“The end is here,” says Stanya Kahn, the artist and director behind the darkly comedic multimedia vision that is Die Laughing. “The state is not your friend. The water's almost gone. Anxiety is probably insurmountable but not un-mutable: can it become an engine for action?” These are the inexorable conceits and questions that bleed through the seams of Kahn’s collection of works opening tonight at Marlborough Chelsea—chiefly, her 74-minute experimental feature film, Don’t Go Back to Sleep.
Deemed “the most ambitious piece she's ever made,” Kahn describes the film as “ a haunted comedy rooted in the uncanny.” Actors dressed in scrubs haunt barren McMansions—a nod to the millennial housing crisis—facing freak injuries and gorging themselves on a perpetual supply of junk food. The story is presented in winding narrative form for scenes which were largely improvised, though formed by Kahn’s direction and punctuated by an original soundtrack featuring compositions by Keith Wood. “Don't Go explores agency, distress, risk, and collaboration under pressure,” she continues. “Groups of medical professionals navigate darkly comedic scenes in a possibly apocalyptic moment in which impending disaster and death are the backdrop for alternately mundane and ridiculous coping mechanisms.”
Don’t Go Back to Sleep screens six times daily throughout the show's run and is the focal point of Die Laughing. The other works which accompany the film exist on the periphery, no less important but largely deriving from the film. “While the drawings in this show do not related directly to the video in terms of their imagery, the content is very much connected,” Kahn explains. “For example, there are no snakes and worms in the film, but in the drawings, animals are usually negotiating how to stay alive, how to function, how to make sense, how to drink beer.”
“The drawings really come out of my writing practice—which forms the foundation for the performances and videos,” she adds. “The drawings often take the place of language as I work out jokes and images, scenarios and ideas. There's an innate back and forth between the drawing and the videos—gestures, content, actions. The kinds of pathos and humor that is core to the video work is core the drawings as well, even though they're immediate subject matter is not directly related.”
How then, I ask Kahn, is one meant to approach such a show with such a scope of materal and such a paradoxical blend of hilarity and nihilism? "Maybe it's not too late for new things. New language, new actions, new resources, more water. And if not, let's go down joking."
Oh, and one last thing, says Kahn: "Don't Go Back To Sleep."