In early 2010, Lars Jan, a Los Angeles-based playwright and director, was commissioned by the Whitney Museum in New York to create a performance in one of its galleries.
What he delivered was as much prank as play, a theater happening in the spirit of Abbie Hoffman: attendees entered the room under the gaze of an earnest attendant to find a man in an explosive-rigged vest dodging the questions of a hackish TV reporter as to why he has decided to blow himself up in public. The scene was filled out with live bands, fawning fans and even protestors. At the end of the performance, Jan “exploded” with a flurry of flash bulbs in a blunt but effective commentary on terrorism and art-world celebrity.
This week, Jan has brought the performance to a converted Skid Row warehouse and invited attendees of Radar LA and the Theater Communications Group conference in on the joke. In the spirit of Jan’s deadpan parody performance — a trifle, but executed with technical finesse and an air of wicked fun — the following is an imagined item from a fictitious news wire:
LOS ANGELES — An estimated 30 people were killed last night in an apparent suicide bombing of an art gallery in downtown Los Angeles.
The metaphorical explosion late Thursday evening tore through the Hi-Lite Gallery on the sixth floor of a building on South Los Angeles Street, leaving all present symbolically dead. Curiously, the deceased, among whom are a chamber quartet and several curators from theater companies around the country, appear to have been present with full knowledge of the the attacker’s intent.
The bomber, artist Lars Jan, advertised his self-detonation in advance, through a web site, flyers and a sign spinner outside the Biltmore Hotel. As captured by CNN news footage gathered by a reporter on the scene, Jan, wearing a black suit, white shirt and suicide vest crafted from a carpenter’s apron, duct tape, two kilos of plastic explosive (or maybe just plastic) and a few hundred nails, spent the hour before his suicide wandering vacantly around the gallery in the company of two women in black skirts and precipitous heels, mumbling greetings to the assembled onlookers.
The reporter described Jan as a “Polish-Afghani gentleman.” He is a known member of Early Morning Opera, a Los Angeles multidisciplinary performance group, and has been implicated in prior incidents at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Whitney Museum, Philadelphia Live Arts and EMPAC.
Jan did not give any explanation for his actions, but one of his companions assured the reporter that Jan was “not motivated by any political, religious, hypoallergenic or prehistoric agenda.”
In the CNN footage, the chamber quintet — consisting of an oboe, saxophone, violin, cello and keyboard — can be seen playing for some 40 minutes before the explosion, while attendees looked on in silence, beers in hand. As the musicians finished, Jan pushed the button on his improvisational explosive device, laying low — for a few moments — all persons present.
Witnesses in the street said they’d hoped the explosion would be bigger.
A Suicide Bombing by Invitation Only, Early Morning Opera at Hi-Lite Gallery. 9:30 pm Friday, 7:30 and 9:30 pm Saturday, June 17-18.