It was Friday night in the East Village and I decided to give Colby Cannon Welsh’s performance, "Millennials," a shot. I was not previously exposed to Welsh’s work but his flashy email invitation and direct invite caught my attention.
Upon arrival, I was herded into the brown brick lobby of the historic NYC Public Bath Building, now known as Bathhouse Studios. Two women holding iPads asked the crowd who wanted to give their phone numbers as a way to participate in the performance. They entered our anonymous digits into a Google form and later handed us a small piece of paper with instructions to leave our ringers on and place the call on speaker upon answering.
Like most NYC performances, the performance started late.
The sliding metal door opened into a dimly lit arrangement of performance vignettes. Each meticulously positioned within a large-scale seamless cyclorama. Two central figures rocked their pelvises up and down with mirrored geometric sculptures securely affixed to their heads. When they weren’t bouncing, the two nearly nude performers blindly slapped their Apple laptop keyboards. I couldn’t tell if the blind key command gibberish affected the installation.
Projection screens flanked the central performers, streaming imagery of forests, assembly lines, and live performance feed. The videos were often overlaid with a large scale emojis. 🐈🍆💩😍👍… These are just a few that I remember.
All of the performers appeared to be mic'd but only a few had amplified sound. The sonics were dominated by three female performers who sat blindly and tapped tambourines. There was no rhythm to their tapping and any attempt to discover aural patterns was irrelevant. While the three females sat tapping, three males sat adjacently turning rubik's cubes.
As if 8 performers and two projections weren’t enough to digest all at once, there was more. Two performers adorned in green satin robes sat on white ceramic toilets. One attempted to carve meat from an artichoke and another the meat from a crab. They occasionally switched posts and eventually left their meat harvest on the cardboard of a “homeless” contortionist.
I watched the audience interact with Welsh’s social media performance trap. Each performance vignette was dynamically lit and uniquely styled, making for fascinating photos. Most viewers experienced the performance through the lens of their phones (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook Live) and only occasionally looked with their naked vision. Two semi-roaming performers encouraged phone usage as one took photos of viewers and the other stood still only looking at his phone.
I must have circled the space at least 10 times searching for narrative cohesion. But the piece proudly flaunted its own contemporary Futurism (as clearly expressed in the title of the show). Just as I came to this realization, the sound stopped and the performance ended. There was no grand goal (or so it seemed) but rather a quick glimpse or mirroring of human behavior. I could have watched this mysterious set of oddities for hours and was surprised at its abrupt end.
I never did receive a phone call but faintly overheard tinny, indecipherable emissions from speakerphones across the room. I wonder why the “phone call” was the posed method of interaction. Perhaps Welsh underestimated the same social obsessions that the performance critiqued. - Quinn Dukes
ABOUT COLBY CANNON WELSH
Colby Cannon Welsh is a multidisciplinary visual artist working in combination of performance, video, object, color and installation. Cannon has installed, exhibited and curated gallery and public displays of art extensively in Australia; work has shown in USA, Germany, Hong Kong and Poland.