Performance

The Politics of Parody: Free Cooper Union at e-flux

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Free Cooper Union reads/performs at e-flux (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

For a few hours last Sunday, e-fluxs Chinatown offices were bathed in red light as Free Cooper Union held an interpretive reading of the 41-page trustee meeting transcript first leaked to the Village Voice over the summer. Sixteen students sat at a long, boardroom-style table, and for nearly three hours worked their way through the text, vivifying the occasionally shocking, mostly clinical university officials’ exchanges with their own banter and repartée. Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha’s lines were delivered in a robot voice, played with Apple text-to-speech software, with the remaining participants acted by individual members of Free Cooper Union.

Cooper2-320The event had all the makings of radical political theater: cartoonish uniforms, a raucous audience, a sputtering fog machine, and plates of miniature pigs-in-a-blanket all unfolded in the awkward glare of 14 red lamps, two videographers, a photographer, and a sound engineer. The lamps, first installed when the group occupied Bharucha’s office in the spring, have become something of a Free Cooper Union signature, appearing also in their end-of-year show in May.

The transcript itself, staple-bound copies of which were provided to audience members, is a significant text in the ongoing struggle against Cooper’s financial misfortunes and embattled administration. Of particular note is the final debate between board members on whether or not to admit the protestors demonstrating outside the September 2012 meeting. This is the climax of the performance — the deliberation over engaging in dialogue with the very people now reading the lines. Fittingly, the reenactment at e-flux ended at the moment in the transcript when the board members allowed Free Cooper Union to enter the room.

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The Politics of Destruction took place at e-flux (311 Grand Street, Chinatown, Manhattan) on November 24 from 6 to 9pm.

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