Still from Sleeping With the Devil, 1988, courtesy the Estate of Reza Abdoh.
As part of I, I, I, I, I, I, I, Kathy Acker
, the ICA presents a two-part programme of screenings and discussions centred on the moving-image works of theatre director and filmmaker Reza Abdoh (1963 – 1995). Following the screening of Abdoh’s only completed feature film The Blind Owl
(1992), Reza Abdoh: Showtapes and Short Films focuses on Abdoh’s short works, accompanied by a discussion between theatre critic Daniel Mufson and scholar Elizabeth Wiet, moderated by Bidoun
Senior Editor Negar Azimi.
Working between Los Angeles and New York in the 1980s and early 90s, Abdoh was a contemporary of Kathy Acker’s at a time of metastasising moral panic in the US. Abdoh and Acker’s work is distinguished by overlapping concerns and characteristics, particularly a fascination with sexual, psychological and societal taboo and abjection.
Abdoh was celebrated for his immersive and maximalist theatre productions, which drew on Greek myth, mainstream televisual culture, BDSM and fairy tales, and made use of unusual urban spaces and audio-visual media. It has been said that had Abdoh not passed away at the too-young age of thirty-two, he almost certainly would have become a filmmaker of renown.
Abdoh called himself a TV junkie. Made contemporaneously with the rise of cable TV, his large-scale theatrical productions reflect the tone, texture, and pacing of the era’s music videos, advertising culture, public access television and talk shows. Beginning around 1988 and often in collaboration with Adam Soch, Abdoh made ‘showtapes’ – videos embedded in his productions, which came to serve as one of his visual trademarks – as well as a handful of stand-alone short videos.
This evening of screenings features several showtapes alongside two unique works: Sleeping With the Devil (1988), which revisits an iconic conversation between Charles Manson and American talk show impresario Geraldo Rivera, and Daddy’s Girl (1991), a collagistic nightmare vision of psycho-sexual abuse. Rounding out the program is a propulsive, visually rousing eight-minute excerpt from The Tryst (1995), Abdoh’s unfinished second feature film.
This programme is organised in collaboration with Bidoun, a non-profit organisation focused on art and culture from the Middle East and its diasporas. In late 2019, Bidoun will publish the first large-scale monograph on Reza Abdoh following retrospectives of the artist’s work at MoMA PS1 and KW Institute.
Elizabeth Wiet is a scholar, teacher, and producer of avant-garde theatre and performance. She is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Yale University.
Daniel Mufson is a theatre critic based in Berlin. He is the editor of Reza Abdoh (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), an anthology of writings on the late artist.