The Original Lou and Walter Story and Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Duration: 60 min 17 sec
Format: ¾” Umatic

Jill Kroesen emerged out of the avant-garde music and art scenes in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. Kroesen studied at Mills Centre for Contemporary Music in Oakland before moving to New York in 1974 where she worked at The Kitchen and became involved in the avant-garde music scene.[1] Kroesen studied closely with artist Robert Ashley and performed in his “television opera” Perfect Lives (1978-1983), touring with the performance troupe throughout Europe.[2] Ashley became an influential figure for her work which merged visual art, theatre, and music to critique contemporary social structures and political events.

Kroesen’s performance at Western Front is a scaled-down reenactment of two performances: The Original Lou and Walter Story and Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying. In other variations, more elaborate set designs and props as well as ballerina dancers, musicians and actors appear onstage with Kroesen. At Western Front, Kroesen performs solo with a more simple set: a grand piano, a microphone stand, and a circle drawn on the floor containing pyramid sculptures with pointed red tips. The Original Lou and Walter Story was written in 1978 and offers an insightful view into an imaginary sci-fi society created by the artist. The story is told from the perspective of “Lou,” a farmer who lives in a house with four other farmers in a town belonging to the “Sodom Union.” Only men are permitted to live in the town, whereas the women, once they reach 14 years of age, are segregated to the outskirts of town to dance. The “Share If” regulates the farmers with his wife, the only woman allowed to live in the town, and for whom it is illegal to do anything but cook roast beef. The farmers take care of sheep, grow and give away potatoes so the sun won’t fall down, and generally take care of each others’ happiness—so much so that they even hold meetings as a part of the Sodom Union to make decisions about daily life and to ensure everyone is having fun. Throughout the story, the Sher If intervenes as a controlive authority figure who thinks the farmers are “perverts” and punishes them for having fun by taking away their sheep and arresting them. Another phenomenon that occurs in Kroesen’s society is “abnormal love”: something she describes as “a consuming, unrequited crush…[that has] a debilitating physical effect–you literally fall apart.”[3] To deter these effects, members of the society must go to a place called “Disappeared.” Lou experiences “abnormal love” twice: once towards a fellow farmer, and another time towards a mysterious stranger named “Lee You” who arrives in town and teaches everyone how to tap dance to enter the “Mysterious Spot.” The first time Lou returns from Disappeared he loses his “thing” and becomes a woman. This becomes the primary conflict of the story as Lou attempts to evade the Share If and subsequently, expulsion outside of the town.

Kroesen embodies Lou and retells his story with the earnest seriousness and imagination of a child. Lou’s monologue is punctuated by moments when Kroesen wanders away from the microphone to sing and play the piano, offering blues variations to express the emotional states, thoughts, and observations of the various characters in the story, recalling the form of a musical. Despite the illogical, dream-like, and surreal narratives that can be demanding at times to follow, Kroesen’s commitment to her characters sustains the viewer’s curiosity about her projected fantasy world. Kroesen offers a world where gender is fluid and happiness and care for one another is prioritized, and yet, in the plot, “abnormal love” only occurs between two characters of the same sex, and who are consequently banished to Disappeared.[4] The intention behind this narrative choice is left open-ended for the viewer to speculate and draw their own conclusions about.

Critiques of dominant structures are a recurring theme in what Kroesen calls her “System Portraits,” manifesting as “socioeconomic, sexual, and gender politics through funny, ramshackle, and chaotic performances.”[5] This is evident in the artist’s second performance, Excuse Me, I Feel Like Multiplying. The work is a soap opera of the Cold War that satirizes political negotiations in the form of a love triangle conflict between two women personified as the USSR and America, and who fight over a boy named “Raw Material” portrayed as an underdeveloped country. The three characters are eventually dominated by another woman, “The Virus,” who, like the superpowers, also “feels like multiplying.”[6]

In 2013, Kroesen had an exhibition at the Whitney Museum called Rituals of Rented Island that placed her work alongside other performance artists working out of Manhattan during the early stages of her career.[7] Kroesen eventually took a break from the art scene in New York to do film and archival work. She now lives in the Southern California desert where she operates a small hotel.[8]

Set design: Jared Bark

1 – Scott, Izabella. “I Feel Like Multiplying: In Search of Jill Kroesen.” LiTRO Stories Transport You, November 25, 2015. Accessed April 2018.
2 – Ibid.
3 – Banes, Sally. “Kroesen’s American Dream (Jill Kroesen).” In Subversive Expectations: Performance Art and Paratheater in New York, 1976-85, 64-68. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1998.
4 – Ibid.
5 – “Jill Kroesen: Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering Jul 27–Jul 31, 2016.” Jill Kroesen: Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering | Whitney Museum of American Art. Summer 2016. Accessed April 27, 2018.
6 – Banes, Sally.
7 – Scott, Izabella.
8 – Ibid.

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Original Archive Entry:

Performance ofExcuse Me I Feel Like Multiplying and The Original Lou and Walter Story. The audience was invited to take part in an open debate, a kind of psychological research game with fixed rules along with music and original songs.