Kalamazoo Gazette - 26 October 2001
Artist redeems cruelty of childhood games
By Elizabeth Clark
It all goes back to "cowboys and Indians."
Seemingly innocent backyard play just may lay the groundwork for separatist attitudes in adulthood. So says performance artist, poet and songstress Suran Song, whose provocative act poses questions about the nature of elitism and the prevalence of bullying in American society. "It sounds almost superficial to say that the world's problems come down to teasing or politeness," she said. "But it's really true."
It's a timely, if touchy, topic.
"I thought that it might be too close to home," said Song by phone from her New Jersey home between tour segments in mid-October. "We use some apocalyptic images and the show explores elitism. But the response has been really, really good. We're channeling what was already there, and it's nice because it offers people a conduit for understanding."
Song and her three-piece backing band use multimedia technology to send home their searing commentaries. One of four slide machines in use by the troupe projects an at-first idyllic progression of images of a boy and girl at play with a toy gun.
"The boy is trying to convince the girl to pretend to kill him," Song said. "That's the central focus. He finally gets her to do it and then he gets up and starts to sort of push her around and beat her up. It shows that slip of how someone can get someone else to do something they don't want to do."
Song felt the sting of bullying as a child because her skin tone was a tad more tan than the other children. Song said she's a "complete mutt" of mostly Southern European ancestry.
Her show gives Song an after-the-fact opportunity to stand up to the bully ethos. The performer said she worries a similar fate will befall youngsters of Middle Eastern heritage in light of the current politcal climate
The bully motif goes hand-in-hand with Song's other main motif: cowboys and Indians as recurrent themes in American culture. Song said she stumbled upon the idea in an early-90's issue of the Economist. "The idea of American culture being waves of Indian culture and waves of cowboy culture... the article summed up cowboys and Indians as clear symbols of what America is and the energies that are waiting to be released or pent up."
It's a pretty specific subject matter for a rock band, and Song said it can be a challenge to find supporting player with like-minded ideals.
Song, who took to performance artistry because of a love of singing (and she's got pearly sweet pipes) and a desire for more "immediate response" than she got with her art gallery installations, has been at this project for five years. One of her players, drummer Doug McEachern, just hopped on board last month.
"He met us about 20 days ago," she said. "And he agreed to sleep in the van in November in Chicago with a snowsuit on, so he's really great and diehard."
The group shuns hotels and restaurants so it can afford to stay on the road, Song said. Fans put them up from time to time for a welcome hot shower and a cushy couch to sleep on, and the group plugs in a "roly-poly teapot" at radio stations and record stores to heat up soups and teas.
The singer says she misses hot food and the comfort of her own bed, but it's worth it: "We just really want to get the message out there."
Suran Song and her three-piece band will explore the nature of elitism and bullying through a multimedia performance at Harvey's on the Mall Saturday.