Whew! Age, a performance by Marisa Olson at PS122 in New York, is about the twin concerns of chilling out and heating up and chilling out and heating up.
In a set composed of cardboard crystal shards outlined in dayglo duct tape and cheap-o Persian rugs sparkling with glitter and tinsel, Olson interacts with the video projection of a customer-service rep-slash-self-help guru (played by Olson, herself).
On the one hand, the guru character leads Olson inside herself on a mission to “chill out” and stop worrying about all the things she thinks she needs.
It’s a sort of pop-Zen-New Age stand-by: eliminate your desires to see yourself as a being blinded by desire.
To some extent, it works.
Olson comes to the stage in a translucent mask and the guru is able to get her to take the mask off (there’s a gag where after Olson takes the mask off, it reveals another mask, but the guru is sharp enough to have her remove that mask, too).
On the other hand, the guru is a sleazy con-man, convincing Olson to put on blinders—avoiding hope in more rigorously intellectual traditions such as empirical science, post-structuralism and psychoanalysis.
And, in a musical montage in the middle of the show, the new age approach of the guru is marketed as a cheesy, 100% guaranteed enlightenment or your money back-style video series.
This tension between sleaze and truism is explored in a moment when the guru demands of Olson to put her finger in her mouth and imagine that her finger is a glacier.
Olson does so and the guru says to be as chilled as the glacier.
This starts to work, but then one remembers that the glaciers are melting.
And this melting—ostensibly due to climate change—is what created anxiety for Olson in the first place.
Between wisdom and bullshit, chilling and heating, going in to one’s self and back out to the world, is the space Whew! Age inhabits.
It is, the performance tells us, after the New Age of crystals and Enya.
The Whew Age doesn’t profess to offer peace of mind through true enlightenment, but a piece of mind through its demonstrating the impossibility of true enlightenment.
In and back out, truth and illusion, in a pattern.