My daughter Cecilia and I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art this evening to see “Cosmic Body” (https://mcachicago.org/Calendar/2016/02/Ingri-Fiksdal-Cosmic-Body) by Ingri Fiksdal (with Ingvild Langgard and Signe Becker), a weirdly enthralling and polymorphously inspiring 70 minutes that I am afraid may be difficult to describe. I had not known exactly what to expect. The MCA had promoted the event by referencing Beat era artist Brion Gysin’s “Dreamachine,” a device that “emits pulsating light, which casts complex patterns on the viewers closed eyelids. The patterns become shapes and symbols, and the user feels surrounded by color.” Also referenced was Gysin’s roommate and collaborator novelist William S. Burroughs (at the mention of whom I’d already hurried on-line trying to buy tickets) who described the Dreamachine as a weapon of “unearthly brilliance” against mind control. So I was going, but how would the Dreamachine be translated onto a stage? Would it be an installation, a dance performance, a concert, a religious ritual, a social experiment? The answer is yes.

Fiksdal’s “Cosmic Body” is first a kinetic sculpture. Above an acutely triangular white stage hang at various heights various-sized circular mirrors that both reflect the surrounding space but also cast shadows. Also hanging from wires but in a line aslant the stage is an ascending array of black oddly shaped stones. Each stone seems a meteorite Willendorf Venus burnt black and melted glistening slick upon entering our earth’s atmosphere. Now four performers enter in sparkly sheeny metallic Rick Owens-esque costumes with matching metallic face-paint. Each takes a stone in each hand — queue the electro tribal music! — and set the whole array swinging in unison. In moments, these weird pendulums, once swinging together, oddly alter tempo, making mesmerizing patterns in the air. The lights shine, dim, die, flash… Shadows reach out and retreat in time. The mirrors spin, showing reflections of everything including ourselves and our fellow-spectators. Meanwhile amidst this synesthetic kinetic sculpture, the four performers are writhing, running, and posing in synchrony. The overall impression is of being granted witness to the creation of the universe. You could imagine Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson, or better yet, William S. Burroughs, narrating the evolution of the cosmos from the big bang until this very moment in the theater.

A most wonderful aspect of this entire spectacle is how clear is the means of its making. Nothing is backstage. There is no Wizard of Oz pulling levers while hiding behind a curtain. This is not movie magic (or religious miracle). All the wires, mirrors, lamps, and speakers have been made conspicuous. This is all as self-consciously theatrical as anything by the Wooster Group or the Neo-Futurists. Yet always self-aware and perfectly asymmetrical, the piece succeeds in being harmonious, feeling spontaneous, elegant, and beautiful.

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Christian Sheppard blogs about all things strange, about wonder and horror in literature, film, and the culture at large. He is presently finishing an historical horror novel about chariot-racing, witchcraft and demonic possession in the dark ages of Byzantine Constantinople. He is also editing a non-fiction book "The Ancient Wisdom of Baseball," on baseball and religion, a philosophical "apologia" for raising his first child a Cubs fan. He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: http://www.saic.edu/profiles/faculty/christianmsheppard/

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