by Rodney LaTourelle // Sept. 12, 2023
From detailed scientific descriptions to distorted satanic howls, actor Laura Eichten’s performance in Ari Benjamin Meyers’ ‘Forecast (LX23)’ is a feat of both physical endurance and non-stop emotional catharsis. Constantly in motion, Eichten’s frantic, no-holds barred performance matches the urgency of Meyers’ material: nothing less than a reckoning with the fate of humanity in the context of the current climate crisis. Both the actor’s movement and vocalization bring to life the interweaving stories of weather, ecological destruction and death that propel the increasingly frenetic intensity of ‘Forecast (LX23).’ This intensity is further generated by the driving, post-punk musical score that also makes considerable demands on the bass player and two guitarists, who in contrast play with a stoic frenzy.
Made up of environmental history, facts and related stories, the performance’s narrative builds pace immediately, creating an escalating onslaught of climate information at times truly horrifying and only briefly hesitates, at one point, to sonically demonstrate the silencing that climate scientists feel. We find out that James Hansen, who testified to US Congress in 1989, explaining the dangers of global warming and the capability to arrest it, compared his work to screaming at people behind soundproof glass that their house is on fire. Since 1989, in spite of numerous warnings, it is well-known that emissions have not slowed but have in fact dramatically doubled, thanks to fossil fuel industries who receive an estimated five trillion dollars in public subsidies annually, and who invest heavily in the promotion of ecological disinformation to influence policymakers.
‘Forecast (LX23)’ is a traveling performance, co-produced by MUDAM Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein and Arta Sperto in Geneva. This iteration took place in July, at the former seat of the European parliament (1979–81) in Luxembourg, employed here for the first time as an off-space for MUDAM Luxembourg’s performance program. The historic location further situated the work in the emotional landscape surrounding our (lack of) communal decision making and agency. As a viewer seated physically in the former place of power over influential European environmental policy, one personally feels a range of emotions from disappointment, horror, shame and guilt to anger.
In ‘Forecast (LX23),’ the history of weather prediction is used as a telling cipher for this fraught relation between human and natural forces, a tension expanded on with the deluge of information such as how previous climate disasters drove people to barbaric behaviour and sacrifice, and how wind and heat kill you along with depressing predictions of a coming environmental collapse in the face of corporate cruelty and greed. We are told of Robert FitzRoy who first used the term “forecast” in relation to weather prediction and whose daily reports saved thousands of lives. After FitzRoy slit his own throat with a pen knife in 1865, weather forecasts were banned on religious grounds; but, in fact, it was the ship-salvage industry who lobbied successfully to suppress forecasts due to a rapid decline in their business.
As the performance is propelled musically from a Sonic Youth-esque dirge to a polyphonic wall of sound reminiscent of New York’s downtown scene composers, like Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca, the recurring story of David Buckel builds to a horrific conclusion. Buckel was an American lawyer and activist who committed suicide by fire in 2018 in Prospect Park, New York in protest against the fossil fuel industry. Confronting the audience with the horrific details of this act brings home the urgency of our current crisis and serves as a metaphor for the catastrophic consequences of our choice to ignore it.
If the abstract and overwhelming nature of the “hyperobject” that is the climate crisis has so far been a major barrier for the decision to take action for many people, the increasingly precarious nature of the current environment characterized by extreme weather—especially the rapid escalation of fires and floods—is bringing the reality of global heating devastatingly down to Earth. Likewise, ‘Forecast (LX23)’ translates our Anthropocene-shitstorm into a theatrical hellscape that is hard not to be moved by. Meyers’ performance serves to make our communal predicament personal in a number of physical ways, not least by our empathy with Eichten, but also through the irresistibly overwhelming and “noisy” nature of the music composition, as well as the ecstatic staging characterized by brutal fluorescent lights that create a flickering red atmosphere. Godardian over-titles further amp up the tension with phrases such as “The Black Death,” “The Decision,” “8 Diseases” or “Perhaps this is when it all started.”
What is astonishing is that the score—the text of which Meyers’ co-wrote with Wannes Gyselinck—was originally written in 2019, after Meyers was invited by Berlin’s Volksbühne to create a theater piece (that was never fully produced due to the pandemic). The artist, who typically does not include lyrics in his compositions, reached out for the most important theme of the time. Brutal and direct, full of lists and gory details, the interweaving narrative establishes an urgent mental space bristling with a series of short engaging facts about the climate crisis. Turbo-charged by the tormented mis-en-scene of ‘Forecast (LX23),’ the resurrected text creates a feeling perhaps similar to the ecstatic slow motion of a life-threatening accident—but at the speed of a derailing train.
Maybe this is what is needed at the moment, since other approaches do not really seem effective: it seems that the majority of artistic productions considering the climate crisis are often too vague, lacking affect or just too pedantic and condescending. We have to realize that it is not that we have upset the “delicate” balance of nature—a simplified myth that does not reflect the natural world’s dynamic and ever-shifting, intertwined relationship—but that we have fucked up this relatively rare period of environmental stability so that it will soon simply not be hospitable for human life, while the systems of earthly life will of course long continue.
Referring to the Indigenous Crow tribe whose nomadic livelihood was destroyed when the buffalo were intentionally exterminated by the US government, Meyers’ narrative cites the way they reconciled their fate, acknowledging their despair before turning it into a source of courage. It is in this way that ‘Forecast (LX23)’ may be just as much about radical hope as radical doom: “To see that Paradise can be built in Hell. To learn to sing after you died.” Yet, as we have heard, beyond our attitude, the climate crisis is much less a matter of personal choices than one of communal protest and renewed urgency about how to radically shift corporate and systemic ideologies. If Brecht wrote that, in dark times, “there will also be singing. About the dark times,” maybe now it’s time for something more like screaming.