we just tell you what we like
Caught by Christopher Chen
Directed by Susannah Martin, Shotgun Players
Is there truth to be found or expected in art? What is art? Does art have a purpose? We ask these questions every time we visit a museum, hear a concert, or see a play like Caught by Christoper Chen at Shotgun Players. The comedy in four acts is set like an “art/theater hybrid piece” by artists of “The Xiong Gallery” (which even has a working web site: xionggallery.org) where everything previously seen and heard can be broken into pieces, leaving you with a lot of questions about art.
It is a great example of deconstruction, which always recalls to me the works of Jacques Derrida. There was a time when we expected symbolism and meaning, I suppose because we couldn’t quite make sense of everything. As the years passed, it was found that human minds could create a lot more beyond those expectations, and meaning was not only a product of the artist’s mind, it was newly born in every reader, viewer, or listener’s mind every time the piece was read, seen, or heard. However a structuralist approach still prevails because art is filtered through the lens of institutions such as government agencies, the media, universities, political parties, etc. Even scientific information might be transformed and presented to you in ways to influence opinion, and in the age of “information” it is so much easier to flood the channels with misinformation that it may become impossible to find the truth at all.
That is how I saw Caught played at Shotgun. A Chinese artist comes to a US audience with information about how his art put him in the hands of the Chinese authorities, but the publishers of his prison story cast doubt over it with a very structured and seemingly one-sided outsider’s view. Then another Chinese artist comes to the podium for a hilarious interview about meaning and appropriation, negating every attempt of the interviewer to make sense of it (in the structured way). Finally the stage falls apart and we learn a new possible truth about the art, and the artist’s final statement about life and returning to his original “village of no lies.”
Talking about art often leads me to go back to what Oscar Wilde wrote in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. “The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim…” The artists in Caught are deconstructed more than their art is appreciated. How often do we discuss an artist instead of the art?
Jomar Tagatac plays the Chinese artist who then turns out to be playing a role within the role in a beautiful kind of way. El Beh plays a Chinese artist who defends the notion that art may or may not be understood as truth or anything really. Elissa Stebbins and Mick Mize play the Americans who try to hold on to their notion of truth and understanding. How apt to the spirit of the play that the program does not have artists’ bios. We will certainly find the truth about them on the Internet…