Untitled (It’s almost a one-liner) is a collaborative artwork by Sarah Beck and Shlomi Greenspan. This project blends our interest in humor, anticipation and staging. This multi-media artwork explores the ambiguity of a performance about to begin via an empty stage. Bearing the signifiers of a comedy club, the viewer is left to work out whether a performance is about to begin. On the stage, a microphone sits next to an answering machine on a stool illuminated by a spotlight. Mounted on the wall behind the mic is a neon sign, which amplifies the comedy club-like feel. The neon sign reads, across two lines, “It’s almost a one-liner”, which could be a reference to one-liners the audience may be about to hear, or to the work itself.
After a moment the answering machine begins to play a series of eight messages, two and a half minutes in duration. These messages explain the performer’s absence. The missing comedian, who left the voicemails, has a singular obsession with an agent named Paul Bernstein for whom he wants to save the best seat in the house. Viewers in the gallery will come across a reserved cocktail table, presumably for Bernstein, the Godot who never appears.
Referencing the work of Andy Kaufman, a groundbreaking comedian who straddled performance art and comedy, the answering machine delivers the performance in lieu of the performer. Unlike Marina Abramovic, the artist is not present. Untitled (It’s almost a one-liner) is meant to be beheld as an object, a spectacle in its own right. The work is mechanized, delivering its own performance. Untitled (It’s almost a one-liner) also alludes to the work of Bruce Nauman, an artist who has extended across an epic cross-section of mediums so successfully, he remains a hard act to follow. His prolific career, traversing light, performance, video and photography (to name a few), has become the subject of online humour. When an artist has perfected so many subjects and mediums, do you dare tread the same path? Or, do you embrace this reality with humour?
In Untitled (It’s almost a one-liner) comedic material becomes the material of the artwork. The installation cultivates expectations and then subverts them; waiting for a punch line is, in fact, the punch line of the work.