We Are in Catastrophe
In Weathering, Faye Driscoll’s flesh sculpture knows no boundaries.
April 6–8, 13–15, 2023
Faye Driscoll’s Weathering begins with voices. Singing, “teeth, skin, mouth,” the performers develop a harmony around the repetition of the word “skin.” We hear Sophia Brous’s sound and music design emanate from all corners—seated as we are in four quadrants around the stage—but I am only able to see the performers singing directly in front of me, who seem to also be the sound and lighting technicians for the performance.
James Barrett and Kara Brody arrive and step up onto the raft set up center stage. They look out at us and past us, as if surveying the scene. For some reason “raft” is the first word that pops into my head to describe the set, designed by Jake Margolin and Nick Vaughan, but it could also be a bed or an oversized ottoman, plush and upholstered in a cream fabric.
The lyrics drift through more anatomy, and as “tongue” rolls on repeat, two more performers arrive. Their feet sink into the soft platform and this ambivalent surface is both inviting and dangerous, a padded place for landing but an unstable surface for balancing.
The addition of an “oh” adds a bit of cheeky humor to the mix and new pairs displace the previous ones to the sound of “oh spit, oh cum, oh fascia.” Bodily fluids now mentioned, there is a hint of the sensorial mayhem that is to come. When the performers converge on the raft they sing as a chorus, their playful song played straight, before coming to an abrupt stop. Mouths and bodies quiet, and for a few minutes nothing appears to happen. But on closer examination, which Driscoll’s sculptural work always demands, I can sense them slowly reaching toward one another. The minuscule reaches, shifts, and leans are almost invisible to the naked eye, but the energy coming off their bodies, engaged in such strenuous effort, is palpable. Sweat is already dripping off brows.
Once the performers physically connect, my notes cut and coalesce in snippets and impressions as their tangle of limbs reconfigures from distal points: fingers walking, a fist grabbing fabric, a tongue leaving its mouth. Two stagehands appear and rotate the platform to offer a new angle. An ankle rolls outward, hovering above a sprain; a pair of lips, then nose, and finally eyes belonging to Jo Warren appear under Jennifer Nugent’s armpit; legs quiver in squats and lunges as this interconnected beast deflates to kneeling, while a ponytail, shoulder, and eyebrow from three separate bodies converge in my field of vision. Another slow turn of the platform and a hat, a sneaker, and various other accessories fall loose. Belt buckles and jacket ties are pried off in desperate pulling. Carlo Antonio Villanueva’s pained face expresses an anguish that gives way to audible gasps, amplified by five microphones dangling over the platform. They are survivors, people on the verge—some literally dangling off the raft’s edges, Miguel Alejandro Castillo’s ponytail sweeping the floor—and it is unclear whether they are supporting or smothering each other.
Meanwhile, Amanda K. Ringger’s lighting design has also been gradually shifting, moving from full house lights to a narrower focus on what is now a continuously spinning raft, stagehands replaced by performers in various states of undress.
In Driscoll’s previous works, like Thank You For Coming: Attendance, which also centers on flesh sculpture, all the grasping and grappling feels like a ridiculous attempt to hold an open seam together, teeth gritted into a smile that covers over our awkward and dysfunctional ways of being together. But Weathering took this conceit to a place beyond, where the humor is darker and more violent, and the points of connection more vulnerable and ambivalent. As the dancers groped, tore, and bit at one another in an orgiastic frenzy, the resulting red trails of teeth and fingernails left their own kind of choreographic imprint on the skin. In the full and unrelenting commitment of the cast, all scantily clad or nude by the end, intimacy coordinator Yehuda Duenyas’s skill set was on full display.
Driscoll circles the raft with a spray bottle, spritzing the performers and the audience with a scented liquid. With that action, we are no longer bystanders. The smell lingers on us and is hard to place. (I went to bed still wondering about it.) Shoes fly, Cory Seals yanks Shayla-Vie Jenkins’s jacket over her head in slow-motion, Eliza Tappan’s pants tug down, a wallet plops onto the floor. Driscoll jumps up to remove any items blocking the turning mechanism of the raft and to douse the raft with what looks like talcum powder. Nugent’s hand pulls on the inside of Villanueva’s mouth; Warren’s thumb jams up Amy Gernux’s nostril. A foot pushes into a jaw.
A companion reader, with text from dramaturge Dages Juvelier Keates, Jesse Zaritt, and Driscoll, accompanied the performance, parsing how climate collapse informs the actions of this live art. Keates quotes philosopher Timothy Morton in an integral passage:
We are starting to trust that we are in a catastrophe, which literally means a space of downward-turning. It’s much better to think you are in a catastrophe than to think you are in a disaster. There are no witnesses to disaster.… Catastrophes involve you, so you can do something about them.
We are all implicated as the rotations speed up, the demented bacchanal complete with a discarded pill bottle, glittery goo, and fruit moving from mouth to mouth. Driscoll works quickly to clear the detritus from the raft as all boundaries between bodies disappear. Their sculpture grows taller, spins faster, and moans louder. Brody perches precariously astride another performer, ooh-ing into a mic. A rope winds through them, dangling ominously over a neck. As Driscoll and two other performers planted in the audience turn the raft at a breakneck pace like football players during a sled drill, it is fast enough to generate a wind.
As the ride reaches its most chaotic climax, performers slip on and off the raft at a run and scream into microphones placed along the perimeter. The lighting is once again bright and expanded wide enough to illuminate us as part of the scene. The audience collectively holds its breath as the raft veers wildly to the left and right, close to being completely out of control, and nearly crashes into the first row of seats. Driscoll and others chase it down and push it roughly back on course. Eventually, after the performers have exhausted what seems to be marathon-like endurance, the raft steadies to a sway, allowing them to peel off and come to rest.
Seals stumbles across me, landing on a stair to my right, his arm draped across my lap. I catch my breath and feel grateful he made it out of the ordeal in one piece. Other performers stagger out toward different areas of the audience to find places of repose. We watch their unwinding for clues of what is next. Now that we have acknowledged we are in catastrophe, where do we all go from here?