This half-hour piece, billed as “a video docudrama,” manages to work in several of the infamous apologies from the #MeToo era. “The Sprezzaturameron,” available for free on the Baryshnikov Arts Center website through May 31, most extensively quotes Harvey Weinstein’s 2017 statement (“I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different….” etc.) although recited by performer Scott McElroy, without identifying the original speaker.
But we also hear Donald Trump’s apology for the Access Hollywood tape in voiceover (“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize.”), and see video snippets of the apologies from Anthony Weiner (“While some of what was posted today was true and some was not, there is no questions that what I did was wrong…”) Logan Paul (“I’m ashamed of myself. I’m disappointed in myself. I promise to be better…”) and Tiger Woods (“I am deeply sorry for the irresponsible an selfish behavior I engaged in…”) — all distorted (and/or enhanced) by elaborate psychedelic-style computer-generated imagery.
Afterward, McElroy and Tei Blow, the two performance artists that comprise the Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (ROKE), sit at the edge of a neon-blue artificial pond, and try to apply the water to their eyes, as if to manufacture tears.
It’s a fake wet moment that reflects the dry humor of this duo, who have been putting us on with a straight face in hybrid works of live performance, music and video since at least 2013 (and maybe 2006.)
There is enough that’s (drily) funny and imaginative and pointed and technically sophisticated in “The Sprezzaturameron” to make me all the more disappointed in it – a disappointment for which I feel I should apologize.
In an introduction to the piece, Tei Blow tells us that what we’re about to see is “Book 1: The Apologia,” of a planned longer episodic “The Sprezzateurameron” (the title refers to an Italian word, sprezzateura, which describes art that pretends to be without effort.) But this supposed first episode is itself full of scattershot episodes, presented as if history uncovered by a museum curator of a more “diverse, just and equitable” future, who speaks in voiceover in a refined, female, and slightly robotic voice. Some of these scenes are wonderful: There are several that amount to an art world spoof (complete with some gorgeous imagery) in which the voiceover explains how McElroy and Blow cloned themselves to create everybody from their “art assistants,” who do all the work, to their board of trustees. Some scenes are odd, albeit clever, and go on too long: McElroy and Blow talk about how they like their salads right into the ears of what looks like a robot from the future. Some are just baffling: McElroy draws and describes a picture. Both performers are dressed in floor-length white robes, indicating the future or the past, or maybe nothing at all.
Whatever point they are trying to make about the #MeToo apologies gets lost in all this cleverness. Perhaps that’s the point. In his intro, Blow advises us not to watch with our full attention. “You don’t have to look at the screen if you don’t want to. It might actually be better.”
The key to unlocking “The Sprezzaturameron” may be evident in a 2018 interview about the origins of the Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble:
“We started working together because we were Craigslist roommates. I moved into a loft where Tei was living, about twelve years ago. We started writing songs for a musical about ancient Egypt. It comes out of playing music together and being stoned and having stoned ideas, I guess. Maybe that’s still what we do a little bit.”