About thirty years ago, I met William S. Burroughs and had him sign my hardcover copy of Naked Lunch, which I duly lost. By contrast, R. Luke Dubois met Burroughs and found a clever idea. He came up with a literary art exhibition that basically out-Burroughed Burroughs.
The cut-up technique, which Burroughs adopted from the Dadaists and popularized, involved taking a preexisting work and basically slicing and dicing it into a new work. The centerpiece of Dubois’s newest solo show at Bitforms gallery, Portraits, features an Hermes Rocket Typewriter, the same typewriter on which Burroughs worked and with which DuBois cut the text from Junkie into twenty five staccato-like poems hand-typed on paper. Additionally, on a pedestal holding the Hermes Rocket, hangs a pair of headphones. Through it, one can hear the old Beatnik himself growling in his distinct voice, doing a three hour reading of his 1953 work, while the text is projected onto a screen a few feet away. This piece, “Prosody,” is a high def, single channel generative video.
But when you first enter the gallery, you’re greeted by two flat screens featuring circus performers from Circus Sarasota, loops of Gena Shvartsman, “the Juggler Extrodinaire” and “Texas” Jack Fulbright, “fastest roper in the West.” Both screens are placed in gilded wooden frames giving a folksy quaintness to our otherwise high tech age. Likewise, the third part of the show, “(Pop) Icon, Britney,” is another gilded framed flat screen. It features a 60-minute loop of still photos of the great Ms. Spears.
Flatscreen portraits are a key medium in DuBois’s work. A half a dozen of these portraits follow, all loops of musicians, each playing their instruments. (Alex Waterman, on cello, Melvin Gibbs, on electric bass, Natacha Diels, on flute, Elliot Sharp, on guitar, Bora Yoon, on vocals and instruments, Todd Reynolds on violin, and Chris McIntyre on trombone.) Since Dubois himself is an accomplished musician — you hear his music when you first enter the gallery — these works are odes to musicians he has collaborated with over the years.
His final piece, disconnected from the others, is the inkjet on paper “Self Portrait.” It is a galaxy imaging of Dubois’s email universe, ranging from 1993 to the present. The center of his universe are the people closest to him who he e-corresponds with regularly and as one goes further and further out in space, the exchanges are gradually less common. Although the concept seems amusing, there is something strangely touching when you consider those lone, one-time emails sent off to people we will probably never communicate with again. Maybe someone out there along the very fringes of the email cosmos will find my long lost copy of Naked Lunch.
R. Luke DuBois: Portraits continues at Bitforms (131 Allen Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through October 19.