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Since 1996, under the direction of Rachel Bowditch, Vessel has been performing their site-specific interactive “atmospheric” performance Transfix with over 100 performers in over 30 venues from Times Square, Grand Central, Central Park, Tompkins Square Park, the Scottsdale Museum of Modern Art, the Mesa Center for Contemporary Art, the Philadelphia Art Museum, the New York and Philadelphia Fringe festivals, the desert of Sedona, Arizona and Imperial Dunes, California among other sites. Transfix is an on-going interactive, silent performance that transforms urban architecture into a poetic theatrical landscape. Performers break out of the traditional theatre arena into a public space where the audience becomes part of the performance, coming and going as they please. Weaving in and around urban architectural spaces and spectators, we transform the street into a stage, revealing the poetry and beauty of the mundane. Transfix is a collaborative, interactive urban intervention where the passerby, not expecting to see a performance stops in their tracks, transfixed.
History of Transfix
Transfix began in 1996 as an exploration into the art of presence. What happens when the performers are in a constant state of discovery as they explore space and architecture with their bodies – creating what Artaud called ‘spatial poetry’? Transfix took on new meaning after 9/11. There was an iconic photograph taken by a New York Times photographer of a statue covered in white dust surrounded by debris from the towers.
While this work is not rooted in Butoh, it shares a similar aesthetic and melancholy. Like the white powder worn by Butoh dancers that represents the annihilation of life after Hiroshima/Nagasaki, the white captures this loss and absence, as well as evoking a sense of discovery and rebirth. Taking these haunting figures through different environments from urban cityscapes to desert landscapes allows us to pause to notice the world around us – whether it be chaos or stillness. Taking Transfix into the desert, we see ghostly figures carrying suitcases as they traverse the harsh conditions of the endless landscape. As Jean Baudrillard noted in America, the desert is a metaphor for America itself,
“The American desert is an extraordinary piece of drama [...]. It is purely, geologically dramatic, bringing together the sharpest, most ductile shapes with the gentlest, most lascivious underwater forms (1988:69). [...] The desert is a natual extension of the inner silence of the body. If humanity's language, technology, and buildings are an extension of its constructive faculties, the desert alone is an extension of its capacity for absence, the ideal schema of humanity's disappearance (68). [...] American culture is heir to the deserts [...] culture as a mirage (63). For us, the whole of America is a desert" (99).
Baudrillard's postmodern desert is not an endpoint but a beginning space where a new narrative can begin. —Rachel Bowditch