A satire on the art world and Hollywood combined.
A split narrative, the threads gradually merging together into one colourful collage; it might be a novel, it might be a film, it might be real, it is all happening on stage. More of a film script in parts than a stage play, it is a parody of parodies, playing off one cynical world against another.
An arts student, Louise, begins a presentation on the life and work of Janet Adler. This is interwoven – or interrupted – with scenes between a Hollywood actress (an adult Lou) and her coach Sam, breaking into the house of said Adler. The actress is there to make a bio-pic of her idol, dragging the reluctant coach behind her over barbed wire and through thick fog. Comprehension is gradual, which is where it begins to resemble a novel made of many parts: there is more than one voice here, but it settles fairly quickly into a recognizable pattern.
It does begin rather statically – they might have been recording for radio in front of microphones. This moved into a more naturalistic phase as the narrative unfolded – in fact, the direction appeared to move from radio through filmatic scenes to a form of realism, with the house gradually growing around them (or stepping forward out of the mists of time?) interspersed with the lecture notes of the increasingly frustrated arts student, still presenting her thesis. Both she, and to a degree the Hollywood coach, could be seen as mouthpieces for author and/or the public; he with a heartfelt speech to the audience mid-way through part two on truth and reality, she on her podium ultimately shouting at her auditors: ‘What do you want?’ before stamping off, screaming (which of us has not, at one point, wanted to do precisely that before yet another pile of empty plastic bottles pseudo-cunningly labelled as ‘Void’ or ‘The Ultimate Purpose of Being’?).
The art world has been selling its collectors installations, ‘moments’, ‘happenings’, ideas without physicality (and, alas, physicality without much idea) to saturation point – some names have survived, others have agents desperately seeking new ways to promote works from 40 years ago to an audience that by now has seen it all. The old new has become new old, with ideas endlessly recycled, from the self-destructivism of the Dadaists to Fontana’s torn canvas and so on. Whatever the personal view of the beholder, it has certainly provided ample material for thought, debate, ridicule and reason, ranting and railing. It is at once divisive and collective. We can’t help being involved by it – frequently we may find ourselves walking straight through it (if accidentally) – sometimes we are left perplexed by it; confused, angered, amused. In short, it has something for everyone to respond to. Not unlike the play, in fact. The narrative is satiric – and the satire is woven even into the very structure of the thing, suggestive of a self-parody. The themes of art, cynicism and idolatry are explored, probed at, prodded and poked, via the medium of Louise the arts student, Lou the Hollywood actress (distinguished by a ruthlessness of almost caricaturial proportions), and Sam her coach, armed with camera equipment and an increasingly volatile digestive system. Louise the student is out to get her grant – and walks out, in a fit of frustration. Lou the Actress is out to Make a Movie; nothing is going to stop her.
Has a murder been committed? Will a murder be committed? How far is anybody prepared to go to achieve their maximum, creative result? These are almost side issues, wrapped up as they are in a tale of ambition, cynicism, creativity suffocated by greed – and about how the client (the public), whether as buyer or spectator, ultimately originates and influences that same creativity.
There were also puzzles and mysteries beyond that of plot: Sam, with distinct Scottish burr in the first part, goes over to American in the second – is this part of the act within an act? Then, the deliberate staticity of the first part : it is tempting to wonder why the actors were not allowed to simply move about as dialogue dictated; to have Louise yelling out for Sam, with Sam standing right beside her, was slightly puzzling and not really explainable.
It is both playful and angry by turns – there is real frustration at what the art world has been made into by galleries, collectors and complicit spectators, coupled with mild farce both verbal and visual. It has divided the critics – and the odd section here and there might leave you wanting a little less than more; but perhaps, after all, it is only fitting it should prove as divisive as the art world it explores.
There is a very complete world constructed around the whole, with a colourful timeline in keeping with the general artistic theme – lovingly created, almost wholly believable, further emphasized by the website dedicated to the two artistes des artistes. It is an installation in itself. More self-parody?
As a bishop from Dublin once said of another satire: ‘I hardly believed a word of it.’ Well, almost hardly…
Adler & Gibb runs until 5th July.