ACT I, SCENE I
Midnight in the City of Brotherly Love. The wind has subsided, the trees are still, there are possibly six moons in view—many moons.
Enter ULTRAMAN, having woken from a dream, attended by PREACHERMAN who sits in a wicker chair, staring at the stars. PHILADELPHIA itself is gazing at the stars toward heaven, questioning her name and its Greek derivation.
I am a woman. For years now I have misunderstood my name. How could my father give me such a name, “Brotherly Love”? Did we not love my sisters too? Was I supposed to discover the meaning of love through my name? What kind of love was that supposed to be? Even as I sit here in Pennsylvania, here in the United States of America in the year of our Lord 2016, I know not what I am. Dear Preacherman, pray tell me, if you can, the meaning of my name? And where exactly am I?
I would rather not.
No. (Pause; PREACHERMAN gets up from his chair and turns toward the city—ULTRAMAN still lies on the ground.) Alright, Philadelphia: for you, I’ll try. I’ll gather up my resources and say something. Each night I wander in the darkness. I feel myself to be distant from you. I see myself in ways that others don’t understand. I find peace in this darkness. Silence. My hands extend into the night. My ears turn into cups for catching rain. You may laugh and think, “Preacherman has really gotten a case of poetry!” and that may be true. I have a tendency to speak for long periods of time, but I only find that time in silence. I share that time out of silence. The silence I share with you, Philadelphia, is how you say your name phonetically. (PREACHERMAN speaks aloud the silence.) You see everything that everyone was talking about, about love, about brotherhood, fraternity and the like—well, if you listen carefully. It sounds like: (again, he speaks aloud the silence). Isn’t it funny how some of us can hear that silence, your true name…
(ULTRAMAN rolls over and rests his hands beneath his head.)
Your true name is godlike, Philadelphia. The Gods are not from here. I am not a GOD. But I have seen them in outer space from a distance. I have seen monsters too. They crush cities like you—the monsters. The Gods are different. They work levers; they calculate. You wouldn’t know it but everyday they play Musica Universalis, The Music of the Spheres. Once when I visited their lab where they were working on a precise vibration, it was like an electric guitar. The year was 2155. As I was leaving the workshop to return here today, I asked one of the Gods: Who makes art? The Gods or the artists? Life or death? The God looked me square in my electronic eye and said: Philadelphia.
What kind of bullshit story is that?!?!
Wait, I think I understand.
Understand what? That you make art?
Yes, I think so.
Look, I get that you are having some sort of identity crisis, but Philly, I do not think we are talking about the same thing…me and Ultraman. I was saying that brotherly love is silent, or that whenever we try to speak, the language that is used to express brotherly love hasn’t been concocted yet. I talk and the future is silent. It won’t stop talking this silence. And remember I found the silence after years and years in the darkness—Death’s Headquarters. So many years collecting my vocabulary there in that place. Then I speak. Then Silence. Philadelphia, it’s hard for me to sit here—ok, stand here—while this Robot tells me that Philadelphia is Art, makes art and that art is somehow love. Love between whom? Ultraman is a robot who talked to a God that made a guitar that shakes the universe. It’s preposterous to think love could come from such a place.
I see love. It radiates like aurora borealis. The Gods would not lie.
The Gods lie all the time. Death does not lie. Darkness does not lie.
(Shaken and caught off guard) Do you feel that? A vibration. A vibration from 2155. The Gods are listening.
END ACT I
ACT II, SCENE I
Scene I of Act II is what happened on the news that day. Whatever is cycling through MSNBC or Fox News plays for 15 minutes.
ACT II, SCENE II
The office of ICA Philadelphia, moments after lunch on a Friday afternoon. The spring weather is beautiful. Students of the University of Pennsylvania are out in full force and can be viewed from the office window. A popular song plays. Enter SHADOW OF THE INSTITUTION variously interacting with office furniture.
SHADOW OF THE INSTITUTION
(Lingering over each line—slowly, very slowly.) I am going to lie across this chair. I am not going to think. The day is bright. I am a cat in the sun. I see myself, my other curator self at the computer working. What am I doing? Ah yes, it looks like I am thinking about the Rodney McMillian exhibition. What’s that I am writing? I can’t see over my shoulder. Always the case—I can never see what myself is doing. But I know that I am doing something. Something called THE BLACK SHOW. Each time we walk into the gallery I lose myself. The room is dark. Dark Floors. Dark Paintings. Dark Materials. Dark Subject Matter. Darkness. Darkness. Darkness and more Darkness—
THE BLACK SHOW. Sometimes when I am in the gallery I hop from shadow to shadow. The Artist’s Shadow. The Moon’s Shadow. The American Shadow. The Shadow of the Iraq War. The Shadow of Suffering. The Shadow of Childhood. I am a shade among the shadow. Shadows create shadows. Moon Shadow…Moon Shadows…There! Rodney McMillian’s Many Moons! It is a painting that casts a shadow. It is like a Richard Serra sculpture, but better. Serra wants to kill me. The painting has all its nerves exposed. It is paper. Nerves made of paper. Nerves made of ink. Serra used to catch lead. Now he just scares me. Of course, as a shadow, he could never hurt me. I can even slide under the steel monsters he makes. Art is funny when you are a shadow. Not “funny strange.” Funny, like funny ha-ha. I never get to see it. I am just a shadow. Art, I overheard, is a reflection. American art is a series of reflections. What is THE BLACK SHOW? Is it a reflection? Is it like me, a Shadow? I don’t think so. It’s neither reflection nor shadow. It’s a projection into space. Space is infinite.
(Enter POST-IT NOTE)
Write it down.
END ACT II
ACT III, SCENE I
Sunset. PHILADELPHIA ruminates on the conversation from two nights ago at the Gates of Hell; ULTRAMAN and PREACHERMAN sit next to THE THINKER.
(Enter an ARTIST IN A VIDEO [AIV])
Hey there, Philadelphia. It’s nice to be back.
(Quickly turning away from the Gates of Hell) Oh, hello. It’s so nice to see you walking around, AIV. What’s it been—a couple of years? What brings you back to our city?
I was in a video at ICA. Or I should say, it kind of looked like me in a video. I came for shelter. Can you give me Shelter? Give me Shelter! Nah, I’m just messing with you. Just passing through. I was walking by and I saw you guys there and you know…Hello!! Gotta run. See you soon.
(Enter CAMILLE CLAUDEL in bronze splendor peeling herself from the Gates of Hell, leaving a passageway, a hole to Hell.)
Bonjour. Philadelphia, you look so beautiful in this light.
Thank you. That’s kind of you to say so.
You are a sight for sore eyes. I have been looking into Hell all these years. Rodin was such a prick! What a delight to see Sunraflected in your eyes. The last light on the planet. Fading. Fading. America…all this time and I have never been.
Good evening to you, sir.
What sir? Who are you speaking to? I am a lady? We, us two, are ladies.
Good evening, Madame Claudel. Ultraman is a robot. He sometimes confuses men and ladies. But I think as a robot, he understands ladies more than most men. He is a bit fuzzy, it seems to me, about God, but Ultraman is different. Maybe it’s the time travel. Maybe it’s cause he has engaged with monsters. He sees things differently.
I can still hear that guitar riff he sent back from the future in my head.
(Enter THE THINKER)
It’s getting dark now.
Now it feels peaceful.
Yes, like death.
I traveled to death once. Death in the future, that is to say. America in the future.
It was peaceful. We all got along. The Thinker, Preacherman, The City of Brotherly Love, Camille, Hell, The Gods. We were all dead. Heaven. Darkness.
(Room goes Dark.)
Zachary Cahill is an artist who lives in Chicago. His writings have appeared in numerous publications, including Afterall, Artforum, and Mousse, among others.