I was excited to see the work of United Visual Artists who were in charge of the installation for the Massive Attack v Adam Curtis show that played at the Park Avenue Armory last week. The room itself was impressive, providing plenty of space for the sophisticated visual presentation that immersed the audience in a series of coordinated images being projected on the screens surrounding them. Massive Attack provided the live soundtrack (from behind translucent scrims) but fans that didn’t read the show description were probably disappointed to discover only two tracks from the band’s catalog were included in a soundtrack that featured songs from The Jesus & Mary Chain, Bauhaus, Suicide and others. Reggae legend and frequent Massive collaborator Horace Andy along with vocalist Elizabeth Fraser, from the Cocteau Twins and Massive’s Mezzanine album, performed with the band on several songs and sounded incredible.
The film, compiled by artist Adam Curtis, was a narrative collage built largely from outtakes from the BBC’s archives that were never broadcast, footage that very few people have ever been given access to. The show’s message has drawn mixed reviews. Some of the connections worked better than others. The line he draws from Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the world’s biggest rock band months before his eventual suicide, covering a song by residents of Leadbelly, one of the world’s darkest prisons who used the same song as a source of hope, was brilliant. Conversely, Donald Trump and Ted Turner are undeniable assholes but I’m not sure they belong in the same category of villain as Vladimir Putin, whose lifeless eyes can send chills down your spine even in a screen test never intended to air. It was however easy to agree with his underlying theme urging the audience to rebel against the idea that our best future is a predictable one: If you like this, you’ll love this…
Afterwards, our friend Ben from UVA brought us backstage for a quick tour where he explained how everything worked. It reinforced what an ambitious project this was, requiring some focused, high level work from an impressive team of creative minds, all approaching the project from a different angle. Just pulling this show off on a basic execution level is an accomplishment in itself, but having it look and sound as good as it did is something to be proud of.
Backstage we enjoyed a glass of victory champagne with the crew and inadvertently captured this amazing photo bomb of Adam Curtis himself. The highlight of my wife’s night was undoubtedly meeting Liz Fraser, who was funny and engaging. It was cool to see the French artist JR there and apparently the night before Banksy, Thom Yorke and Sean Penn were all in attendance. Nights like these always make me thankful to still be living in New York, those brief moments where you feel like you’re standing in the center of the world.