Keith Hennessy at the New Museum

Photo by Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Friday evening we went to see Keith Hennessy’s Almost Nothing, Almost Everything at the New Museum. Keith Hennessy is a San Francisco-based performance artist whose “interdisciplinary research engages improvisation, ritual and public action as tools for investigating political realities.”

A fearless improviser, he invents his performances from whatever detritus is around him and in his mind. In the case of Almost Nothing, Almost Everything the set was made up entirely of cardboard boxes and sports posters that he pulled out of the trash at the museum and his props included a tarot deck, his iPod, a digital camera, some fluorescent lights and a bag full of ratty costumes.

He started the performance by inviting an audience member to draw a card from The Collective Tarot which is “a queer-centric, radical-politicked tarot deck re-imaged to fit our times.” The card picked was “the mentor of bottles” and Keith did a quick “reading” of the meaning of the card. He then handed a digital camera to the audience which was passed from person to person, photographing the show throughout.

He then quoted from a book – I can’t remember the title, an early work of queer theory – and wrote a quote on the wall before starting in a dance improv to music that was found at the New Museum from a previous performance. Hennessy’s work is messy and chaotic, intentionally subverting dominant narrative structures and creating a stream-of-consciousness experience meant to undermine logic.

He did an improv to a Klaus Nomi song that he found on his iPod and then about halfway through the piece he was joined onstage by George Stamos and they did a duet. Later Stamos did his own improv while Hennessy went through his bag of costumes and found something new to wear.

I wasn’t taking notes so I don’t remember the exact sequence of all the events – but I’m not sure that’s important. I feel like the important factor is that it is true improv – it is an experiment in NOW and as such it isn’t about analyzing the exact construction of the piece but experiencing it in the moment.

Hennessy is engaging and facile, his imagination is fertile and my attention never wavered as he pushed into new territory. If you get a chance to experience his work, you should definitely check it out.

Here’s a video from YouTube of his performance at DTW:

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