The Canadian Art Database

Don Stanley

Randy and Berenicci
The Western Front

Vanguard, Vol. 11 #7, January 1982.
[ 791 words ]

'It's not supposed to be totally entertainment. If it was entertainment it would be TV': Randy.

'She does all the talking,' said Berenicci slyly of her baby girl, but in fact Randy did all the interview talking. He is blonde and fair, likeable, and upbeat just this side of giddiness; she is dark, reserved, and, as the Ottawa Revue noticed (May 25, 1978), she has the stage presence.

After Randy had tired of a standard print-making career, the pair gaily 'joined the circus' — sidewalk clown shows that for a time satisfied their interest in the absurd and in ritual, both of which, by the way, they encountered in a trip to Singapore. Devout Hindus with metal spikes penetrating their flesh wandered in a trance through the local golden arches of McDonald's (see Impulse, Summer 1980).

Eventually R & B left the streets in favour of videotapes that combine theatre with TV effects. In Ars Gratis Artis, for example, Berenicci writhes and shudders supine on a table as Randy defaces her photograph in various ingenious ways, meanwhile intoning such phrases as 'I am your mind,' 'snapping,' and 'identity dissipation.' His grim sadism is meant to be a comic send-up of the brainwashing cults. 'Snapping' does not refer to Polaroids as one might innocently suppose, but to a stage in the process of cerebral debriefing.

An out-of-sync voice track and tacky styrofoam classical pillars are apparently part of another put-down, this time of slick television. 'The artifice reveals itself completely,' instructs the January 1980 Fuse, adding unabashedly that 'the pillars revel in their styrofoam state.'

As the World Burns is a soap opera parody similar to the great early episodes of Louise Lasser's Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. In one of the better moments, Hubbie comes home from a hard day's nullity at work and can't find his bullets. 'Oh, I used them,' says his wife cheerfully, after her day vacuuming the house while alternately laughing and crying hysterically. Unfortunately, as in other R & B productions, the wit is numbed by a style of pacing that has much in common with motionlessness.

The new Unbashed Heroics happened at the Western Front, thereby maintaining a Vancouver tradition of performance art that goes back to the 30s, 'when Beaux Arts Balls, and other events in and around the Art School, captured the city's imagination....' (Hank Bull in Fuse, Jan.1950). R & B performed for Vancouver's Living Art Performance Festival (1979), in which suitable accompanying acts included Gerry Gilbert throwing raucous portable radios at slug paintings.

A somewhat down-at-the-heels, three-storey building in a commercial area, the Western Front contained an audience of just over 100, various percussion instruments, and an Arp synthesizer under the baton of one Gary Middleclass, several very loud speakers, tape decks and television sets, and two Kodak slide projectors which were kept busy all evening providing kinetic backdrops for R & B's mainly static tableaux.

The theme of the otherwise typically disconnected taped and live scenes was apocalyptic destruction. For example, Berenicci read fragments of love poetry while the Kodaks supplied pictures of a mound of skulls. Her khaki shirt and red armband suggested the Women's Auxiliary of the Hitler Youth.

Randy declaimed in an outraged bellow from what he said later was Artaud's The Theatre and its Double; the Kodak backdrop was Bosch's impressions of hell. While the unbearably loud soundtrack imitated bombs and bullets, Berenicci spun a bingo machine and read the disasters printed on coloured balls ('40,000 left homeless'). On tape, in one of the best, or at least quietest, sequences, Randy mused to himself in a high childish whine. He seemed to be imprisoned behind chicken wire, and somehow in thrall to an insistent low, rumbling, nearly coherent noise. The camera furtively and obsessively travelled his body in claustrophobic close-up.

The stage collapsed, a sudden white flag flew over the ruins, and R & B appeared in the audience, presumably searching for survivors. Much applause, followed by critics sidling up to the artists to find out what they had just seen.

Berenicci said in a tone suggesting nothing could be more obvious, that she chose the coloured balls at random 'because that's the way disaster happens.' Randy explained that the noise outside the chicken wire was of course the hated 'television drone.'

Since he was flushed and happy with post-performance excitement, it didn't seem the right time to comment that the show's colourful, crude ideas represented a triumph of misguided intelligence. The heretical thought occurred that R & B might consider sucking the tit of the slouching rough beast and find a niche with Saturday Night Live or SCTV or one of the multiplying mutant children of fearsome Pay Television.

Vanguard, Vol. 11 #7, January 1982.

Text: © Don Stanley. All rights reserved.

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