The Annual 2012

School of Visual Arts
Newsmakers

Pleasure and Pain

Liz Magic Lazer

November 2011 saw the return of Performa, the performance art biennial that, in its fourth season, brought New Yorkers 100 performances over 3 weeks by an international roster of artists. By many accounts, one of the standouts on the program was SVA’s Liz Magic Laser, a faculty member in the BFA Visual and Critical Studies Department who mounted a production with the empathetic title I Feel Your Pain. At the SVA Theatre, Laser projected live video feeds onto a cinema screen and engaged audience members in a satire of contemporary American media and politics.

Critic Faye Hirsch described the action in Art in America:

The performance was enlivened by some terrific acting, as a cast of eight professional players, one of them a disembodied voice, took on the roles of couples at stages of progressively disintegrating relationships. Their often-fraught conversations were adapted from transcripts of TV interviews, right-wing punditry, political speeches and news conferences, as well as archival material from WPA ‘Living Newspapers’ of the 1930s. (All sources, with welcome transparency, were identified both in the program and on the screen.) ‘Living Newspapers’ were productions in which news events were theatrically staged; it was a stroke of genius in our age of media spectacle that Laser used their methods—which historically ran afoul of the political establishment—as a foundation for her own technologically savvy invention.

Cameramen roamed the audience in which the couples were embedded, taping their interactions and the mostly smiling reactions of the surrounding viewers. The dialogue could be really funny, particularly when quotes like ‘I feel your pain,’ the words uttered by Bill Clinton in a testy exchange with Act Up’s Bob Rafsky about AIDS in 1992, were readily identified. With Laser, a subliminal romantic current in an interview between Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin was made manifest, and a weeping man, spurred on by the words of Republican house speaker John Boehner, became a failing spouse. The full ideological spectrum of politics and pop culture was ventriloquized, from Christine O’Donnell to Barack Obama, Bill O’Reilly to Neil Strauss.

Performa Playbill: Liz Magic Laser