September 23, 2019

IN RESPONSE: Century of Progress/Sleep

By SPACES Crew

IN RESPONSE to Century of Progress/Sleep

by Nathan Rouse


On occasion I decide to put myself through the arduous task of dragging my body out of the laundry-filled hole that I call home in order attend a cultural event. I am usually met with a vague sense of disappointment—not this time. Last Friday I delivered myself to the world in order to see Paul Catanese preform Century of Progress / Sleep and was taken aback by its thoughtfulness.

For the uninitiated, Catanese’s installation is fascinated by the historical misappropriation of scientific thought: a legacy that brought both the ridiculous pseudo-science of phrenology as well as a heap of other, often racist, scientific “truths". The installation is framed as the first act in an opera about the titular century of progress period that Catanese estimates began somewhere in the late 19th century and will continue until approximately 2033.

The performance, featuring Julie Licata, Matt Sargent, and Christopher Auerbach-Brown with Catanese, was inherently iterative. According to Catanese, it was a response to a response to a response of his original operatic aim (an aim that, itself, was fairly iterative). Apparently the opera was originally far more solid insofar as, at one point, it contained characters and maybe even something one might call a narrative. Allowing these elements to be digested by the work into the thick, noisy slurry that I heard is a thoughtful move that works in contrast with Enlightenment based scientific methods priviledging rigidity.

The performance was a dizzying assortment of reverberated percussion and abstract, imagist lyrics; often as stressful as it was relaxing. Instrumentation included timpani drums paired with house keys and a musical saw. The result was appropriately encompassing. About midway through, Licata made her way around the audience to a gong placed behind our seating, all while jingling some bells around her neck. In that moment, the figurative sentiment of an immersive experience became more concrete. Enraptured by noise, Catanese held up an empty hand and declared it to be full of diamonds—truer words have not been spoken.

Century of Progress / Sleep is on view at SPACES until September 27th so don't miss out.

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