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Gary Zhexi Zhang, Waste Paper: Opera Dead Cat Bounce

19 Apr 2024 8-10pm

Eastside Projects
Birmingham B9 4AR

Overview

In the second of our forays into the world of contemporary opera we are delighted to host this oratorio about finance and catastrophe.

Dead Cat Bounce is a collaboration between Gary Zhexi Zhang and Waste Paper Opera (Klara Kofen and James Oldham) exploring financial alchemy and the unmaking of reality in the time of catastrophe. Staged within a sculptural installation, the performance takes the form of an oratorio, a mode of baroque performance in which instruments and voice are used to tell a sacred narrative.

The work unfolds over five interwoven vignettes of pre-emptive catastrophe. In China (2016), five hitmen arrive in court to discover that they have each subcontracted another to kill the same real estate developer. At the palace of Louis XVI (1788), thirty Swiss virgins are having their teeth checked in order to secure the national debt. In Miami (2027), an insurance broker redrafts a contract for a house that is already underwater. In Jerusalem (589 BC), the prophet Jeremiah weeps incessantly for the impending wrath of an unforgiving god. In earthquake-struck Japan (1855), a brothel-owner pays tribute to a catfish deity as she surveys the sunlit ruins of the city.

Musically, the work draws loosely on Jomelli’s Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, interpreted through Waste Paper Opera’s approach bringing together the absurd with the sacred, improvisatory elements and scored material.

Dwelling in the strange light of speculative times, Dead Cat Bounce is a story of unpayable debts, entangled histories and repeated jokes.

Over the course of 2024 Dead Cat bounce will also tour to Nottingham Contemporary (Nottingham) and Arts Catalyst (Sheffield), with the collaboration of Radar Loughborough and Birmingham Opera Company. The work was commissioned by Arts Catalyst (Sheffield) and Medialab Matadero (Madrid) in 2022. It was developed at London Performance Studios and Wysing Arts Centre, and premiered at Somerset House.

Dead Cat Bounce is supported by Arts Council England, Marchus Trust, Hinrichsen Foundation and Birmingham Opera Company.

Credits

Music /Chorus Master – James Oldham
Libretto & Design – Gary Zhexi Zhang / Klara Kofen

Gabriella Liandu – The Historian
Meili Li – The Prophet Jeremiah
Geoff Clapham – The Real Estate Agent of Miami
Klara Kofen – Mark I
Gary Zhexi Zhang – Mark II
Sarah Farmer – Violin
Chihiro Ono – Viola
Sam Wooster – Trumpet
Aaron Diaz – Sousaphone
Anna Palmer – Keyboards
Cameron Graham – Percussion

About Waste Paper Opera

Waste Paper Opera is an experimental music theatre collective, run by composer, researcher and performer James Oldham, and artist, writer and designer Klara Kofen. WPO collaborates with performers, artists, researchers and makers to create multimedia performances. Their interest centres around the potential of opera as a form of interdisciplinary making to convey and transform knowledge, and connect between fields, practices and ideas.

Recent works include ‘Syrup Tracing’ (2020), an Ideas of Noise commission that reimagined Cyrano de Bergerac’s 1657 science-fiction tract Voyage sur la Lune, using DNA sequences of a newly discovered dictyostelium as the basis for dramaturgy and musical material.

Their first collaboration with Gary Zhexi Zhang was a Medical Research Council funded project that explored the life-cycle of parasites, which culminated in a performance entitled ‘Vorephilia’ in spring 2018 at the Cambridge Junction. For ‘‘i’-the opera’ (Tête à Tête 2017, Glasgow International 2018), they collaborated with programmer Janelle Shane on a neural network libretto. WPO has hosted workshops at Central Saint Martins (OurHaus Festival – 100 Years of Bauhaus, Oct. 2019), and Limehouse Townhall (L (AI) BOUR, ‘useless l(ai)bour’, Nov.2019) and curated the interdisciplinary performance series Whole Punch at the Rosemary Branch Theatre.

About Gary Zhexi Zhang

Gary Zhexi Zhang’s works explore systemic connections between cosmology, technology and economy. He operates individually, in collaboration and within organisational frameworks. He recently edited a book of fictions, essays and interviews about finance and time, Catastrophe Time! (Strange Attractor Press, 2023). His most recent film and solo exhibition, METAMERS, was presented at EPFL Pavilions in February 2024. His works have been shown at Totalab, Shanghai; UCCA Dune, Beidaihe; Para Site, Hong Kong; Inside Out Art Museum, Beijing. He was a key collaborator in dankEconogy1_ALIENVillage at Eastside Projects in 2023.

He has taught as a Lecturer in Critical Studies at Goldsmiths MFA and Adjunct Lecturer at Parsons School of Design in New York, where he also co-founded design studio, Foreign Objects. In 2023, he was an R&D fellow at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai and artist in residence at EPFL, Lausanne. His writing on art, technology and economy have appeared in Frieze, ArtReview, Verge Journal of Global Asias, Journal of Cultural Economy, MIT Journal of Design and Science, among others. Recent/upcoming books and chapters include Against Reduction (chapter, MIT Press, 2021), Incomputable Earth (chapter, Bloomsbury, upcoming), Platforms: Around, In Between and Through (Singapore Biennale, 2023); Future Art Ecosystems III (with Victoria Ivanova; Serpentine, 2022).

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