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Monday, June 18, 2007

A Dissent

posted by on June 18 at 13:31 PM

I can’t decide who was more of a letdown: SuttonBeresCuller, or the audience that laughed at and cheered their shallow, dull, adolescent, clichéd, dim-witted, feeble new work at the Northwest New Works Festival last night.

The piece started with John Sutton, wearing old-man makeup and sitting at a desk, pushing paper like your typical sad sack. In a video projected behind him, he strokes a Playboy centerfold hidden in his papers. The audience laughed at this, but they had been laughing since the moment his face appeared on the screen. The audience knew the guys, or knew of them, and were there to cheer. With friends like these, artists don’t need enemies.

Soon enough, the old man hobbles home. (On the way, two young guys wielding basketballs mock him.) He climbs into bed, and begins to dream his life as a young man, from his gleeful heel-clicking days with a chipper wide-eyed wife to the moment when everything falls apart, the moment when the word “ejaculation” is written on a chalkboard by a teacher in a twee nostalgia video from the 1950s. (Twee nostalgia videos—those black-and-white 1950s ads and PSAs sure are fun!—run throughout, interspliced with video of the man’s life.)

The gleeful young man (played by Damien Luvara) is not so gleeful after the cells do their compulsory joining up on the video screen to make a baby. So he goes to a bar and gets drunk. He dances with a vixen and gets in a fight. Finally, he goes home to his wife, who isn’t lovey dovey anymore. Now, she’s a wildly gesticulating shrew. (Everything Is Keeping The Man Down!) She and everybody else who’s ever been onstage (bartender, vixen, coworker, the doctor who delivered their old-faced oversized baby, the whole band “Awesome”) chase him back to his work desk, where the doctor, now demented, begins sawing him in half as the mob chants and a red light falls on the scene.

A bell rings and the mob freezes. This is because the old man, who is dreaming the mob, gets up to pee. It is a comedically halting pee because, you know, he’s old. Then he gets back in bed and the mob resumes. Then another bell rings. Time for the old man to get up. The actors shake off their personas and hug and high five and walk off. Another day starts for the old man.

The real nightmare is that every cutesy scene coasts by without being funny, unsettling, or sympathetic. One of the three would do.

It seems obvious that the mania of this piece is a release valve for the anxiety of three thirtyish guys getting older. And since they’re only going to keep getting older, if this is their way of getting older as artists, then they’re in trouble. It’s like Neil Simon on a bad day, with a little sex and some mouth-foaming thrown in. Are their fears really this generic? Or is it supposed to be transgressive the way they’re puncturing high art with bad jokes?

If it were a hoax, if there were any hint that this was intended as audience torture, then maybe you could at least appreciate their admitted haplessness in the face of an empty stage and a mountain of expectations. After all, the three artists have the hottest dealer in town. They have a storm of fans, including Regina Hackett, the art critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, who, as quoted in the program notes, compares them to Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Morris Graves. Even typing the comparison makes me embarrassed. The point here is not that SBC are awful artists, it is that even when they make an awful work of art, nobody notices. When that happens, art in Seattle is in serious trouble.

Maybe the artists intended to pay tribute to strains in visual art, from the gory videos of Paul McCarthy to the costume dramas of Matthew Barney or the silly anarchy of dada theater. But the power of McCarthy’s work comes from his implicit aggression toward the audience; SBC’s piece was like a puppy alternating between licking the audience’s face and licking its own balls. There was one almost-success: the long-armed, boxing-gloved, foaming-at-the-mouth costume that Matt Richter wore as the main character’s tormentor. But the tormentor’s appearance at the moment of impregnation was so offensive that it was hard to care about his alluringly strange costume.

For those catching up: getting a girl pregnant is traumatic for boys.

But let’s put aside the retrograde politics, since they’re nauseating. Let’s just make a list of the clichés: Dream sequence device. Man in Gray Flannel Suit. Egg and sperm join on film. Married man flirts with vixen in a bar. Woman is at home waiting for her husband. Old men love Playboy. Old men’s bladders are funny. Jocks are bullies. Desk jobs are boring. Those are the first nine that come to mind.

Or maybe the references were in theater, film, and TV: David Lynch? Nihilist playwright Sarah Kane? Or even “There’s Something About Mary”? “Porky’s”? “Married With Children”? I’m trying here.

The truth is, despite all the cheering, nothing happened on that stage.

RSS icon Comments


I'm sure the Stranger Video crew could do a kooky Stranger Art Geniuses: Where Are They Now? episode.

Posted by Seattle's Best Catharsis | June 18, 2007 1:47 PM

were they ever mildly interesting or exciting? i don't think so. i blame the banal local art community for hyping all of their non-events. i'm glad to see that the honeymoon will (hopefully) be over soon and i won't have to hear about it anymore.

Posted by and | June 18, 2007 1:49 PM

Pft. I was just there to see Awesome. Sorry if my laughing disrupted your Serious Business.

Posted by Ben | June 18, 2007 1:57 PM

Fo real, yo!

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 18, 2007 2:01 PM

Art sucks anyway.

Posted by anal secretions of love | June 18, 2007 2:07 PM

It's been said a few times now, Jen. The Stranger is "theater"- if you want to conduct Serious Business, dump this rag and move on.

Posted by brandon | June 18, 2007 2:09 PM


The art she reports isn't exactly Serious Business, though. She's better off going to the Weekly.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 18, 2007 2:10 PM

Let the dance begin...

Posted by Amy Kate Horn | June 18, 2007 2:11 PM

This emperor has no clothes.
And he doesn't even look good naked anymore.

Posted by jengraves=genius | June 18, 2007 2:40 PM

If you want to go on the attack, how about the second act? It ranged from bromide to self-parody.

Posted by missing it | June 18, 2007 2:43 PM

Also, a guy in a suit is a cliché? Really? And where were the jocks? A backward baseball cap, garish jewelry, and pants pulled way down don't really say 'Jock' to me. I guess they did have that basketball, is that the minimum requirement?

Posted by Ben | June 18, 2007 2:51 PM

Jen, could you just condense these things to "It sucked." I'm sure it did suck, but who cares anyway.

Posted by sliding down a 50 foot razor blade with my balls as a brake. | June 18, 2007 2:57 PM

I agree with you and more. But this is all a little rich coming from someone at The Stranger, a publication which has been fellating and encouraging this trio in their ridiculously obvious and barely ironic pieces for years.

The only thing more pathetic than this trio is the trio running around town spoofing them...and I guess if they put "The" in front of their name that would be more pathetic.

Posted by frou | June 18, 2007 2:59 PM

2005 Stranger Genius Award

Posted by cochise. | June 18, 2007 3:07 PM

@13: The writers and editors of The Stranger are not of one mind on all things, events, people, artists, etc. And a Stranger Genius Award is not a guarantee of good press forever and ever and ever, Amen.

Posted by Dan Savage | June 18, 2007 3:18 PM

@13: The writers and editors of The Stranger are not of one mind on all things, events, people, artists, etc. And a Stranger Genius Award is not a guarantee of good press forever and ever and ever, Amen.

Posted by Dan Savage | June 18, 2007 3:18 PM

And the writers and editors of The Stranger reserve the right to double post.

Posted by Dan Savage | June 18, 2007 3:20 PM

How were the rest of the acts that weekend? I'm laid up with my goddamned glass heel so I spent the night in bed with an ice pack.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | June 18, 2007 3:54 PM

The laughter at nothing was just hipsters cheering on fellow hipsters. It happens all the time.

Yeah, it probably sucked, and art probably goes nowhere because of this sort of crap, but whatever.

Posted by Gomez | June 18, 2007 3:56 PM

Wow. Not a word about how appalling those two middle "dance" pieces were? The bookends shone in comparison.

Posted by Girlmez | June 18, 2007 4:16 PM

I'm not sorry that I missed another evening of what sounds like dreck. The school performance of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, on the other hand, was quite good. I didn't see any Stranger folk there.

Posted by Jim Demetre | June 18, 2007 4:43 PM

1. David Schmader = really good, but way to end on a really depressing note. Can't wait to see the whole piece.
2. Woodland creature/deer-people dance thing = I had a really bad giggle-fit like I haven't had in a long time. Plus, could you do the costume change off-stage next time? A little faster maybe? I don't need to see you putting your hooves on.
3. Cameltoe & ass dance = I think the first girl keeps the second girl around to make her feel better about herself. Mean but true.
4. SBC dream multimedia thing = interesting film editing. Live action got progressively less interesting as the band members came on and seemed more interested in being "awesome" than figuring out what the hell they were doing there on stage.

Posted by defman23 | June 18, 2007 5:11 PM

Jen sounds like she had a crush on SBC that was never returned! A scorned woman...

Posted by Phil MacDonald | June 18, 2007 5:19 PM

Phil MacDonald is the stupidest thing I ever made.

Posted by God | June 18, 2007 5:52 PM

from the puke to the pee felt very much like high school to me

Posted by deb | June 18, 2007 7:09 PM

for someone who apparently hated the show, you sure devoted a long post to it.

Posted by erka | June 19, 2007 2:00 AM

Good noticing, Erka.

Posted by Erka is a Good Noticer | June 19, 2007 7:42 AM

I like the image of a crowded theater laughing and cheering with Jen Graves sitting there frowning, a tuft of smoke above her head, ready to hate before the curtain has opened...

Posted by JT | June 19, 2007 10:47 AM

I sat in front of Jen during the show. She should not be allowed to review anything until she learns to be a decent audience member.Jen keep your snarky comments to yourself until after the show, not during quiet moments. It seemed you were trying to impress the people you were with how "in" you were. And for god's sake, your cell phone? really?

Posted by cheesepants | June 19, 2007 11:28 AM

Perhaps Jen Graves is in on this joke and she is helping SBC to pull another one over the unsuspecting public, like at TAM, where Rock was in on the joke that they pulled on the unsuspecting Tacoma News Tribune reporter. wow, I am impressed, such powers of media manipulation. sorry I ever thought they were immature, one-joke frat boys, they are beyond Stranger geniuses, they are like Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp combined. there are three of them, and combined they are god! can't wait to read about their next art antics.

Posted by sarah moon | June 19, 2007 11:59 AM

the whole show sucked...although deer dance forest creature putting on the clothes on stage pathetic thing gave me nightmares...david schmader was alright though a bore, persephone dance thing boring sbc funny boring...this show sucked boring!

Posted by kkk | June 19, 2007 1:39 PM

well done jen for saying it like it is. If only more people would realize that SBC are derivative, boring and dumb... (or perhaps StupidBoringCrap)... The Seattle art scene's bubble of mediocrity needs to be well and truly burst if we are ever to get anything beyond an inward-looking local bunch of charlatans.

Posted by plastic | June 19, 2007 3:40 PM

totally depressing.
seems that everyone wants to prove who is wrong, who is inferior, who has the witty, cutting thing to say. i just dont get why there is no support for people who are trying to be creative and provide something for the rest of us to see, hear, learn from, whatever, even if we hate it. its not like they are ripping us off and making a bunch of money, actually, quite the opposite. what artist do you know that doesnt struggle? you think its gonna help to be judgemental pricks? pretty sweet that people put themselves out there to be cut down by immature writers with some personal grudge. there is plenty out ther to focus on, why choose this? and since you did, i think they succeeded even more.

Posted by wert | June 19, 2007 5:31 PM

well said. not enjoying a performance is one thing but such harshness ought to be left to the critique of public officials. priorities people.

Posted by 33 is right | June 20, 2007 8:58 AM

Sheesh, I don't know what is more surprising- 1) that this kind of snarky spite is what passes for a review, or 2) that the rest of the pack of ninnies who agree that something they've never seen is garbage because it was written about in the paper ranked #1 for snarky, backbiting, sarcastic, self congratulatory, circle-jerk writing, in a city that loves to cannibalize anyone who actually bothers to do something. Oh wait neither of those things is surprising at all. Jen- you're going to be a shitty critic until you can grow up and take your obnoxious ego out of your writing.

Posted by VanDamnit | June 20, 2007 9:36 AM


absolutely, viva bad art!

I love wasting my time and money on that stuff...

Posted by artist | June 20, 2007 11:48 AM

@ 33, 34, 35:

Like so many others above, you're missing the point entirely. The point isn't that SBC are bad artists. The point is, as the post stated, that when they make bad art, no one notices, because they've already been anointed the next Morris Graves/Merce Cunningham/John Cage by bandwagon-jumpers. (They get no support? Give me a break!)

And you know what? That hurts art, both locally and nationally.

This seems like Basic Understanding of the Role of the Critic 101, but maybe it still needs to be said: By praising the worthwhile and yes, decrying the insipid, critics improve the caliber of art being created. Of course you buffoons who don't like the critical opinions being expressed fall back on the "personal grudge" argument or make personal attacks. Which you'll notice the original post didn't do -- it merely critiqued the work being offered.

For the record, I sat through the SBC performance too, and whichever commenter above called it high-school caliber is right on the money -- there was simply nothing of interest there. And from a group that's so universally adored and loved (the audience was laughing literally before the first ostensibly "funny" thing even happened), that is worth remarking on.

Along with everyone else there, I paid admission, and yes, I did feel ripped off.

Posted by Superfurry Animal | June 20, 2007 11:52 AM

@36 my dear, you are a case in point.

“Neither irony or sarcasm is argument.”

-Samuel Butler

Posted by Vandamnit | June 20, 2007 11:59 AM


My apologies, its hard to raise my discussion to the heights of your argument that all that counts is that somebody 'bothered to do something'... wow... do you care at all about art?

Posted by artist | June 20, 2007 12:39 PM

@37 I totally agree with you that SBC shouldn't be given merit badges for effort, and that critics should call a spade a spade if work falls flat. In the end my personal view was that the piece was over reaching,and they're much better visual artists than stage. Though I liked it a lot better than the garbage piece that came before it. In any case, I found Jen's post to be even more self-indulgent and obnoxious than the show she reviewed. Not a good sign. And in the end, her audience fell IMMEDIATELY into the flaw she herself criticized of the SBC audience, in this case brutally criticizing work they'd never seen, and in SBC's, the audience giving overzealous positive feedback for a mediocre show. See what i'm saying? Both are preaching to their own choirs.

@38 You are yet to make any point beyond that you can make snide remarks. Congratulations on that by the way, what zingers! Whew! Really driving home your point there. God I'm just withering here under such an amazing argument. Wow. No seriously, you're really the one that cares about art. Way to straighten me out. Gosh i'm blushing here!

Or you could actually read the post i wrote carefully and respond to my actual point instead of misrepresenting me with that horse shit.

Posted by Van Damnit | June 20, 2007 2:02 PM

you are onto something...

totally depressing, agreed. people, why so grumpy ? Oh yeah summer has not arrived yet.

good point, such fuss over bafoonery(sp?)
This is probably the best post, so far.

Posted by 30,33,34 & 40 are right | June 20, 2007 2:47 PM

Doesn't anyone find it interesting that Superfurry Animal always has the same tone as Jen Graves? hmmmm....

Posted by superfurry??????? | June 20, 2007 3:08 PM

Which one made you buy you own drinks, didn't call you in the morning, then asked your sister on a date? It was Ben, wasn't it?

Posted by ben beres dated my sister too | June 20, 2007 3:40 PM

Oh, Superfurry??????, trust me when I say I am not Jen Graves. I merely suffered through the same performance(s) she did.

"Superfurry, I served with Jen Graves: I knew Jen Graves; Jen Graves was a friend of mine. Superfurry Animal, you're no Jen Graves."

Or something along those lines.

Posted by Superfurry Animal | June 20, 2007 4:19 PM

Wow. I just read this thread from top to bottom and I have to say, art that sparks this much discussion and controversy -- that's the kind of show I'd love to see more often!

I think that all that Jen proved here was that the show was extremely provocative....some people loved it, others hated it. But in the end I think that makes it great art.

Posted by Joe Audience | June 20, 2007 8:45 PM

i totally agree!

and also, i loved the show. i don't know these guys and i laughed at the old man when he popped up on the screen, it tickled me...does that make me a hipster cheerleader? it seems soooo egocentric to imagine that just because you didn't find it funny that no one else could...

i loved the set and the video and the Awesome-band-cum-nightmare-Star-Wars-lounge-band and the cliches (big baby, you rule).

it was the best thing i saw at the festival this year (along with Schmader and tEEth).

so there. stick that in your negative Stranger hole and smoke it.

Posted by Trevor | June 20, 2007 9:02 PM

yeah, but trevor, how is "I liked it" or "it was funny" a rebuttal to "this is not an interesting piece of art'? don't forget, these guys aren't just amatuers trying to put on a funny little play -- these are supposedly serious artists, and theyre asking to be taken seriously as artists.

I have yet to see anybody in this thread offer an argument for why the piece was artistically interesting -- it's just 'youre wrong; I laughed." And I'm sorry, joe audience, but that's not interesting discussion.

If people want to make a real argument for why the piece had artistic merit, let's hear it.

Posted by lurking no more | June 21, 2007 9:43 AM

I haven't commented until now. It's funny, the people I saw this show with weren't big fans either, and after reading these critiques I started to doubt my experience, but if I'm the only one out there who liked it I'd better step up and defend the show.

I saw a David Lynchian dreamscape that was on the surface pretty pedestrian -- the boring deskjob, the wife in a negligee, the screaming baby, the vampy seductress -- but underneath was a current of melancholy and loneliness. The old man goes to sleep, and dreams of his youth. The people and objects of his past collide in disturbing ways, the nostalgia doesn't hold up, the characters and images turn on him and in the end he wakes up in the same bed, alone, old, with all these memories haunting him, screaming at him.

I thought some of the images were distinct and visceral, particularly the boss with the long arms and the dripping mouth. The star wars band gave a loopy surreality to the proceedings, as did the fellini-esque line dance at the end.

I'm not familiar with SBC's work, so perhaps this show was much weaker than other shows of theirs, or perhaps I was reading more depth into it than was there. But I thought the humor of the piece was secondary to an underlying pathos, the reality of getting old, the terror and humiliation. All these 'funny' images are the memories he's conjured up, because he is alone. This touched me much more deeply than some of the other shows which had a more 'serious and poetic' vibe but weren't saying much that I could fathom.

Hope I've managed to cobble together a compelling argument. Have at me.

Posted by fe | June 21, 2007 11:21 AM

Is a "funny little play" not art?

Doesn't simply feeling that I liked it or that it made me laugh mean that it was meaningful theater? Those things mean that I connected to it, it touched a universal chord in me and moved me. So what if it just moved me to laugh. Would you call Peter Sellers a poor artist because he simply makes me laugh and I like his work? Your standards for artmaking are a bit too constrictive for the wide world of art consumers and makers. Get your hoity toity art laws off my favorite theater!

That being said, I also saw the underlying theme in SBC's piece as quite serious and thought-provoking (as 47 mentioned). Just the fact that we're still talking about it is proof of many thoughts thusly provoked! No one has yet to mention the horrid piece by Implied Violence -- probably because it was just bad. At least this piece has sparked vigorous controversy (like many great artists before them).

Are you haters upset just because SBC is successful? Who appointed you judge? Go make better art then and stop wasting your precious (and pretentious) brain matter on this stupid blog.

Posted by Trevor | June 21, 2007 5:16 PM

nothing happened on this blog

Posted by last word | June 22, 2007 11:34 AM

"Is a 'funny little play' not art?"
-- Correct. Being funny /= good art. Compare "Dr. Strangelove" and, say, "Billy Madison." Both funny, but the former is art.

"Doesn't simply feeling that I liked it or that it made me laugh mean that it was meaningful theater?"
-- No.

"Those things mean that I connected to it, it touched a universal chord in me and moved me."
-- Paging Carl Jung ... "Universal chord"? What?

"Would you call Peter Sellers a poor artist because he simply makes me laugh and I like his work?"
-- No. Seeing someone kicked in the groin might also make you laugh. I think we can both agree that there are degrees of quality in art, even in comedy. Peter Sellers was a great artist because he did more than just make you laugh.

"Your standards for artmaking are a bit too constrictive for the wide world of art consumers and makers. Get your hoity toity art laws off my favorite theater!"
-- This way of thinking is why THomas kinkaid is a millionaire.

"Are you haters upset just because SBC is successful?"
-- 1) People who disagree with your opinion are not simply "haters," and 2) I'm upset because lauding crap like the sbC performance HURTS THE CALIBER OF THEATER & ART IN SEATTLE. Not to mention that I wasted $14.

"Who appointed you judge? Go make better art then ..."
-- Ah, the usual red herring: "Why don't you go make art instead of criticizing." So because I can't sing on key I'm not allowed to criticize Mariah Carey's music? Bullshit.

"... and stop wasting your precious (and pretentious) brain matter on this stupid blog."
-- "Stupid blog"? You're posting here, aren't you?

Posted by lurking no more, OR: Trevor is the mayor of Wrongton | June 22, 2007 12:23 PM

Let the charlatan art group SBC continue their unbridled rampage. They will disappear some day and this process can be expedited by more non-critical reviews (Regina does lovely descriptive essays she considers reviews) and the Cornish-Hipster brainless loyalty. These two insular devices (the critics and their art friends) have rendered the art group completely provincial. Put them in any other city and they would suffer.

The fact that the Northwest seems to champion them as unique art stars further indicates how dangerously desperate, fleeced, and regional the art conversations are in Seattle.

Posted by The Shepherd | June 22, 2007 3:21 PM

You are an Idiot and your arguments suck. Especially if you thought Billy Madison was funny. You are not worth my time.

And yes, this blog is stupid and I will no longer be posting or reading.

Posted by Trevor Last Word For Real | June 22, 2007 6:06 PM

@51 & 52

So only Good Art should be made in Seattle? That's retarded.

Posted by Sody Pop | June 22, 2007 6:09 PM

I've seen much worse........go to Portland with high expectations. Seattle will seem really advanced when you return.

You have to admit, that spinning bar set was pretty well done. When carpenters make art, you''re always going to see a good set....the acting/art might be a little soft, but the sets are usually great. I was there for both weekends and I really liked the first girl of the first weekend (playing that vibes like instrument...amazing sounds), Implied Violence, and the crazy hoof dancers. That was woth the $20 dollars for sure.

You gotta make bad art. What is bad art? What is good art. Hmmm....are we artists and in a position to judge....? Take the stage and let's find out what makes it work. I honestly believe that we're all just humans and the labels don't make anything of us. I mean, bragging rights quickly fade if not backed up forever and ever.

Blah blah.


Posted by Peter Como | June 22, 2007 9:09 PM

You are all just a bunch of bourgeois simpletons with far too much time on your hands. Your tax dollars are being used to conduct a genocide by a criminal syndicate who runs your country. All the while you waste your privileged existence harping on about banal performance art. Wake the f@#* up!

Posted by Rockefeller | June 23, 2007 6:51 PM

[There was a post at #55 that was signed "Jen Graves" but not posted by the actual Jen Graves, so we removed it. Bad karma to you, asshat. --Ed.]

Posted by Not Jen Graves | June 25, 2007 8:35 PM

I'm surprised that so many went to see this. What did you expect? Didn't your parents ever teach you kids that if you ignore the monster, it will go away.

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Posted by rewq4545 | July 1, 2007 12:53 AM

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