MR Festival 2008: Ian Alteveer on Deke Weaver’s Birds of Prey Assembly (6/5/08)

by Ian Alteveer
MR Festival Spring 2008: Somewhere Out There

Deke Weaver’s Birds of Prey Assembly, part of Movement Research’s Spring Festival, was transporting. Weaver was first on a program called Clean Slate — words that might call to mind, particularly in this instance, the uneasy memories of the grade-school blackboard. Hourly attempts to wipe it clean always left a chalky trace, a palimpsest of lesson on top of lesson.

Weaver’s reenactment of a particularly eventful school assembly was a wildly vivid experience, and not merely because we were already in a gym (Judson Church’s basement space looks uncannily like the one in which I spent so many desperate hours of “physical education”). Weaver’s fictional house of learning has been set upon by scatological vandals, and the principal himself has had to clean up the poo (whose artful distribution throughout the “lavatories” the he describes in gleeful detail). There is no easy clean-up for this mess.

The principal’s public break-down in the face of all of this excrement is followed by a visit from some wildlife rangers bearing birds of prey. It proves to be less of an amusement for the children than a reminder that the truth, though painful, is a form of expiation. Weaver’s narrative is book-ended by the Pledge of Allegiance, which opens the assembly, and a free-flying Golden Eagle, who, perched on the shoulders of one of the tender young students, scares the lot of them into confessing their sins.

This purgatory episode reminds me a great deal of one of Robert Rauschenberg’s most familiar works — Canyon of 1959. This particular Combine painting features a taxidermy Bald Eagle — close cousin to the Golden one above, the one with a yen for the truth. Mounted on a cardboard box, it floats in front of the surface at the bottom of a large square canvas filled with the artist’s usual messy grid of paint, found objects, and photo-collage. Balanced by a forlorn pillow that hangs bound by a rope below the picture, the bird spreads its wings as if to take off into the future while still weighted by the past. Collaged onto the surface of the canvas, to the left of and above the eagle, is a faded postcard of the Statue of Liberty. Suspended there, slightly off kilter, it is a fragile reminder of the decrepit country to which this decaying bird is coupled. Can the offal that clogs Weaver’s school restrooms and our own painful history ever be fully expurgated?

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