Born Again

What would you do if you woke up naked and alone inside the belly of a cow? Jason Pizzarello's InsideOut—a 45-minute multimedia performance that dramatizes the answer to that question—is a whimsical take on the agony of the human condition. Artists from Beckett to the Beatles have long attempted to depict the frustrating absurdity of not knowing why we are here or where we're going, but as far as I know, none have done so like this. While InsideOut doesn't break new ground on the topics of loneliness and insecurity, it does manage to represent the same old struggles in a fairly novel way.

A young man wakes up gasping for air. We see portions of his naked, blood-doused body projected in extreme close-up on a translucent screen. The eye of the camera blinks at random, and for a few moments the man is only an eye and then a gaping mouth and then an entire face. The camera pans out finally and continues to train its eye on him from different angles; as we watch him, we too are disoriented, trying to make a coherent picture of this man and his surroundings. He is scared and seemingly alone.

And then, from nowhere, a voice answers his, and he is no longer alone. A woman, it seems, shares his predicament and calls out to him from another space. Her picture, as tightly focused as his, appears on the screen. We can see them both, huddled meekly in their spaces, though they cannot see each other. Their conversation flitters from the logical and speculative to the hysterical and hopeless. They are in no way connected to themselves or to each other except that they search for answers to questions they don't fully know.

The woman is variously crafty, playful, and vindictive; she seems at times to be unwilling to help the frightened man. She is more accustomed to her surroundings, but cannot (or will not) answer all the questions he has for her. As we follow their conversation, we learn bits and pieces of their history, their relationship to each other. He is Harold, and she is Dana. They are siblings. They are dead. Or at least they think they are. Their hosts, the cows, have agreed to take them in.

Dana seems resigned to their odd fate because at least it is something she knows. What if the space outside the cow's belly is worse? But Harold is not so sure. In the performance piece's climactic moment, he decides to punch his way out. By now the pair of video images is being projected on the white plaster sides of two life-sized cows. The screen that has shielded them from us is pulled away at the moment that Dana reveals their whereabouts to her brother. As Harold breaks through the cow's side, we see his naked body being "born" as though from a womb.

The visual effect is dazzling for a show as seemingly low budget as this one is. Kudos to video designer Lindsey Bostwick and director Aaron Rhyne for faithfully recreating the images that must have seemed so otherworldly in Pizzarello's mind.

Instinctively, Dana follows her brother, and they are both free from the cows that bore them. Free, that is, until the gasping for breath and the screaming begin again. This time it is Dana who has just woken up disoriented and alone. Several seconds after their escape, Dana and Harold are seemingly confined again, doomed to die and be born forever. Perhaps the idea of "death" here is simply this cycle's state of non-being...within a cow.

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