Skip to content
November 21, 2010 / scherstuhl

Thoughtful onstage food-orgy fun with Holland’s Wonderbaum

First came a nuanced and engaging discussion of public arts funding and the nature of provocative art. Then came the insertion of pickles into anuses and phalluses into haybales.

Twenty years after American artists like Karen Finley lost their NEA funding for “indecency,” troublemaking Danish theater ensemble Wunderbaum has brought principled sex-with-food to REDCAT, in the basement of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The trouble – and the performance, titled Looking for Paul – starts with a gnome wielding a sex-toy. Wunderbaumer Maartje Remmers, playing an idealized everyday Dane named Inez, explains over a slideshow how her apartment’s view of central Rotterdam has been corrupted by the installation of a notorious piece of public art:  Paul McCarthy’s Santa Claus, a twenty-foot sculpture of a gnome wielding a vast butt-plug.

As Denmark grows less generous with arts funding, Inez asks: does the uncompromising – and unpopular —Santa Claus jeopardize the financing of future artists? Shouldn’t artists recognize a distinction between their freedom to provoke and their responsibility to public space? And maybe — when Wonderbaum journeys to Los Angeles for its three week REDCAT residence – could she and the troupe work up some sort of “revenge action” against McCarthy, a metro resident?

Much of Looking for Paul consists of the Wunderbaum collective kicking around these questions. For some 45 minutes, the ensemble (and local compatriot John Malpede of the Los Angeles Poverty Department), sat and read from what they purport to be their own e-mails regarding the preparations for this performance. They dish their impressions of  L.A., and much witty chatter about the plight of poorly funded American artists, and hint lightly at the spectacle to come. A narrative emerges: the troupe is uncertain about revenging itself against McCarthy, and really has no idea what to do for their three REDCAT performances. They bicker over show ideas and gush about pools and a meal over which the LA Weekly’s Steven Leigh Morris attempts to explain America. Eventually, they read e-mails about the idea of making a performance of reading e-mails.

This goes on long enough that the audience might begin to believe that this will be the show.

But then.

Smeared in ketchup and excremental chocolate sauce, stuffing straw into panties and chucking great heaps of spaghetti and knock-off Froot Loops at each other, grinding juicily up against every vegetable, mineral or what-have-you that the human mind might conceive of grinding against, Wunderbaum assailed the REDCAT crowd with a five-actor extravaganza of perversions, a cheerful Sherman’s March through taboos. On and on this went, from foodsturbation to haysturbation to a bravura Human Centipede routine involving the hole in a bundt cake. Finally, one guy just up and fucks a toilet.

The resulting mess was not exactly shocking, especially for a crowd familiar with McCarthy’s own ‘70s performances involving smeared food and (chocolate) feces. If anything, a faint nostalgia tinged this bacchanal, a reverence for the days when artists who dared still had limits to transgress. This week’s outrageousness seemed important not because it might get shut down but because we knew it wouldn’t, not even deep in the Disney.

As Wunderbaum squirted chocolate on its exposed penises, not one audience member walked out.  Unlike pedestrians confronted with McCarthy’s Santa Claus, we chose to look.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: