By Alexis Riley
When I was in seventh grade, I threw my radio away. Having sinfully slid the dial from Sunday sermons to secular rhythms, I concluded that my radio was little more than a conduit for worldly temptation; a direct line to Satan himself. And so, overcome with guilt, I took the shiny pink receiver into my trembling hands and tossed it into the Hefty abyss. It felt holy.
Fifteen years later, I’m standing in the Fusebox Hub, clothed in a now-characteristic tank and jeans combo, bouncing to the beat of an unrelenting bass. I’m here to see Glasgow-based performance artist FK Alexander, whose work, “attempts to force feed mania influenced visions about new language, new love, and new violence upon groups of civilians across various dimensions with varying outcomes.” Presented amongst an evening of live art, tonight’s piece has no advertised title nor start time. The uncertainty, and promised force feeding, sets me on edge. The piece has not even started, and already I am feeling its effects.
Photo Credit: Amanda Winkles
Suddenly, the music shifts, quickening in pace and rising in volume. FK, dressed in an oversized suit jacket and loose tie, charges into the center of the room, computer monitor in tow, using the screen to stake out a performance space amongst the meandering crowd. She adds another monitor, followed by a MacBook, sketching a triangle on the floor’s surface as if to signal a digital séance. Hammer in hand, she pauses before reaching into a brown paper grocery bag, pulling out a VHS tape and dropping it to the ground. She makes quick work of the cassette, expertly smashing its corners and retrieving the spool within. Holding the plastic cylinder steady in one hand, FK takes the end of the film in the other, swinging her arm across her chest over and over again until the tape is completely unwound, resting in a knotted heap on the concrete. This continues for several minutes as FK destroys each successive cassette in a dizzying sequence of flying plastic and swirling ribbon.
Amid the chaos, I find a strange stillness. Buoyed by the rhythmic movement and layered sound, my eyes rest on the fallen: the yards upon yards of film splayed on the concrete floor. What, exactly, is on these tapes? Or, perhaps, who? Am I looking at family movies? Favorite childhood films? Black and white classics? I have little time to ponder these questions. A roar from the crowd quickly draws my attention back to FK who, now kneeling, leans back and reaches her arms overhead, metaphorically playing the tape with the enthusiasm of a lead guitarist at a sold-out rock concert. As one audience member trains his iPhone on FK, she stands and approaches not him, but the camera, staring directly into the lens without altering her movement. As she retreats, I suddenly remember the computers strewn across the floor, and an obvious, terrible, delightful thought pops into my head: we are about to smash some computers.
Fresh out of cassettes, FK begins with one of the two flat screen monitors. She tosses it into the air, the screen face planting into the ground. Though I cannot hear anything over the blaring noise, my mind supplies the accompanying “thud,” completing the action. The destruction is tantalizing and seems to carry the weight of willful sacrilege; an action most have contemplated but few have carried out; a pricier version of squeezing all of the toothpaste out of the tube at once. Having dismantled one monitor, FK moves on to the MacBook, and it is at this moment that the crowd offers its most enthusiastic cheer. Each swing of the hammer incites encouragement as we pile our grievances onto the sacrificial object. As FK demolishes the final screen, her body slows, buckling under the weight of her exhaustion. She slides the hammer across the smooth floor, pausing only briefly to sit amongst the sparking rubble. It is violent. It is beautiful. It is dangerous.
And then, it is over. Having left the stage as deliberately as she came, FK disappears from view, and it is only at this moment that I recognize the voice in the soundtrack: a fire and brimstone sermon, shouting righteous-this and wicked-that. And it is only when his voice disappears that I notice I have been tense the entire time, contracting my body into a solid unmovable mass. And it is only when I try to breathe again that I realize that I have been utterly drenched in adrenaline, a violent agitation running from my burning ears to my twitching fist, preparing me to fight… to fight…
Wait. What were we fighting? I have no idea what was on these tapes. I have no idea what was on these computers. I do not know where they came from, who made them, or what purpose they served. I do not know why I should be so happy to see them smashed to bits. And yet, despite my present uncertainty, I am struck by the clarity of my feelings just minutes prior: It felt good. It felt fun. It felt holy.
Alexis Riley is a writer, researcher, and performance maker. She is a PhD student in the University of Texas at Austin’s Performance as Public Practice program.