5, the Black Factory makes its only Washington, DC area stop. Pope.L will be present during the event.
The Black Factory, a mobile social service experiment, requires the participation of an audience to do its work. Typically the Factory caravan arrives at a town or roadside and sets up shop right then and there. The three person crew canvasses the neighborhood to stir up interest. Over the eight hour performance, they stop people on the street, feed them, cajole them and provoke them all in the name of forging a new dialogue about race and community in America. People respond variously. Some argue. Some sing and dance. Some walk away. Some donate their favorite black object to the factory's archive, and some visit the Factory's gift shop and obtain a trinket whose profits support a local charity. 100% of the Twice Sold proceeds from the July 15 event will benefit the Arlington Free Clinic.
The picture can’t tell you just how hot it was on Saturday in D.C. That’s why you only see two people sitting in the sun. Another 8-10 of us were underneath the front awning trying to escape the sun’s onslaught. I would have expected a much bigger turnout but maybe they arrived after I left.
I don’t know what I expected from “The Black Factory.” I’d encourage you to visit the site and step through the semi-annoying overview for some background.
Admittedly, I was not in any mood for a four-hour performance. Instead I left after approximately three minutes. Why? Here are some reasons:
1. The performance was executed by three or four young white kids (20-somethings). Obviously this isn’t or shouldn’t be a complaint, but I expected a performance about diversity to, well, show diversity.
2. The opening banter was forced and not at all funny though I felt they were trying to be funny. Instead, they were hopping around, hollering through megaphones.
3. After a minute or two of trying to get people to move down to the seats, the group began talking about race. As you can see in the image, they wore black, cartoonish masks. The main speaker told a quick story about how people often complain that the masks are racist. He then asked the audience a rhetorical question, “But how can a mask be racist?” Profound. Really.
4. I was just about to leave when the speaker asked a young woman if she’d like to wear the mask. She hesitated and then finally relented, on one condition. She’d wear the mask only if she were able to keep her sunglasses on. I thought this was hilarious and a sign of things to come.
With that I opted to walk back through the gallery and out the side door as to avoid the performance. It was clear there would be lots of audience participation and I wanted none of it.
Like all other forms of art, I’ll give you a brief amount of time to hook me: 5-10 seconds for a photograph/painting, 10-15 seconds for a sculpture, 30 seconds for a video, and a couple of minutes for performance. If you don’t hook me I move on.
For those who have sat through a “Black Factory” performance, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think of it?