I Now Pronounce You Man and Husband

The first thing I have to say to you about Jake Margolin and Nick Vaughan’s performance-and-art installation, A Marriage: 1 (Suburbia), at HERE Arts is that I’m bummed. I’m bummed, because if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen it already, you won’t get to. So I’m bummed for you. You missed getting to see The American Dream’s silly bubblegum-pink-plastic underbelly exposed and prodded. You missed the pleasure of watching marriage get put on trial by a pair of smart and charismatic husbands. You missed two sweaty guys tugging at a garden hose for an hour and a half, us in the audience silently rooting for them to complete their oddly satisfying task of weaving it into a sort of 3-D mat complete with lawn furniture.

Then again, with a different performance action every night, everybody who came to see the installation over its 11-evening run “missed” a lot, fitting for an installation where the accumulation of effort is central. Up in the gallery-like Main Stage space, the materials from the actions they’ve performed so far are arrayed and labeled like an exotic insect collection: frozen and static now, they bear unmistakable marks of the spontaneity with which they were created.

Photo courtesy of Here Arts Center

Encased under glass: a welcome mat made of masticated Bubblicious, complete with bootprints and a few stray hairs mashed in. Typewritten on embossed wallpaper that’s been plastered to ground and wall and work jeans: a poem as interrupted as the wallpapering job.

Oh, and maybe my favorite piece, a durational work-in-progress titled “Perry v. Schwarzenegger.” Two performers sit behind a desk, reading aloud the transcripts of oral arguments from the case overturning Prop 8. They capture their breath in plastic bags as they read. In a methodical, ritualized process, each full bag joins the accumulating cloud of breath-bags that by now nearly fill the theatre, floating just off of the ground at the end of a pulley system. It’s a powerful living image capturing one big question that Vaughan and Margolis pose: all this effort, all these words, and what for?

Up for Debate

There is a feeling with even the completed pieces that the work is unfinished, not because it’s unpolished, but because the questions it poses are still open. That’s purposeful.

Photo courtesy of Here Arts Center

“We rehearsed all eleven of these pieces but we sort of very directly chose not to complete any of them [in rehearsal],” says Margolin. “We would choreograph sections of them, we would do the gum piece a quarter of the size, and sort of extrapolate the things they would probably entail, so that every one would be in some way a live, real event between the two of us…a live communication as opposed to something that had been figured out and was being presented.”

In addition to the slow accumulation of effort, this is a show about negative space: maps with everything but roads and geographical borders removed, creating a network of fine vein-like lines behind which video loops like a beating heart. The shape left on the wall after you’ve held a dress shirt against it and spray painted it blue. The artists themselves. “We use ourselves as a frame for all this material,” says Vaughan, “and that’s why we’re sort of ever present everywhere as the framing device, as opposed to the subject.”

Photo courtesy of Here Arts Center

But the artists aren’t the show’s only frame; environment is another. That’s always the case, but in a show with an explicit focus on suburbia I kept thinking: How would the work be changed by a suburban rather than urban frame?

I asked if there were plans to show any of this work outside of an urban setting, and Margolin told me that, though they’d certainly take advantage of the opportunity to do so should it arise, there are no specific plans yet. “We knocked around the idea of doing it site-specifically in a ranch house in a suburb sometime, but that’s just a pipe-dream at this point.”

Is the suburbia that Vaughan and Margolin piece together by peering through lenses of pop culture and stereotype and propaganda so plastic, so patently false, that suburbanites too would feel alienated by it, if they were in the audience? Or would it lead to an opening of questions nobody knew were being asked?

  • HERE Arts – Jake Margolin and Nick Vaughan – A Marriage: 1 (Suburbia) [Price range of works: $150–$8500]

Article by Cory Tamler