Gesamtkunstwerk, usually translated as “total art work,” has become a universal term, one that still sounds so much nicer than “multi-disciplinary project.” Yet, its essence remains fundamentally German: From the dramatics of Richard Wagner, who wanted people to sit uncomfortably for hours on end on hard, wooden seats to hear his operas, to the cross-breeding of the Bauhaus, to Berlin’s notorious and ground-breaking cabarets of the 1920s, to Joseph Beuys. Gesamtkunstwerk clouds the lines among visual, performance and architectural arts, and it also forces the audience to be a participant. Its about inter-relatedness and totality, but it can also be uncomfortable, in that Germanic way.
By accounts so far, Keith Hennessy piece, called “Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot heal the pain, confusion, regret, cruelty, betrayal or trauma …),” coming here for the Out in the Tropics festival is a Gesamtkunstwerk on all its levels. Beuys jump-started the avant-garde of post-war Germany, and he later would become a pioneer in performance art with his “actions.” So Hennessy is channeling a master, maybe a hero, but clearly the San Francisco-based artist creates his own 21st-century actions for “Crotch.” Hennessy is a pioneer as well, of queer, expressionist dance and performance.
With a soundtrack that includes Emmylou Harris, references to Marcel Duchamp, a mask resembling “The Scream,” among other elements, Hennessy is pushing the edges with this award-winning artistic action. But, like its Germanic roots, this Gesamtkunstwerk is disturbing and is meant to be. The “Village Voice” described a moment when Hennessy covers his genitals in lardand begins to sob. That sounds like truly powerful stuff, in a grand tradition.
“Crotch” by Keith Hennessy/Zero Performance comes to the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, this Saturday, June 11 at 8 p.m. as part of Out in the Tropics festival; 800-745-3000.