Tuesday, February 8, 2022 at 7pm
Two Videos by Richard Foreman

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Out of the Body Travel, Richard Foreman, 1976, digital projection, 42 mins
City Archives, Richard Foreman, 1978, digital projection, 28 mins

During video art’s first decade, Richard Foreman, the experimental playwright and founder of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in Manhattan, produced two tapes as initial forays into the moving image. Out of the Body Travel was made with Babette Mangolte as cinematographer and the collaboration of students from the American Dance Festival; its subject is “a woman who finds herself in a library surrounded by the relics of Western culture, and her problems in confronting an invisible audience that waits to see her performing a presentation of her own imagining and the imagining of others.” The second work, City Archives, was made in Minneapolis at the invitation of the Walker Art Center. That piece, wrote Jonas Mekas, “examines through clever word-play the uncertainty we have of any connections between events. By emphasizing the image and phrase of the ‘gap’ with buzzers, bells, and sharply conducted dialogue, the flow of time is frustratingly interrupted. When the interruptions become rhythmic, the viewer feels irresistibly drawn to the screen.”

Over the years Foreman himself has publicly downplayed the significance of these projects, claiming that they were generated as part of workshops, or as what he called a “screen test” for a later feature film project, and has generally expressed skepticism at video’s potential for transmitting his ideas in particular. “I don’t think plays look good on video,” he told Charles Bernstein in a 1992 interview. “Mine worse than most, because they depend so much upon the collision of very different palpable materials; real flesh touching real objects, that palpable reality colliding with the abstract formalism of my plays, and colliding with that other palpable level of strings, lights, noises, etc. When it’s all reduced to the single level of the video dot, the video texture, it goes dead.”

Reviewing the tapes in the early 80s, critic John Pruitt disagreed strongly with Foreman’s diminishment, calling these titles “two of the best works in the video medium” to date. In a lengthy critical defense of Out of the Body Travel and City Archives, Pruitt argues that, because of the deep relationship of American underground cinema to Foreman’s practice, “they represent a strange return home.” As Pruitt notes, Foreman worked at Mekas’s Filmmakers’ Cinematheque and put on his first play in its theater; the playwright has often cited the influence of films by Ron Rice, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Michael Snow, Yvonne Rainer, and many others. Foreman claimed that “my video pieces were shot sort of as films,” and for Pruitt this is the key to understanding their nature. “Cinema is the real theme here,” he explains. “The tapes could be said to exist in a strange purgatory—somewhere between Foreman’s theater pieces and his now completed first film Strong Medicine.”

Pruitt also believes that the videos reveal Foreman not only as an avant-gardist, but someone connected with theater’s most ancient roots. “Foreman’s work differs from traditional drama,” Pruitt says, as “he eschews a dramatic action with developments, rises and falls, for a series of moments apparently self-contained, which are picked up and discarded, that being the sole movement of the play. No one moment takes precedence over another: there are no hierarchies. Comparisons have been made with Gertrude Stein’s notion of a ‘landscape play,’ a series of different yet equal sitings of a static ‘object’ which is always present. This standard way of approaching Foreman is applicable to the experience of the videotapes. But Foreman’s work is not only intriguing in how it differs from popular theater, but also in how it embraces a noble tradition, the poetic drama. His theater is one of reflection: among other things it concerns itself with our relationship to language and all that that implies.”

Tickets - Pay what you can ($8 suggested donation), available at door, cash and cards accepted.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.

Videos courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.