The Bomb Party, or What Goes Up
featuring Grayson Alabiso-Cahill
On view January 11 − February 9, 2018
Curated by Veronika Ivanova

Grayson Alabiso-Cahill (b. 1996) is an artist and writer living and working in Toronto. "The Bomb Party, or What Goes Up" explored the relationship between farce and spectacle. By elucidating the parallels between the spectacle of fine art and the aestheticization of war, the installation questions the complicity of collector, artist, audience and institution in the production and perpetuation of capitalist ideologies. By exploring the ways in which war is depicted, disseminated, and aestheticized, the exhibition articulated a resistance to the spectacles of military and capitalist art-making.

As an introduction to the basic premise of this work (a link between aesthetics and war) "Fireworks/Bombs" draws visual similarities to the explosions of fireworks and the explosions of missiles. It operates like an artist statement, articulating a base assertion: war has been aestheticized to the point of emptiness. 

In works like "ROMANCANDLEARMS.MP4" and "Still From a Lockheed Martin Promotional Video," there is an interrogation of the relationship between the poor image and Umberto Eco’s "ur-fascism," addressing how aesthetics are used to militarize the banal. "ROMANCANDLEARMS.MP4" points to the pervasiveness of the fetishization of war, suggesting a link between fireworks and “ur-fascism” by emphasizing the reperformance and recuperation of war and nationalism in civilian life. "Still From a Lockheed Martin Promotional Video" addresses similar aesthetic mechanisms in promotional videos produced by Lockheed Martin. This work makes literal the ways that our lives have been militarized by tangibly manifesting images of war as an aesthetic system that occupies every facet of our realities: the photograph reads more easily as a still from a video game or Marvel film than it does as an advertisement.

"Still From a Lockheed Martin Promotional Video" (2017)

Looking at farce and rhetoric, "A List of Bombs in The American Arsenal" suggests that the nicknames of bombs are used to hide that they are weapons. Alabiso-Cahill asserts that these rhetorical strategies aim to turn a body count into a laugh track. Both this work and "A Gift For My Collectors" usurp the tapestry as a site for the construction of history. "A Gift For My Collectors," through its material history, addresses the role between war, privilege, and the construction of narrative. 

"The Bomb Party" also featured an open edition of clay multiples that mimic dynamite. These operate as props meant to alienate and intimidate an audience, responding to the “theatre of war” by turning the gallery into the Brechtian (or Jonesian) version of military warehouses. It engages with pop-cultural depictions of explosives and uses of irony and farce as aesthetic devices. The sticks of dynamite literally frame the gallery, performing a threat to implicit structures in artistic institutions. At the same time, they suggest the futility and frustrations of critiques within these sites. This work, similar to "Still From a Lockheed Martin Promotional Video"  also presents an alternative to the capitalist art-object in it’s form. Both works are made from industrial materials, and distributed freely. 

SCENE 1

We see three young people with crewcuts standing on the stage. They are dressed in what appear to be poorly made, human-sized recreations of common fireworks. It should look as if they are wearing oversized toilet-paper rolls that were painted by children. This play is set in a field, but it should be a shoddy facsimile. Maybe one or two squares of fake dollar store grass, and then one or two plastic flowers. It takes place at dusk, and the entire theatre should be foggy.

The first man, Henry, is our protagonist. He looks clearly worried. He’s skinnier then the other two, who fill the role of “jock” quite well. They seem to be unable to breathe with their mouths shut. The director should feel free to cast whomever they want in these roles; if they can find their highschool bully to perform it as an act of catharsis or as some Sisyphean punishment that’s a positive.

The pauses in the play should take up most of its time. This play should be infuriating to watch. It should, under no circumstances, be performed.

The curtain rises and Henry is fidgeting with the fuse coming out of the bottom of his costume. He has a clear tendency towards the melodramatic. In more intense situations he would be called a coward. Each line should be delivered like the beginning of a high-school student’s soliloquy, speaking as if he is constantly on the verge of holding up a skull and delivering one of Shakespeare’s less interesting passages. As the play goes on, we should hear his voice break more and more often.


HENRY

Fuck this I can’t fucking believe we’re actually doing this shit. I can’t believe I fucking signed up.


He pauses here and crosses the stage. The lights should dim, as if in preparation for a epiphanic moment


I mean, I guess I had no real option, that this is pretty much the only thing I’m here for.


Henry really starts to get into the swing of his soliloquy at this point, we should hear each word as if it were spoken with a capital. It should be insufferable.

I Remember Vividly The Crisp April Day Wherein I Was First Brought By My Dearest Family Unto -


The men beside him start roughing around, clearly excited

HENRY

Hey, assholes! Fucking calm down.

BRET

Fuck you Henry, you should have quit when the sarge made you cry during basic.


Henry flinches, and turns his back

The light here should transition onto the other two men, and they should speak like they know they’re being watched. They should feel free to stare back at the audience. They should speak slowly.

Bret turns to Sean

BRET

What a fucking asshole. Nerd loser.

The second part of this line should be shouted back towards Henry, and then he should wink at the person who looks most likely to say that in real life.

SEAN

Yeah, I can’t believe they even let him show up today. What a joke. I mean, he’s just going to fucking embarrass us.

BRET

Yeah no shit.

They pause, waiting. This pause could take the majority of the play. Sean and Bret can sometimes mutter to each other. Henry should at some points try to take center stage as if to deliver a speech, but get pushed back by the other two.

SCENE 2

Eventually, We hear footsteps, and a MAN enters. He is dressed like a stage-hand, in all black. He is around 40, but could be younger or older, we’re not totally sure. When he speaks he addresses the audience, and he cannot hear any of the other performers.

MAN

(Hums quietly to himself, maybe Mozart, maybe Bach, something that makes him feel sophisticated, but makes everyone else think he’s an asshole)

HENRY

Oh Mine Dear God, This Here Man Doth Suppose He Can Meander Through Our Rows Like A Poor Widow Searching The Graves At Flanders, Humming Morosely To Himself! Who Art Thou Who So Cruelly Mocks My Final Moments!

The man first picks up Bret, then Sean, and places them side by side. Once they are put down they cannot move. He walks over towards Henry, and repeats the process. The three are now in a line.

BRET

Sir! I am deeply honoured to be alongside you today! Sir!

The man ignores him, and continues to hum. Maybe he looks at his phone, or maybe he reads a book. Something by Brecht would be good, but if it exists, a catalogue of paintings by Bush would be perfect.

The next lines should be whispered, and filled with fear.

SEAN

Dude, so

BRET

Yeah hey

SEAN

Like, this is it hey

Henry, overhearing this, has tuned back into reality. He leans over towards Sean, and delivers the next line with something between panic and anger.


HENRY

Fucking idiot, what the fuck did you expect? What did you think all those lessons about how noble and powerful and amazing bees are was about? We’re the same fucking tragic idiots, meant to do one fucking thing and then eat shit and die -

SEAN

Shut the fuck up henry, what the fuck do you know

At this point, Bret pisses himself. This should be stupid and obviously a gag, but one that is treated with sincere solemnity by the other actors. The audience will likely be confused by this. That is okay.
Nobody moves for around ten minutes. Henry pisses himself too, more casually. We can tell he has experience with it.

SCENE 3

Nothing has changed, all the actors are still stuck in one place and mostly covered in piss.

We start to hear hollers and whistles, and something that sounds vaguely like a national anthem. The closer this sounds to a sports arena or a very hollywood introduction to a battleground the better

HENRY

Listen to that! It Is Clear Our Time Has Come! Like The Most Fragile Of Flowers In The Brutish Frost Of Late October We Can Sense Our End Is Near! Oh God! How Much I Have Yet To Have Done, How Little Life I Have Lived!

The man puts aways his book and walks over with a match. He lights Sean’s fuse. There is a small explosion, and Sean runs as fast as he can out of the theatre.

This process repeats itself with both other actors.

The man reads this next part like a eulogy.


MAN

On this day, the noble 4th of July, in the year of our lord 2016, we watched row upon row of just, daring, and proud fireworks perform for our great nation. I would like to thank, personally, Lockheed Martin for their undying and profound support of this performance, and for their unequivocally just actions as a corporation.


WHAT GOES UP, GRAYSON ALABISO-CAHILL

CNN is playing in the background, above a whisper but below a conversation. More bombings, more casualties; nothing ever fucking changes. Ben catches a hint of his hands in the reflection of the TV screen, seeing himself for a moment in the eyes of the presenter.


“There’s no fucking way I’m ever going back to that fucking place - fuck it and fuck me for working there.”


His wife rolls her eyes and walks out of the room. “We need the money” she calls from the bathroom.


He sighs, knowing she is right. Who the fuck has time for principles, he hears himself think.


Out loud, he says, “yes, you’re right, I love you.”


He gets dressed, putting on his cocoon: a repulsive inverse of a butterfly, undergoing the daily transformation into the fucking creature he sees himself as. A shitty cheap polyester tie, over a shitty cheap polyester shirt, tucked into surprisingly expensive polyester pants. He hasn’t shaved for a week, but only has patchy scraps of a beard. He is gaunt, staring at himself in the mirror, his body hunched over the sink. There is no soul, no presence in the gaze returned.


The newscaster shifts from foreign news to domestic. Fireworks are planned for the weekend. She walks through their brief history and with a small wink tells everyone to be safe. Ben remembers being a kid and telling his friend that he should light a firework in his pants.


The asshole did it, almost blew his fucking dick off. He works at a hedge fund now. Piece of shit.


Ben kisses Carolyn goodbye and leaves, gets in the car, and slowly starts to cry. The newscaster’s voice rings in his head: 5 dead, Sanaa, 4 dead, Aleppo. The list rolls on like a teleprompter that plays just behind his eyes. He can’t, or won’t stop the tears. His wife told him this kind of thing is important.


Ten minutes later and he’s pulled himself together. His hands stop shaking. Somewhere along a freewheeling descent into self pity, he hits a bottom. He feels himself filling up with a newfound rage: a sleight-of-hand that turns a glass of water into a glass of water with red dye in it. He is the same person, slightly changed.


He drives past the giant LM that looms over the factory. Like a monolith, it constantly reminds the workers of the eerie power they fall under: something so removed from their lives, but with so much control over it.


Ben’s mind wanders to the assholes sitting around their boardroom tables laughing, like Scrooge McDuck, as they sell lives for profit: the pettiest versions of Mephistopheles and Faust (Ben remembers his dad reading him this book as a child, remembers his hands that always seemed more tender than they should be, remembers the day his father got him his first job, working under his best friend). Blood rushes to his temples, a dull pound fills his ears: the distant thud of drums or boots hitting the ground in unison.


The day begins. He takes up his post in the line, and gets to work. As he watches the machines he monitors assemble weapons, he pictures himself holding hands with a sculptor, forming a chain with the pilot and the general and every other person involved, each complicit in the digging of the graves, the raising of a statue or flag or some other empty symbol.


He pictures himself in line, against a wall, the fingers of the killed pointing at him, in unison saying “he’s the one who did it.”


It’s lunchtime. Ben and his coworkers shuffle through the cafeteria together. The air is dense and toxic. Not mutinous (yet, he thinks to himself) but far from happy. They file through dingy hallways with lights that flicker erratically, plaster peeling off the walls like the shell of  a boiled egg that’s been dropped. The pure plainness of the cafeteria seems designed specifically to sap any will to live, draining any notion of a better future.


Ben sees a flower pushing through the ground and thinks of how beautiful, how poetic, how absurd it is that something so clichéd could be so beautiful.


There are a couple of brief conversations. The workers talk in small circles, acting in turn as both confessor and priest. They are seeking, like Lady Macbeth, absolution from their sins: scrubbing hands until they are raw, running with blood.


As they meet they spread word of the discussions. The harder we are to trace the better, they say to each-other. Low murmurs fill the factory. The thin rustling of workwear and heavy clangs of metal hitting metal provide an ugly score for them to talk under. None of this is out of place, but the workers notice that their manager is paying closer attention than usual. He is wearing a grey suit, with tiny glasses that exacerbate the shiny dome of a balding head.


***


It is Friday, and the workers are meeting again, in a larger group this time. They talk about the pain they feel, about what it’s like to go home every night surrounded by ghosts and guilt, about knowing god or whoever the fuck it is will not look kindly on them.


A declassified CIA guide to petty sabotage is passed around.


They spend a month following the booklet word-for-word. They wear down their machines, lose paperwork, smash printers and lightbulbs, steal the bosses pens, anything they can do to raise tensions. Ben calls his boss more profanities in this month than he had anybody in his life before. He feels satisfied; his stomach stops turning over every night. He shaves and begins to look healthy again.


***


A man, who’s name Ben forgets, calls a meeting. They gather in a storage closet. The air is hot and sticky: what Ben imagines a butterfly feels just before it leaves its cocoon. They are lit by a single bulb, its light bouncing off cleaning product and name tags, casting threatening shadows across their faces.


In a whisper the man says that he knows the steps required to make fireworks. There is a silence that seems burdened by understanding. Ben takes a moment to catch up.


It takes them a week to gather the supplies. Ben drives to work every day carrying buckets of potassium nitrate, strontium chloride and a shitload of other chemicals that he can never pronounce but can somehow get his hands on. For the next month, they quietly switch out the materials. They keep expecting to hear something, but no news comes through. There’s a tension in the air. Their bosses never notice, or if they do, don’t care.



***


Ben catches his reflection in the kitchen window. It is dark and cicadas buzz, like drones, quietly in the distance. The TV is on in the background, and he’s been half listening to some news program that’s hosted by some asshole he can’t stand.


BREAKING


The voice cuts through his daydreaming, and he snaps back to attention. He walks into his living room, and stares at the TV. He catches the bottom of his hand in its reflection, and notices that he appears to be holding a small flower that slowly disappears, trails or petals quietly fading to black.


He turns back towards his kitchen window and stares into it and through it. He smiles slowly.


He sleeps well, and dreams of a desert. He remembers a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and clouds of dust. He thinks he hears his name being called and feels an intense pain in his stomach that is only matched by a feeling of clarity. He dreams that he is like a cup with a hole in the bottom, constantly being filled and constantly emptying.


He is driving to work, and his palms, sweaty, grip the wheel in front of him. He parks, locking eyes with his coworkers. They walk into the factory.


It happens quickly. The owner saunters in. He’s looking to place blame, talking loudly about how he’s not mad, about how no one’s in trouble, about how it’s not him, you see, it’s the board and the investors. A man pours an entire carafe of coffee on him.


Like a flash of lighting, or like the moment water begins to boil, or like the cacophonous eruption of a firework over a crowd of captivated (and maybe captive) spectators, it begins.


The owner is burnt, and on the ground screaming. Security runs over. Ben puts his hand on the gun he carries with him. He watches the men and women around him do the same. They don’t realize that security is with them, that they’ve quietly been having the same conversation. One guard winks at Ben, and kicks the owner as hard as he can in the stomach. The owner vomits.


***


Ben opens the door to his truck, and steps in. There are flecks of blood on his t-shirt, and a bruise is slowly blossoming on his cheek. Two tears come out of the corner of his eye, and he ignores them.

He pulls out of the parking lot, dead eyes staring straight ahead. A dull orange sunset stretches across the landscape. He feels the light hit his face and the traces of tears slowly evaporate.


He is home. He kisses his wife. He undresses, peeling off layers that litter the floor of his bedroom like molting.


He step into the shower. Water removes thick layers of dirt and blood, collecting at his feet and staining the ground. Taking a deep breath his eyes follow plumes of steam cascading upwards, colliding with one another in empty air and then dissipating. His thoughts scatter. He is staring at flat tile, suddenly feeling nothing but a deep disappointment. He hears the front door open and close quietly, feels the emptiness of the home sink into his skin and his heart.


He falls asleep on the couch, tangling himself into blankets until he cannot move any more: a feral animal caught in a childish net. When he wakes up he remembers a dream where a young boy was polishing his shoes. When finished the boy asked for absolution. Ben said he couldn’t help him, but he was sure he had a friend that could. He wandered the ruins of a once great city, that may or may not have existed, searching for his friend with the power to absolve; cutting his hands accidentally on the edges of sharp rocks,he watches drops of blood hit the ground and explode outwards. A trail of tiny craters marked in dust follows his solitary footsteps.


When he wakes up he watches a moth lazily circle a lightbulb. He watches it land on the hot surface and slowly keel over.


THE BOMB PARTY, GRAYSON ALABISO-CAHILL

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