Eternal Telethon: Infinity + 24:: A Collaborative Response
On Saturday, November 20, 2010, at noon, the Eternal Telethon launched its most ambitious program yet: 24 straight hours of broadcasting from Machine Project’s space in Echo Park. The intrepid John Burtle acted as host à la Jerry Lewis, with substantial assistance from Marcos Siref, Johnnie JungleGuts, Jen Bruce, Andrew Cox, Anna Mayer and Solomon Bothwell. Over 50 artists presented experimental works in music, video, sound, performance, reading, and other unclassifiable activities. Viewers could participate in person at Machine Project, or watch from the comfort of home via a live internet feed that also featured a lively chat room.
Now, I am delighted to share a collection of responses to this event from various members of the community—viewers, artists, writers, telethon contributors, and others. Many thanks are due to Eternal Telethon for organizing this valuable project especially for Another Righteous Transfer!. I also want to thank all the writers for taking the time to offer their thoughts. Check out awesome video footage of past ET events on their YouTube channel. And don’t miss the next Eternal Telethon on Saturday, February 5th at 1pm PST!
ETERNAL TELETHON: INFINITY + 24
A COLLABORATIVE RESPONSE
I didn’t know what to expect—each time I came in and out of the Telethon I came away with a different perspective. Part of this was due to the breadth and depth of the individual artists participating and whatever it was that they assumed may happen. But also, watching online late at night (in all of its Lord of the Flies endurance infomercial glory) and being present during the hushed mid-morning streaming were radically divergent activities. However, during both kinds of watching I felt like I was really a part of something larger. As a format, a fund drive strives to make you realize your place in the community and take ownership of it. The Eternal Telethon offered performances without the possible boundary of “this is not for you” because it is, in fact, exactly for you. For all of us.
– Elonda Billera, Viewer
When we dialed in to the Eternal Telethon we did not know what to expect. The atmosphere of liveness reminded us of the last time we were live. It was six years ago when our vanity project turned from sweet to sweaty. The endurance of our liveness had overwhelmed our intentions and quite literally burst into flames. The format of the E.T. seemed an enticing scenario for experimentation. Having dug deep into our own identities as performers, artists, actors, directors, bodies, faces, gestures, and characters, we came out the other side of our Pathfinding… whole, more aware, full of experience, and ready to be live again. The work is always built of conversation, a process that doesn’t have a beginning or ending but is constant and fluid. No matter the result—video, performance, installation, photography—the story is the dialogue, visible or not, audible or silent.
– B&T, Performers
An Utopian Response
In spite of everything, we get older.
Acknowledging this, I was able to put down my pistol and watch.
I know if I’d been able to send gold, it would build something more solid,
But I was able to momentarily set aside my fight to stand on the platform to watch.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure who was there with me—but there, together, weapons down, toes almost dangling over the edge of the pit—it was what it was.
It was that same old endlessly receding and endlessly expanding pit.
Yet of course all the while it stayed exactly where the TELETHON placed it.
I’d always imagined the TELE-thing to be like the boats they use in that old movie, Waterworld. Some archaic architecture some people managed to junk together in those windows between fighting each other—those rare seconds we do something together between the times we try to jack each other.
The TELE-thing, the boat at the edge of the hole, a floating junkheap over an always submerged world.
I’m sure the money is sitting in a pot somewhere gathering dust. That’s just the way it should be. Building its own potency until again we can tear ourselves away from our arguments to come together and crack it open. Step out on the bridge and stare down out the old we will soon always be.
– Marc Herbst, Online Viewer
I write from Berlin about witnessing performances in LA while in Belfast. And here in Berlin I will meet friends familiar with the artists who performed in LA and with the Telethon broadcast internationally. I set up this setting because what I experienced as an online viewer of the Telethon exuded, foremost, this sense of interconnectivity. Over muesli and tea I turned on my computer to the start of my good friend and fellow artist David Weldzius’ 30-sec portraits. As I told him in an email later, he could have been just joking, or performing, about those time-lapse takes, I wouldn’t have known, as the faces sitting still before the camera, in front of the video, projecting into cyberspace, broadcast before me, were familiar and present. I say present but I might also say “precious,” because I recognized who I was watching; and though 10am for me was 12:30am of the night before for them, it felt like home movies I was viewing. The experience of watching ‘live’ while abroad and otherwise disconnected, was nostalgic and already as if captured to me. And, incidentally, as I made anonymous remarks via the chat room, what I tried to remember but was forgetful of experiencing, was the presumed endurance of those I was witnessing. Other comments on the message board read as unconnected to the bunch, i.e. ”I like that wizard guy with the hair,” and that was referring to none other than friend and artist Adam Overton. So, I choose to take part in the chat room discourse similarly—”Yeah, Belfast loves the wizard!” Then came Anna Mayer, in three parts. Not having been in LA for several months, I was not aware of what she would be performing. Let me just say, a feat on both a sunny and busy Belfast morning to entertain, simply by the sound of her “watched pot” rocking. What is interesting, also, in seeing your friends who are great artists or rather great artists who are your friends perform is that specifics of your current environment start reminding you of them. Again, needless-to-say, Nigella Lawson, best-selling UK author, culinary seductress, and Saatchi wife, came to mind in “watching” Anna pinch her pot. All I can say is check it—i.e. Anna’s rockin’. And then came Nikko—though I don’t know if that was the name under which he was performing—and it was lovely, and sonic, and all things to begin a Sunday morning, especially when one could have easily been reading the Irish Times or the Belfast Telegraph, or whatever. What I must say here is multiple. It was lovely to see Machine as how I always imagine it, a stage set of sorts. It was lovely to watch John B “manage” the “theater” of it all, and he made me forget that I was watching during a point of real endurance for all there given the time. A few days later I see a Facebook tag from Adam, a photo of a screen shot of an email to the link for my performance piece for the night. That’s the thing with the Telethon, you never know when what’s happening, and that’s the beauty. I logged on, on a Sunday morning in place of heading to the studio as usual, and I just happened upon all friends and all amazing artists—I think that’s the point. The Telethon connects under an umbrella, no matter who I saw that Sunday morning, it would have been the same. In final, finale, I will say, the Salton Sea seems closer through this venture than ever, and so do friends, and aesthetics, internationally.
– Danielle Adair, Online Viewer and Contributor
about the TELETHON, (what to say…?)
I totally love it!!!
I just tuned in at the very end (with less than 2 hours to go) but I was amazed by how great the atmosphere still was then. And of course I’m a big fan of the telethon host🙂
Hoping to catch more telethons in the future and maybe participate in one one day. (still thinking about hiring a beamer and inviting my friends to have a life viewing)
– Fred Cybulski, Online Viewer
What will come of this journey to establish the Eternal Convalescent Home for Retired Artists? Do we art-doers even need a retirement home? We already have a home in the telethon itself: a home where we can unabashedly share the outer limits of our art with each other, a place where every act of creation is cherished, no matter how ridiculous, boring, or brilliant the outcome. Hugging a Carl, making the balloons on his balloon-suit pop (Miggie Wong’s creation). Watching people sit with their feet elevated an inch from the ground (Adam Overton started it). Sitting with my feet elevated an inch off the ground on the toilet in between a God Equals Genocide punk set and the making of a human tridecodohedron chain. Marcos Siref, the one and only talking wolf, asking for money. Having crazy dreams thanks to Ben Schaffer’s lecture about his meetings with people from the past in his sleep. With a place like this where we can do and experience things like this, why would any artist want to retire? Nonetheless, it’s going be pretty amazing whenever it gets built, and it will surely be a place that stimulates more and more deep art explorations. In order to get it built, the Eternal Telethon needs some more cash, and now is the time for your support. Donate now!
– John Barlog, ET Accountant and Performer
The Eternal Telethon changed my life, in every way, for the better.
– George Michael, Performer
When I was asked to reflect on my time at the Eternal Telethon the first thing that came to mind was Fatima Hoang’s humorously sarcastic yet touchingly genuine lecture on the similarities between college football and U.S. politics. But then I began to think more about the context for Hoang’s gesture and I had two thoughts. First, I am inspired by the ambition and sheer will that the coordinators must have had to organize such an event. Such a feat of coordinating, which includes filling in the gaps between works and staying up for an entire day, is itself a performance. So then what viewers experienced at Machine Project was performances within a much larger performance that they could not possibly experience in its entirety.
My second thought is somewhat related. Thinking of this notion of a performance within a performance I am reminded of Peter Weiss’s amazingly disturbing The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1963). As I think about Weiss, I, of course, think about Brechtian theater. While I think about this, I am reminded of the mood at Machine Project on that night, which was, refreshingly, one of (slightly drunken) excitement. In a time when we are overwhelmed by the professionalization of the artist (or maybe that’s just my perspective) it was refreshing to enter into this project that, in a sense, was performing community. People seemed more committed to the community at-hand than a purportedly not-too-distant career, more interested in fun than business. And now it comes full circle back to Brecht, who despite his eye to critical distance, always remembered to have fun:
From the first it has been theatre’s business to entertain people, as it also has of all the other arts. It is business which always gives it its particular dignity, it needs no other passport than fun, but this it has got to have. We should not by any means be giving it a higher status if we were to turn it e.g. into a purveyor of morality; it would on the contrary run the risk of being debased, and this would occur at once if it failed to make its moral lesson enjoyable to senses at that: a principle, admittedly, by which morality can only gain. [Bertolt Brecht, “A Short Organum for the Theatre,” #3]
These are words that I try to live by, and the Eternal Telethon seems to have done just that.
– Megan Hoetger, Viewer
Eternal Telethon Cult
Connected somehow by velcro and rod—umpteen people move as one—a social sculpture?
Unless no—a messy sculpture!
Longevity comes with a price
Together we may be sick
– Robby Herbst, Performer
A whirlwind cacophony of questionably-authentic fund-raising hell.
– Zach Kleyn, Viewer
I love reading all these responses because many of us touch on the same shared experience: a beautiful feeling of community and connectedness, whether experienced “live” or through cyberspace. Trapped at home that weekend trying to work on my thesis, I would log on to Eternal Telethon periodically to see artists I knew, or just check out what was going on. There were some fascinating performances, in particular a lot of outstanding music, and can I just say, John Burtle’s many costume changes were EXCELLENT? My friend the always-awesome Janice Gomez did a memorable butoh sushi preparation performance in which she attempted to confront her primordial, childhood fear of fish. The next week, I had lunch with Janice at a Vietnamese restaurant and witnessed her ducking her head at the sight of the fish tank. She wasn’t faking that performance, people!
BUT I think my favorite moment in the whole telethon came around midnight on Saturday, at the height of Bacchanalian art madness, when energy and enthusiasm were at their highest. I was chatting away in the chat room, actually enjoying some intelligent conversation which has not happened in a chat room since the internet started in the mid-90s, and I had been inspired to purchase some artwork to support the Telethon cause. The performers were sending shout-outs to people who had made purchases or donations, and it turns out I was one of three Carols who had done so. I know one of them had to be Carol Stakenas, but who could the third Carol be? Carol Es? Carol Shaw-Sutton? Who knew there were so many Carols in the art world? Anyway. At one point, one of the performers on the screen repeated something that I had said in the chat room. And then, a bearded man (who I later ascertained was Andrew Cox, whose artwork I had purchased) called out, “Is that Carol Cheh??” In that moment, it was as though all walls and distances and barriers had been shattered and all of us were in that room together, happily blending and talking and cohabitating. It was sublime.
– Carol Cheh, Stay-At-Home Viewer and Community Member