Is eight years a history? My Barbarian’s Post-Living Ante-Action Theater (PoLAAT) began during the Democratic primary in 2008 and returned to its place of origin, the New Museum, amid another presidential bid: the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. At the time of its primal scene, the PoLAAT was influenced by the idea that democracy itself could be redeemed. However, in the current climate, this assumption seemed to raise a more pointed question about our political system.
Days before the election, My Barbarian, invited participants to become superdelegates in an unconventional political convention, featuring Zoe Leonard, Ryan McNamara, Tavia Nyong’o, A.L. Steiner, Christine Sun Kim, Kali Wilder, and other special guests. Prompted by speeches, anthems, and games, the audience explored group identities and cast votes in a hyperbolically absurd caucus format. The task: the promising and dangerous work of building “meaningful” consensus.
The caucus coincided with the museum’s Pay What You Wish hours, which begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday nights. A livestream of the caucus, with live commentary by Steiner and McNamara, was presented in the Fifth Floor “Spin Room,” within My Barbarian’s exhibition “The Audience is Always Right.”
Working at the intersection of theater, visual arts, and critical practice, the collective My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade) uses performance to theatricalize past and present problems and imagine ways of being together. The group’s New Museum exhibition and residency, “The Audience is Always Right,” were organized as part of the Department of Education and Public Engagement’s R&D Season: DEMOCRACY. The residency included a series of workshops, performances, and public programs that culminated the eight-year international tour of My Barbarian’s project the PoLAAT. The performances and workshops brought together performers and artists from different backgrounds and cultural sites—including choreographers, actors, musicians, and visual artists from Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas—to collectively consider current political situations near and far. The title of the exhibition and related residency took on a critical and ironic undertone in this dangerous moment when politics are more hyperbolic and spectacle-driven than ever before: “The Audience is Always Right.” Except, of course, when they are wrong.
This project was co-presented with the French Institute Alliance Française as part of the Crossing the Line Festival 2016.