“Insert your face into this,” orders the diminutive, cowled figure all in white, thrusting an oxygen mask towards me. “This air is gathered at 15,000 feet, high in the Himalayas.” Obediently, I breathe. “Only God,” she intones, “breathes air this fresh.” It’s part of a sales pitch, guaranteeing me a supply of fresh air in a world whose atmosphere is growing more toxic – but before I can reach for my credit card, I’m rushed from the room, handed a plateful of chocolates, and told to go and serve them to the high net worth patrons at a white-cube gallery opening.
“Only God,” she intones, “breathes air this fresh”
With something of the shoestring chutzpah of an Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, in collaboration with New York-based Creative Time, has transformed a warren of rooms, stairwells and elevators in the Brooklyn Army Terminal into a politically charged take on the haunted house. Instead of sheeted ghosts and pier-end hobgoblins, however, this chamber of horrors is peopled with figures representing environmental catastrophe, indifferent corporations, humanitarian crisis and those worst of bogeymen, our political leaders.
Reyes’s sketches – each lasting barely a couple of minutes before you’re sped on to the next, like a nightful of bad dreams – are spiked with an impish sense of humour and much threadbare charm. A Concerned Women for America-style meeting turns ugly after one of the home-defending housewives accidentally shoots another; an elevator is converted into a TARDIS flying passengers into a future in which clean water is an unaffordable commodity; high school girls perform a song-and-dance number combining the unusual trio of Grease, The Crucible, and the criminalisation of abortion.
Like its two most recent New York artworks – Fly By Night, by Duke Riley, in which flocks of pigeons were fitted with LED lights so their flight patterns bloomed and flared over the Manhattan skyline as dusk fell, and Kara E. Walker’s extraordinary, confrontational and moving piece on race and slavery at the old Domino sugar factory, A Subtlety – this is high-concept, playful, showy, happily unsubtle, and perfect for date night. Who wouldn’t want to spend their first date stumbling together through the VR simulation of a forest set in a future when national parks have been privatised, or discovering in a crisis-hit boardroom that your Tinder match is likelier to vote to retain his own personal wealth than approve a pay out to thousands of dispossessed workers?
A climactic scene allows participants to walk through one of three doors – TRUMP, CLINTON or OTHER
While the broad humour sometimes makes for crass punchliness, it gets its points across. A climactic scene allows participants to walk through one of three doors – TRUMP, CLINTON or OTHER – after which all take place in a rumbustious game in which teams pummel a giant inflatable globe back and forth. It’s clever, witty, and pointed (guess which team you end up on if you opt for OTHER?). What it isn’t, particularly, is scary; I have a pretty low threshold for frights, but still felt that this hour-long haunted house could have used some variety of tone.
The ideologies Doomocracy satirises – restricting a woman’s right to choose, say, or promoting a corporation’s right not to have to abide by the law – are not subtle ones, and this show rightly does not tackle them with subtlety. But neither are their proponents well-mannered, playful, or much open to debate; if this is meant to be an exercise in consciousness-raising it falls far short. On a Saturday night in Brooklyn, an hour of liberal politicking is preaching to the converted, and sometimes during the evening I found myself picturing Doomocracy standing outside a vicious fascist rally holding up a placard marked ‘Down with this sort of thing’.
Fortunately, the second presidential debate was on television a couple of nights later – a reminder that while Doomocracy’s thrills may be cheap and its targets easy ones, the scares that it riffs on are likely to give us all sleepless nights for the next four years. C
Doomocracy runs weekends, Friday-Sunday, until 6th November 2016 and is ticketed. Full details here