Marianne Vitale’s Own Frontier

Published November 20, 2013

ABOVE: A PERFORMANCE SHOT FROM MARIANNE VITALE’S “THE MISSING BOOK OF SPURS”

“Fuck. We’re like a badass bunch of freaks!” says Marianne Vitale, flipping through the playbill for “The Missing Book of Spurs,” her old-Western-meets-psychedelic-whorehouse Performa 13 show, premiering this week at her studio in Long Island City.

She is sitting with her assistant Cole Mohr and actor Caleb Addison at French bistro Lucien in the East Village, discussing the program, which as of Sunday consisted mostly of lewd made-up biographies for company members who hadn’t submitted theirs yet. All are awaiting a round of filet mignons—a well-deserved indulgence the morning after a daylong rehearsal that by dusk had disintegrated into drinking and dancing lasting past midnight. But even these pastimes are integral to their performance. Set to a score by former Ratatat member Mike Stroud, the show takes place in a saloon bar and involves improvisational dance.

Vitale’s day has been the longest. The artist arrived at 7 a.m.—four hours earlier than everyone else—to prepare the evening’s dinner. Years ago, she would serve up veritable feasts regularly hosting decadent, sometimes raunchy, dinner parties for circles of creative friends. She says cooking gives her time to think.

Watching one of the last rehearsals, it’s clear she’s been ruminating a lot on the details; she’s maybe even a bit consumed (the large and very delicious meal she proffered, with mashed sweet potato, fish, turkey, hummus, and guacamole, would certainly suggest she had had a lot of time for reflection). When most of the cast has left, save for a few drinking Champagne behind the saloon bar, she keeps the crew around to discuss technicalities. The lights, in one scene, aren’t the right shade of purple. The metallic rock song, playing as bartender characters quietly set up, isn’t loud enough. At one point, one costumer, François Hugon, makes a suggestion—he is quickly hushed and instructed to “Go fuck up some cowboy uniforms.”

Yet, as each person departs, she pauses for a hug, a kiss, or an emphatic “I love you!” in lieu of barking directions. After almost two decades as an artist collaborating on short films, large installations, and performances, including a Performa 09 piece that was part of 2010’s Whitney Biennale, she realizes the importance of keeping a tight-knit team—a group that gets what she’s trying to create—because Vitale’s vision isn’t to be tampered with.

But her steadfastness makes sense when considering her end goal: “Hope. Really, sincerely,” is what she says she would like people to take from the play. “There’s no meaning,” she continues. “I just have to work. I work and I make shit.” Her audience can make of it as they wish. “If they’re not amused, then sad for them.” Their loss, indeed.  

“THE MISSING BOOK OF SPURS” WILL BE PERFORMED TONIGHT, NOVEMBER 20, THROUGH SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23.