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Review of Richard Foreman's new mixed-media play WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD!

Review of Richard Foreman's new mixed-media play WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD!

Richard Foreman's new mixed-media play WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! purports to be a response to a world in which visionary sages and poets are being replaced by specialists who make platitudes out of the immediately observable. Supposedly here the unconscious fights back to life in a shape resembling "the stone that rolls up the hill backwards" (the evil one) and from such "evil", life renews itself.

Like all of his Ontological-Hysteric Theater work, Richard Foreman’s narrative notes tells us little of the experience of the work. So I have been mulling over Foreman's WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! for days before writing a word. Then I realized that in many ways the play touches on some realizations about the current international art scene that I have been experiencing and thus reading about, most devastatingly in Julian Stallabrass’ small book “Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction” (Oxford University Press). In it Stallabrass describes a theory of the art market which explains the current art world’s fucked-up situation somewhat along the same lines that Foreman's WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! does: specifically arguing that behind contemporary multiplicity and apparent capriciousness lies a bleak uniformity and that this amounts to making culture uncurious, timid and stupid in the service of unquestioning consumer conformity; a pop ethos apparently enforced by some dim-witted and unsaid social-climbing consensus. Ostensibly WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! suggests that the invention of the airplane (controlled by a horde of baby-doll pilots) is the death knell of the unconscious mind – and this suggested to me how the unregulated insular contemporary art world seems recently to be seeking to dupe newbie rubes into being enthusiastic participants in the dumbing-down values useful to big business; values which address all communications to the lowest common denominator of the mass. This consensus impulse is evidenced in the Ontological-Hysteric Theater as a repeating yearly concept, as it seems to seek out an impossibly contradictory paradigm shift that looks like things we already know from it. Yep, that sounds pretty damn sleep inducing – but also a true reflection of the deceptive and self-deceptive Cheney-Bush neo-con epoch that we are enduring. So, the obvious question to the Ontological-Hysteric Theater is: what about art’s responsibility of resistance? Perhaps surprisingly, for me the answer is to be found within the challenge of style.

Richard Foreman comes from a generation stimulated by the open-field of confrontations and agitations typical of post-minimalism/post-conceptualism that turned towards the absurd for political reasons. But what strikes me today about Foreman’s play is that even in the midst of our fervent political angst - based on our current conditions of great distrust and deception coupled with feelings of helplessness – WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! mostly devolves into a lame, if lampooning, form of easy fun – almost a neo-abstraction that seems to me no more than decorative eye-candy. So I am wondering what about Richard Foreman’s commitment to the idea that the core of his art is that which purports to transcend the banal world and portray a wider vision of political awareness inclusive of the private spiritual, ecstatic and numinous themes accessible through the subjective realm of each individual; a self-perception which reveals in minute particulars the full spectrum of the extensive social-political dimensions of the mind? The question is: how does WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! itself wake people up? I am sorry to say that it does not.

My deep feeling is that today art must indict - or at the very least play the role of the jester who unmasks the unspeakable lies of the powerful. Americans have been deceived and victimized by our government’s propaganda and if art cannot rebuff and contest this grave situation by fueling the political will and imagination of resistance, I wonder why we need it at all. In the post 9/11 political world we need investigation to heal our souls and so an art that demands a mental mood of investigation would support such a need. Thus a complex and ambiguous Ontological-Hysteric Theater play of resistance and investigation would be increasingly valuable to an analytical social movement based on skepticism while undermining market predictabilities as it strengthens unique personal powers of imagination and critical thinking. At his best Foreman can counter the effects of our age of simplification - effects which have resulted from the glut of consumer oriented entertainment messages and political propaganda which the mass media feeds us daily in the interests of corporate profit and governmental psychological manipulations.

Though for me WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD was not Foreman’s best work (I still consider that to be Fuck Hotel and secondly Maria Del Bosco (Sex and Racing Cars: A Sound Opera)) it still knocked lightly on my inner world and so sparked the life of my imagination with its intense but sublimated drives, suspicions, fears, and loves. At least it acknowledges that our inner world is the only true source of meaning and thus purposes a form of a-political visionary art of investigation. So The Ontological-Hysteric Theater is still a way to discover for ourselves our inner life, thus with WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD we see that in contrast to our market-frenzied materialist culture, which trains us to develop the eyes of outer perception, even an a-politically visionary style of art can encourage the development of our inner sight based on our individual intuitive inner eye. Thus I can recommend it, if mildly.

Joseph Nechvatal


WAKE UP MR. SLEEPY! YOUR UNCONSCIOUS MIND IS DEAD! is the Richard Foreman's second mixed-media project, following on the 2006 “Zomboid!”. Sophie Havilland and the Bridge Project collaborate with Mr. Foreman on the accompanying video presentation, shot in Lisbon. The cast includes Joel Israel, Chris Mirto, Stefanie Neukirch, Stephanie Silver and James Peterson.

Richard Foreman’s blog, with his notes and interviews, is also at

Every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8p.m.
Students $17; all Saturday seats $28

For tickets, call 212-352-3101