It’s Rachel Rosenthal’s 86th birthday in “filename: FUTURFAX.”
Alone in a room, she lights a stub of a tiny candle and sings “Happy Birthday” to herself. As a celebratory treat, she has bought three long, limp carrots. Gingerly, she removes them from her cloth shopping bag, pats and kisses them, and lays them on the table. “Six hours in line for these,” she exclaims. “It’s worth it.”
The year is 2012 and the Earth is collapsing toward virtual destruction. Armed hooligans could break in at any moment and make off with her rare vegetables.
In her terrifying yet hilarious solo performance, premiered here at the Whitney Museum, Rosenthal inhabits this dystopia, bringing to life a vision of the future that she suggests most certainly awaits us if we don’t change our ways.
As in earlier pieces, such as “Pangaean Dreams” and “Rachel’s Brain,” Rosenthal combines text, movement and sound score into a compelling--if discomfiting--examination of human hubris. More shaman than performance artist, Rosenthal is a contemporary Cassandra, an Earth prophet, sent to dramatize our doom.
Much of Rosenthal’s 75-minute monologue (“You think I ramble on? That’s what happens when there’s no more TV”) centers on our concepts of the progression of time, and, especially, of eternity.
Purgatory, she reasons, is “time bought out of eternity--what a scam!” If Rosenthal hints, on the one hand, that we’re living in the waiting-room of Purgatory now, as we use up the Earth’s resources without regard for the future, on the other, she dissents from the very assumption of eternity, at least as it applies to human beings.
Word from the future reaches her via fax, telling of a world where, after the calamity, humans live on in self-sustainable communities--sterile, domed biospheres where implants keep their behavior within moral bounds, and “no art has been manufactured since a long time ago when our lawmakers deemed it superfluous and subversive, and we have trouble conceptualizing what it might have amounted to in the past.”
Before long, a “computer-generated clarification” (a recorded male voice) explains, these last remaining humans (all of them female) will die out, “and the species will be extinct.”
But Rosenthal doesn’t survive to read this addendum to the futurfax. She’s been shot by the hooligans who have come for her carrots. She lies motionless on the stage, as the fax slides onto her body, and the machine whirs on and on and on.