Review – Caitlin Baucom’s The Sickness at Superchief Gallery

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By Daniella LaGaccia

Styled as “a three day spell” Caitlin Baucom’s The Sickness, a mini-opera performance at Superchief Gallery in Ridgewood, New York, was at once dreamlike, surreal, etheral and disturbing. The performance was performed over three nights from July 20th to the 22nd, with each preceded by work music and performances by Gate.Net, Tara Joe Tashna, Fougere, Ziemba, and Unsay.

The performance space was sparsely set up with furniture but effectively gave the impression of a room left unkempt, however, dark blue, purple, and red lighting gave the room a foreboding atmosphere with surreal and violent imagery was placed throughout with objects like a severed hand holding a mirror, a bottle of liqueur and cigarettes, a blank oversized rag doll, two balloons in the shapes of the letters AH set against the wall, and lights strewn across the room.

Harpist Sharleen Chidiac set the tone of the performance where she sat in the space playing the harp as people found their seats. Baucom was in a crouched position with a long piece of rope tied to her hair that was tethered throughout the room; this is dark fairy tale.

Caitlin Baucom, The Sickness (2017). Superchief Gallery, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Megan Mack, Courtesy of Megan Mack

Music begins to play, and Baucom gets up, unties her hair, and begins to pace around the room, agitated with arms crossed. A song begins to fill the air:

“ah! hush /shower of sparks/ one for light/one for dark/one for silent/one for loud/one for lonely in a crowd/ one for loving/ one for hate/ one for coming/ too damn late/ one for nothing/ one for all/one for right before the fall…”

She picks up the rag doll and begins to wrestle with it, she entangling it, it entangling her, until she collapses on top of it. A storm can be heard within the music. Baucom picks up a mic and beings to sing:

“…she is always watching feed her eyes or there’s trouble/ she is always writing more and never saying anything/ tries to say things now instead/ the same unwritten troubles/ better off and vague/ best thing she never did/ believe that shit…“         

Caitlin Baucom, The Sickness (2017). Superchief Gallery, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Megan Mack, Courtesy of Megan Mack

Recorded music played in the background throughout the performance, and Baucom’s voice alternated between live performance and recorded audio with one seguing into the other. Like voices rushing in the back of the mind, it was often hard at times to make out all of the lyrics. At one particularly effective moment, Baucom picks up the mirror with the severed hand against her forehead with the mirror facing towards the audience, walking by them, and starts speaking a racing monologue about :

“…the truth of the matter and matter always lies and burns with the truth and the only solution is to live with the fire, hellllOOOOO?! it’s so fucking ObViOuS and just as important and every single organ is bursting each moment with every disaster that’s ever happened…”

Caitlin Baucom graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in  2012, and she said that she had been developing her work at spaces like Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery, and debuting her first 20 minute “opera” that fall at the Stockholm Fringe Festival. She stated that although her work had the support of gallerist Joseph Ravens, people were not receptive to her work.

“…I developed this way of working in Chicago,” she said in a message. “However, I found many people in Chicago at the time to be wary of work that was using music or ant kind of production, which not many people at that time.”

Ziemba, On the Density of Reflected Entities (2017). Superchief Gallery, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Megan Mack, Courtesy of Megan Mack

Baucom’s performance was preceded by a performative experience by Ziemba, who designed a white mountain scene in an adjacent room. Called On the Density of Reflected Entities, Ziemba created a space of self-care, using essential oils, minerals, and plants to make three “lakes” of incense. Some of the ingredients in the lakes included lavender, sand, rice, milk, benzoin resin, frankincense, hemlock spruces and more, giving each lake its own unique calming scent and texture.

Ziemba introduced her performance and asked several pre-selected participants (including Baucom herself) to bathe their feet and legs in one of the three lakes. The participants were told to see this as a moment to release or “wash away” a difficult memory or experience they were holding on to, and were asked to signify that release with a sound of exaltation.

After Baucom’s performance finished, Ziemba invited all guests to participate in this experience. It’s hard to separate the experience of these two performances because they segued into each other with Ziemba’s performance acting as bookends to Baucom’s nightmare. Both works, however complimented each other well even though they contrasted with each other in content and tone, with one being brightly lit and set up as a place of healing and the other being darkened and set up as a place of disturbance.