Friday, March 18, 2016

A Space Program: Analog Performance Art

The original Mercury and Apollo astronauts were truly the best of the best. They were phenomenally talented pilots who could also perform high level mathematics in their heads. How square. Tom Sachs understands what the space program really needs: hipsters who enjoy woodworking. As a love letter to DIY bricolage, Sachs and his collaborators staged a raggedy, epoxied-together mission to Mars. It was all done to scale of course, but the Park Avenue Armory offered room for generous proportions. Van Niestat documents one of their irritatingly twee “demonstrations” in A Space Program (trailer here), which opens today in New York at the Metrograph, Lower Manhattan's newest first-run and repertory cinematheque.

Obviously, nobody is going anywhere in these plywood crafts, but Sachs’ company will pretend for the benefit of the audience. Launches and landings will be simulated and a Mars rover will be driven round the enormous Armory Drill Hall space. Granted, some craftsmanship went into their construction, but the performance art aspects are annoyingly precious and sometimes rather lecturey. Probably, the cleverest bit involves the use of the old Atari Moon Lander for the supposed Mars landing. That game always used to be a nightmare to control.

For the sake of grandstanding, Sachs (who serves as the Gene Kranz-like flight director) mandated that the mission crew consist entirely of women, but he is not really doing them any favors. Commander Mary Eannarino solemnly proclaims “a woman did this” when she pretends to first set foot on Mars. Yes, well in that case, we can only hope it does not set back the cause of gender equality more than four or five years. By the way, feminists later get a sucker punch when Sachs has the crew perform a hormonally charged **tch fit. Don’t worry, Sachs isn’t laughing at all women, just those who think they can be astronauts.

Sachs’ pseudo-happening sort of reflects a Wes Anderson aesthetic, but it lacks the wit and sophistication. Instead, it is just nauseatingly smug. You can’t blame the Armory. Two years after this silliness, Sir Kenneth Branagh staged his jaw-dropping production of Macbeth in the same venue. It is a rather odd programming choice for Metrograph’s inaugural season, but they also have some great repertory screenings scheduled that are infinitely more worthy of your support (including the 6th Old School Kung Fu Fest). Not recommended, A Space Program opens today (3/18) at the new downtown art house theater.