Imagine you found some old recordings with an impressive story, what would you do with them?
When I was a kid, I saved a bunch of stuff I really liked in a box and buried it in the garden so that people from the future would find it and understand what was life in our times. You might have done it as well. Time capsules are something that have existed for such a long time, and they prove to be quite useful to understand the past. Imagine you actually found one of these amazing treasures. What would you do with it? Keep it as a nice relic in your place? Sell it at an auction? Now, imagine that inside this amazing chest you find some random recordings of people talking about random stuff? Would you keep it? Probably not. I personally would have listened to them and disposed of them, since they apparently don’t have anything relevant to me. I think I'd do that because I’m not that creative enough to see the potential in a discovery like that. Fortunately, there are still some people who are able to see beyond the obvious, and that’s basically the focus of artist Alison S.M. Kobayashi's career.
She’s worked with old videos and reinterpreted the context of answering machine messages, and in her latest performance, she took a recording that a friend gave her back in 2011 inside an old wire machine. Now, the content was as random as the gift. As Kobayashi explained in the teaser for her performance, she had no idea these machines existed, and seeing it live and being able to play it was such a discovery that she was immediately obsessed with it and its content. From this set of recordings emerged Say Something Bunny, a performance that plays the content of these recordings while a small audience (24 people to be precise) sits at a rounded table. Each person is given a character from the tape giving the illusion they’re just actors on the reading table while Kobayashi explains and directs the play. But what’s the story behind it?
As you can imagine, getting to understand the place where the recordings were made and what they are about was a titanic task, but still, Kobayashi was determined to unveil everything. The wire machine was bought by a collector and later on purchased by Kobayashi’s friend, but it had no dates, no names, and no information whatsoever. So, first, she started by taking out the names and any information that would lead her somewhere, and found out that most likely they were all random family tapes. With the names, she started researching, and finally she found out that it belonged to a Jewish family from New York. Obsessed with going to the core of the story, she researched in census records, old newspapers, magazines from schools, and even the immigration documents from the family’s ancestors. Based on the fact that the popular references the family discussed were from the fifties, she made her research through different New York archives to find out as much as she could about the family.
The recordings belonged to the Newburges, a family from Long Island, and to be precise to the eldest son David, who would record all their gatherings and pushed his family to talk about interesting things. Originally the idea was to present an audiovisual project of the everyday mundane moments of a regular family during the fifties. Yet as soon as Kobayashi got more and more information about the family, especially about David, the nature of her intentions changed as well. Turns out that during the seventies, David became a playwright and composer, as well as the mind behind the songs of a quite popular erotic musical of the time. To honor David’s performative interest, Kobayashi’s own project became a modern reconstruction of a young artist’s first attempts to create something relevant (even without knowing it). More importantly, Say Something Bunny connects us with a distant past and shows us the lovely and alluring nature of the simplest moments in life we sometimes take for granted or think as irrelevant in our lives.
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