People looked a little bewildered when they first walked into “Seven,” Mika Rottenberg and Jon Kessler’s performance last night at Nicole Klagsbrun, part of Performa 11. On a bench just to the side of the door sat four people in bathrobes. At one side of the room, a man stripped to his underwear was inside a glass sweat chamber. He was sitting in a large bowl that rotated slowly as a person in a bathrobe pedaled swiftly on an exercise bike outside the chamber. To their right was a woman in a lab coat, operating a large machine made of metal sheeting, copper piping, old coffee cans and light bulbs; she was collecting the colorful liquid produced by the machine into test tubes. A long tube ran across the ceiling that connected the sweat chamber and the machine. Two screens played a video of a group of men in Africa digging up clay out of the ground in a desert.
We were expecting some kind of strangeness. We had spoken to Mr. Kessler several months before about the piece. He had mentioned sweat being turned into chakra and transporting it to Africa for it to be buried in the ground, but he stopped himself as he was explaining and said, “When I put it that way I sound crazy.”
Well, we probably risk sounding crazy too. The performance lasted about 35 minutes and it took nearly 20 of those to start to figure out what was going on. It is difficult to put into words—you really should just see it—but here goes: The video and the live performers were working together.
The clay that was being dug up in Africa onscreen was placed in a canister, brought back to a strange-looking machine in a shack and transported to the makeshift lab at Nicole Klagsbrun. Everything was timed perfectly. The clay popped up in a container on the machine in the gallery. The woman in a lab coat put the lump of clay in a mini fridge connected to the machine. She closed the door and a haunting sound played in the room, and when she opened the door, the lump of clay had turned into a sculpted bowl. The sweat from the person in the sweat chamber was fed through the tubing on the ceiling and then dispensed into the bowl. The sweat was then put into another container and poured into a test tube. When it came out, it was a different color. The woman in the lab coat flashed a thumbs up at the person in the sweat chamber and whispered, “Good job.” This process repeated until seven liquids had been collected.
These were then “transported” back to Africa, onscreen. A man collected them and placed them in a suitcase. He carried the suitcase out to the desert where a small audience was waiting for him. He poured the liquid from each test tube into a hole in the ground. This caused the ground to burst open. Colors corresponding to the colors of the liquid flew out of the earth in bright streams. The audience in the desert applauded politely. The people in the gallery did the same.