Tunnels & Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner
posted by: Seth Nehil
photo by: C. Lang
There’s a new blossoming of absurdist psychedelic performance in Portland, a thing I hesitate to name. I like the hyper-collaboration of interconnected collectives – The Slaves, OPS, Tunnels, Woolly Mammoth, White Rainbow, Miracles Club, etc. These are lessons on hybridity and mutation, a recombining of parts in both aesthetic and functional terms. These performances feel like a hologram unearthed – a message via time-space wormhole. They’re strongly cinematic and display a fascination with the striking images of nightmares. I can’t decide if the mood is nostalgic or futuristic – perhaps a “retro-futurist space-age nostalgia”. They’re not afraid to use special-FX and heavy affectation, to highlight the artificial, to be so-bad-it’s-good or just blatantly weird. Fog machines and strobing images are obvious but effective. It feels right to me.
I liked the clear, repetitive and almost dominating structure of the Tunnels set, which alternated between groovy organic space tableaux and domestic bad-trip dialogues. A rudimentary plot: Nancy Drew & the Mystery of the Mystical Decanter (but slow motion, in reverse, highly amplified and somewhat gooey). Matt and Brenna leave on adventures and then come back to talk about it. Speech is difficult – strange phrases rise up from a murky subconscious. Back and forth, quest and analysis, again and again.
The lighting design was beautiful, carving red edges around slowly moving bodies, as twin flashlights pierced a soft grey coastline. Waves and smoke curled backwards while a pyramid of white boxes was slowly constructed and deconstructed. Finally a pyramid of flashing televisions was unveiled. Overall, the piece had a funny intensity, like a dream that just won’t end – one where every movement pushes against a thick atmosphere and muscles don’t respond properly.
Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner have been refining a kind of awkward-sexy that is starting to be amazing. They are mining the discomfort of attraction-repulsion schemes, working with a turn-on simultaneously negated. I like that Woolly has the courage to be ugly with their body positions, voices and makeup. It’s high fashion. It’s somebody’s obsession – the power of humiliation and boldness. It’s a come-hither confrontation.
The twinge of uneasy moments are not just exploited but extended and explored. Ass in the air, rhythmically self-slapping, upside-down faces peering back between legs. Or Kathleen’s shirt tucked into the elastic band of fishnet stockings. All those seams in weird places, the construction exposed, a devious interior/exterior reversal. There are the parts of sex usually hidden behind a sleek airbrushed surface – Woolly has been building a language of such moments.
Try to imagine wearing underwear on the outside of your jeans, but then just rocking it with super-confidence…
There were many compelling moments – a procession of images, undulating across the stage, glimpsed through purple light. I liked the chanted text that started as a droning round, submissively delivered from the floor: “Hi Julie” or “Why’d you leave?” or “I do we”, the voices then amplified, looped and pulsed. I liked the mobilizing of large groups, ordinary people hopping their way across the stage like a flock of noisy birds (on chairs), or writhing in waves of flesh, or bending and stretching in modernist aerobics, then subsiding into the audience.