Gob Squad: What does it mean to be a Vampire?

Niki Russell at the Gob Squad lecture

What kind of monster am I? A crowd of eager creatures gathers around Simon Will (one member of performance company Gob Squad), questionnaires in hand. “I am just putting the results through the computer now”, he says, as one of the other little monsters provides the corresponding bleeps and computer sound effects. ‘Zombie: warm character, with a love of laughter and an interest in durational work.’

“Monster Profiling: There are no right or wrong answers. Use your instincts and make speedy choices.” Grabbing a sheet, I blitz through the multiple choice character determination. Question 4. “Choose one of the following nights out”; definitely “dinner, fine wine and good conversation.” Even at my lightning pace, I note the category system that runs down the side. “V is for Vampire: devious, interested in modern dance, and filled with a desire to scrutinize and be seduced by beauty.” This we are told is the reason we vampires should sit at the front of the auditorium, to more easily gaze upon the beauty of the Gob Squad panellists on stage.

The other categories are explained (Ghost, Werewolf, Frankenstein’s Monster, Alien) and their positioning in the auditorium elaborated on—we look around to see who has been kept at the back to stop them asking awkward questions, or who is located near the exits, to accommodate their tendency to “fly off the handle” and leave. The only ones we can’t pin down are the Ghosts. We are warned to beware, they can sit anywhere. I suspect that one of them is next to me.

With an enticingly laid-back demeanour, members of Gob Squad explain the beginnings of their journey into the economy of fear. In 3 residencies, of which Inbetween Time is the first, they will be looking at fear and its numerous manifestations within society, exploring our safety zones in our homes, cars and shopping centres. This research will contemplate our illogical mindset, our tendency to pull up the duvet to combat fear of the dark.

Setting up their stall at the local shopping centre (with the somewhat unusual permission to do so and also to film), Gob Squad tried with varying degrees of success to entice people in with their questionnaire icebreaker. This was a means to an end, in the hope that people might buy in, making them more open to step into the unknown, and begin to construct one of the infinite scenarios for their own inner monster. Enacted in a series of short video portraits, people recount their fears and delve deeper into their monster fantasies—a security guard referring to the receptionist in the background, matter of factly states, “I will kill her.”

A variety of approaches to these ‘portraits’ is employed, often using filmic devices such as slow zoom to a static figure as the voice over begins and cross fades between human and monster—features of Gob Squad’s attempt to collide Hollywood with the everyday. This approach was seen again at the end of the presentation in a split-screen video work, displaying on one side their remake of a section of Halloween, on the other, the corresponding scene from the original. A game of ‘spot the difference’ ensues, the attention to detail enticing—seeing the Squad buying a watermelon (that would play the role of the pumpkin) earlier in the week now makes sense. On another level the implied awkwardness kicks in, the multiple takes required to superimpose the single original shot onto a completely other building and the misplacement of props to achieve continuity.

I struggled to engage visually with the ‘video portraits’, unclear about what was added by rounding them up within this structure. I was more intrigued by what was being said and delighted by the potential for these scenarios to be enacted, to intervene with the real. In a summary of where the work might go, Simon Will described, in a playfully flippant manner, the potential for a community action—a protest against fear, where everyone goes shopping dressed as Zombies. This clearly resonates with recent Gob Squad work such as King Kong Club, but is far more exhilarating in its potential to exist outside of a contained environment and to take to the street. This collective deed could allow those participating to contribute proactively and decisively to an uprising. I often find those flippant remarks to be the ones I most wholeheartedly want to go with, and despite my Vampire classification I am eager and willing to join this new Zombie community.

Gob Squad are a British-German group working collectively, without a director, on the devising, design and performing of their productions. Permanent members of the group are Johanna Freiburg, Sean Patten, Berit Stumpf, Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost and Simon Will. For Me, The Monster, Gob Squad are joined by video artist Robert Shaw and sound designers Sebastian Bark and Jeff McGrory. www.gobsquad.com.

Gob Squad, Me, The Monster, Arnolfini Theatre, Feb 3

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg.

© Niki Russell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

3 February 2006