Woman of the cloth: Automated play uses a fabric Gertrude Stein

for Brooklyn Paper
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It’s a play on words!

A Crown Heights art gallery will present a short performance about Gertrude Stein’s one-sentence plays — but this show has no actors. The installation “Baby, said Alice B. Toklas…” uses automated characters made of cloth, with robot arms that pull them around the stage. The creator of the “experiment­al, self-performing theater” says it is the result of a long-time ambition.

“For a long, long time, for 30 years, I’ve been wanting to make a self-performing theater that nobody has to really do,” said artist Hanne Tierney, who is also the founder of the FiveMyles gallery, where the show will appear.

The show uses draped pieces of fabric to represent avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein and her lover, Alice B. Toklas, who asks “Baby, why do you write plays like the way you do?” Stein tries to explain the merits of her plays as more than mere words and sentences, and their discussion, presented with a recorded audio track, is soon joined by cloth characters from Stein’s work, including colorful fabrics dancing in circles and several hula hoops that illustrate Stein’s “A Circular Play.” All of the words in the piece are inspired by Stein’s writing, said Tierney.

“Everything that comes up is substantiated with a text of Gertrude Stein’s,” she said.

The show is controlled by a visible robot brain, which is connected to 12 motors that pull on almost 100 strings to drag the fabrics back and forth and sway them around, like a big puppet show. The system was engineered by Oskar Strautmanis, and coordinated by Tierney, who also made all of the props and knit all of the cloth in the show. The show also incorporates music from Eric Satie, which captures the vibe of the turn of the 20th century.

The 15-minute performance will happen whenever the audience wants, said Tierney.

“You come in, you press the start button, and you sit down, listen and watch,” she said.

“Baby, said Alice B. Toklas…” at FiveMyles [558 St. Johns Pl. between Classon and Franklin avenues in Crown Heights, (718) 783–4438,]. Opening reception April 23, 5–8 pm. On display through May 15. Free.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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