Martine Gutierrez’s CIRCLE at Performance Space New York

Performance Space New York promises an alien life form tonight. We are visiting an alien, in her testing site. There are guards at the elevators. They make specific flight attendant gestures with black gloved hands. They deliver many instructions in clipped, robotic inflections half elegant, half hilarious. Welcome to Circle Corp, they say, and open the doors. We shuffle inside the black box on the fourth floor, unzipping coats and fighting with scarves, jocular, unnerved by the seriousness settling around us like some noxious gas. Pulsing beats evoke a post-apocalyptic rave. More guards, looking like lab techs covered head to toe in blue hazmat outfits, give us our own Protective Equipment. We suit up. The people behind me are concerned with the relative stylishness of the odd white getup the suits are the texture of cheap hospital gowns, shapeless, neutralizing. We are told they’ll be filming the event. 

A white scrim, textured and lit to look red and imposing, gives way to a dark corner where we’re shown a list of the procedures for the holding chamber. Security camera footage of the chamber plays on another screen. We peek, greedy for evidence of the alien presence. We’re not so concerned about the rules. Someone wonders aloud if there’s anything that could really hurt us in there. We are forbidden the following: talking, taking photos, touching the subject. We are instructed to follow our Facilitator. We all have the letter C on our right hands in case we get lost. Could we get lost in there? It’s hard to tell how large the space is, how real the rules are, how serious we ought to be. The person beside me whips out their phone for a red-hued selfie. I catch a glimpse: we look like goofy ghosts, a cue of stunt doubles for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The Facilitator doesn’t notice.

A signal from within the holding chamber; the Facilitator leads us into a corridor constructed with black curtains and translucent scrims. The sound score screeches, hums, swells. The alien is closer but we still can’t see her too well. We wait, trying to get a better look through the milky plastic at the strobing lights in the inner sanctum. A bubble-like structure is visible, where a shadowy figure writhes the alien. She is almost as tall as the top of the bubble when she stands upright; her hands (or what look like hands) describe the edges of the bubble, frantic, like she’s trying to get out. Should someone help her? Is she dangerous? A hazy substance fills the bubble sometimes, obscuring her further. More people in white hazmat suits stand around, phantom-like. Green, red, and purple lights flicker and strobe as the rave beats resume their pulsing urgency. The people behind me are now discussing their college degrees, snickering, name-dropping. The person beside me scoffs, what are they going to do, kick me out? I start to explain something about artistic agency over visual archives of original work but all that comes out is I guess we’re all in trouble.

As we finally shuffle onto a viewing platform in the holding chamber, I wonder if the piece is a study on human group dynamics, the rules we allow each other to break. Below, the alien lies prostrate in her bubble. Two guards in Che Guevara caps and plastic face shields march us around the platform. More lab tech types in navy blue hazmat suits clutch cameras and walk counterclockwise, intent. Femme robo-voices interrupt the sound score: Welcome to Circle Corp. Subject EVE. Testing, incomplete. Estrogen levels, dangerous. Standby. Scientists, we assume, or just officious people with clipboards, pace around the bubble. They shine a big spotlight at the alien. The alien moves slowly, distally, crimping her fingers into delicate arcs. She is a hominid, with familiar appendages and features arms, knees, neck, lips, ass, clavicle. Her hair is a wild silver tangle. She arches her back, rotates her shoulders, drags her head on the bottom of the bubble. A bandage stretches across her chest; fabric scraps just darker than her skin, electrode patches, and other bandages cover the rest of her. She moves as if stunned, or sedated. Her eyes go wide at the multicolored lights crisscrossing her body. And the lights from above are glorious. Precise pale blue grids track squares across her torso. Oscillating acid green washes alternate with pulses of scarlet. Lavender and lime lasers inscribe incomplete circles around her. A cage of white light descends over her, flickering into shadow. 

We are ushered out. We peel off our suits, leave the lights and music, the space age fantasy, the mock danger. We make wry faces at each other in the elevator again, trying to dispel the bizarre energy. Someone says, I need a cocktail. We disperse, coats caught in the wind. Neon signs lace the dark with brash colors. Outside is just as weird as inside too many parallels from one fever dream into another. Who isn’t an alien?


Concept and Direction: Martine Gutierrez
Collaborators: Cynthia Leung, Jeffrey Lee, DonChristian Jones, Christian de Franco,
Charlie Mai, Fernando Cerezo, Tyler Berrier, Alicia Lane, Andy K. and Bryan Villalobos
Film: Andy K., Alicia Lane
Make-Up and Prosthetics: Izzi Galindo
Costumes: Kay Goldburg, John-Paul Trang

Photos: Maria Baranova

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