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Kraft & Purver’s Remote

Best Viewed Up Close

Sarah Kraft and Ed Purver are nothing short of modern day performance archaeologists, scavenging for inspiration in the rubble of fairy tales, games, riddles, and newsy tidbits. Their much-lauded 2002 performance, Woods for the Trees, was an incisive mash-up of commentary on war, technology, the ogre of personal and spiritual isolation, and the ever-creepy parable of Hansel and Gretel. The pair’s latest concoction, Remote, leaves behind a similar bread crumb trail of clues, questions, and eerily premonitory vignettes about the human condition in the MySpace era.

Calculated self-consciousness (perhaps stemmed by 21st century techno-paranoia), melded with fantasy and history, permeate the show, which also includes performances by Ernie Lafky and Rowena Richie. From addresses to the audience about the intimacy of live performance (filtered through a video projection with intentional irony) to sundry email screens that pop up on colossal screens, Remote presents a multimedia circus of images, ideas and devices.

Kraft & Purver frame their performance as a series of lab studies, loosely based on U.S. military experiments around “psychic warfare” in the Cold War, when scientists explored telepathic “remote viewing” in order to quash their enemies. It’s a particularly droll setup, seeing as we don’t have to rely on paranormal mind games anymore in order to run surveillance on the enemy in the Internet age.

With the help of chat rooms, webcams, live feed video, and intricate intercom set-ups, Kraft & Purver set up a Pynchon-esque world in which psychic assassins, spoon-bending party-goers, a 21st century Narcissus addressing multiple live video projections of himself, and generals who try to walk through walls all demonstrate the creative and destructive potential of detachment and remote technology.

The multi-tiered concept of remote viewing becomes apparent through both conventional methods (e.g., chat rooms, which as we learn, have a particularly poignancy for Kraft & Purver, who happen to be married but were living on different coasts during the making of Remote) and unconventional methods (e.g., New Age warfare manuals and drill sergeants screaming affirmations like “You are a child of the universe” to soldiers who are training for psychic warfare).

However, Kraft & Purver combine the disparate ways of looking at remote technology nearly seamlessly; as performers prepare to “open a psychic window,” the process is wittily attended by a plethora of email screens popping up in the background. In fact, the murky terrain of Internet technology becomes appropriately synonymous with the collective unconscious, and psychic and physical boundaries become interchangeable.

Predictably, Remote riffs off the casual intimacy of the MySpace age, in which connections can be easily forged with a click of your mouse or the expansion of your friends list. However, the performers undercut the illusion of personal, and even global, interconnectedness by exploring other instances in which technology can connect groups of people, such as warfare that can be waged from thousands of miles away and in the comfort of one’s own environs. Aside from puncturing the illusion that the information age is all about warm, fuzzy relationships, Kraft & Purver -- albeit never heavy-handedly -- explore remote viewing as a tool historically used by those in power to dominate others.

All the same, the barrier between the personal and political is always permeable. In one particularly beautiful moment, a remote viewer attempting to psychically envision a faraway location without any cues accidentally jumps into the memory of her supervisor. Through a mélange of live video mixing, projected text, and music, the segment becomes a gorgeous meditation on the contradictory desires for space and intimacy.

The mystery of the performance is what makes it so successful; Kraft & Purver get to the heart of our intrigue with what lies just beyond reach. Sarah Kraft’s haunting, repetitive refrain, “The further you are, the closer I feel to you. Stay away, please stay away…” becomes a tone poem for the entire show.

Much like Kraft & Purver’s other work, Remote is something of a meditation on contradictions -- a domain of multiple layered realities in which intimacy, voyeurism, combat, and desire (as well as ostensibly disconnected subject matter, which the duo beautifully tie together while making sure they leave lots of questions tantalizingly unanswered) all occupy the same quadrant.

Runs Thursdays through Saturdays, August 3 - 12th
at Counterpulse
8 pm, $12-15 sliding scale