The playgrounds that we lived among – plays and grounds; games of rules, thus allegories, and a double world: play to transfigure figures on an ordinary ground; deliver the players out of, above even, as to escape and then look back; a ball bounced on the court, and we heard it a moment later.

Around each circle we drew another circle.
Not getting anywhere other than there.
A certain girl, I forget her name, wanted me tell about – I remember now, Martha – penguin colonies of Antarctica. Would love be any different?
At the bell we turned away, and toward some future, echo, afterimage, play. [1]

The performance „The Lastmaker“ is announced as the last piece of the Chicago-based collaborative performance group Goat Island. „After we have completed creating and performing it, the company will end“, the program states.

Goat Island started working in 1986. They created nine performances, which were „theatrical, repeatable and carefully constructed“ [2]. In addition to researching, rehearsing and performing, their activities expanded into web projects, filmmaking, video documentations, Reading Companion artists books, teaching workshops and lectures.

They are well known for their tactics of collaboration which are fundamental for their work and aesthetics. „A spare performance aesthetic that seems at times so dense and complex that it trips up your tongue and ties it in knots“, as Adrian Heathfield puts it. And he continues: „The dependency of the aesthetic upon this exploratory lived practice (performance) contains an ethical dynamic, not simply because of its use of relation in collaboration and its negotiation of sources through collective processes, but because the orientation of these processes is towards the discovery of otherness.“ [3]

The performance „The Lastmaker“ is accompanied by the collaborative writing project „The Last Performance“, a web project designed by Judd Morrissey. It is a „constraint-based collaborative writing, archiving and text-visualization project responding to the theme of lastness in relation to architectural forms, acts of building, a final performance, and the interruption (that becomes the promise) of community.“ [4] This writing project was presented as an installation during the In Transit Festival at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin.

Apart from that, a lecture by Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish „Every house has a door“ took place in the form of a dialogue reading. A dialogue which traces the history of Goat Island and gives insights into their aesthetic approaches and values, and reflects a complex conversation between Hixson and Goulish with striking poetry in words and a few performed actions.

In this atmosphere of farewell, which shines through the installation, the dialogue, the performance and the talk with the performers, there is a big emphasis on the meaning of „last“ in terms of continuing.

„Construct a last performance in the form of a heavy foot that weighs 2 tons and remains in good condition.“

– Last is a verb in the sense of continuing in time; surviving; remaining in good condition.
– Lasting is the adjective that comes from this verb like lasting in the following seven book titles:
A Lasting Peace

A Lasting Spring
The Thyroid Diet: Manage Your Diet for Lasting Weight Loss Thucydides‘ Theory of International Relations: A Lasting Possession Lasting Visions of X – The Haunted Artist
The Headache RX: A Doctor’s Proven Guide to Lasting Headache Relief Landscape with Roses: Planting Rose Gardens of Lasting Beauty
– Last is a block or form shaped like a human foot and used in the making of shoes.

– And last (chiefly British) is a unit of volume or weight varying for different commodities and in different districts, equal to about 80 bushels, 640 gallons, or two tons. [5]

At the performance in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt the audience is invited to sit at both sides of the stage, a platform raised two feet high with a black dance floor, framed and divided into three sections by stripes of white tape. The performers come in and line up facing the audience – four on one side of the platform, one on the other side. Present but not in the foreground, servants of things to come.


A foot of that weight indeed has to be carefully constructed to remain in good condition. A foot that weighs 2 tons will leave a strong imprint. When this foot is put on the ground in order to execute and affirm the next step, this has to be done with great care for the surroundings to stay in good condition. How can the surroundings, how can one stay in good condition if things end, separate, break apart, finish?

An end coming unexpected causes disaster. Slowly through time, in saying goodbye again and again, it loses its dreadful aspect and within the goodbyes opens up space for a future to come – unknown as death, but possible to dream about.

To connect history to a personal quest

„The Lastmaker“ is a practice of saying goodbye and in doing so, Goat Island invite the audience to remember and live through little and big goodbyes of their own again. The group chooses lasting last words to celebrate the function of memory and how it collects traces to reinforce moments to come.

„We began this piece with an imagined research trip to the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. We were fascinated by the lifespan of a building that had begun as a Byzantine church, was converted to a mosque, and then converted again to a museum. We wondered what alterations might have been made to the space to accommodate these conflicting uses, and we wondered what kind of performances you might make in response. However, we lacked the funds to travel to Turkey, and instead found ourselves researching a similar building in Zagreb, Croatia.“ [6]

To connect the history of a building like the Hagia Sofia, or the Džamija in Zagreb with the history of saying goodbye or ending may seem a big bridge to construct, may seem even an impossible task. (This is what Goat Island set out for from the beginning: „to share an impossible problem“. They exercised this method of relating the personal and the political right from the start.) What happens in „The Lastmaker“ by doing so is that the emotional impact of letting go and change is always in relation with politics of change and history. To this end, great personalities like J.L. Austin, Emily Brontë, Lenny Bruce, Larry Grayson, Emily Dickinson, Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi and Tom Waits lend their words and gestures to the performers.

St. Francis is gorgeously combined with Larry Grayson by Mark Jeffrey. Brian Sanner sings a pop spiritual accompanied by himself playing a singing saw and conjures the Old Weird America (and as Greil Marcus says, „The weirdness means the story will always be new.“). Karen Christopher performs a startling female version of Lenny Bruce. Litó Walkey sings with Nick Drake and with her beautiful clear and shining presence strikes up a dialogue with an aging artist composing a poem to say goodbye. And Matthew Goulish passionately recites Rumi and Tom Waits, an invocation of future spirits.

The multi-layered constructed personalities are flickering lights. Preachers, stand-up comedians, poets and singers create a firework of hope and despair, of perseverance and vulnerability.

The physical engagement is stunning. At a certain point, the silent servants we saw in the beginning jump in like wild horses and engage in gestures or positions. In the course of the piece these vehement entrances and exits undergo a slight change, progressing into providing actions as if a last wish would have to be fulfilled now, or otherwise it could be too late.

Despite the high tempo and quick changes of rhythm all gestures, words and scenes are performed with great attention to detail.

Matter and Memory

The dome structure of Zagreb’s Džamija is translated in a 23 minutes dance which serves as a kind of entrance to the matters described before. It takes place after the introduction, which ponders the building of a house, „never putting away childish things“, and constructing the Hagia Sofia „with our little walls here, our words and bodies“. [7] The dance is choreographed in detailed triadic rounds and makes the performers diverge and reconverge, to a regular beat with irregular measures. It invites the public into a time of transition.

Gestures are passed from one person to another, sometimes executed solo, sometimes in duets and trios. A magical dance following a complex set of undecipherable rules. „A ritual with the idea of embodying light.“ [8] A movement changing the space, changing the perception of time, and changing the condition of the spectator. This time in transition gains weight through its duration.

When it ends, a chair is brought in and put in the same place as in the opening scene. Even if the situation now looks the same as at the beginning, one realizes that this is not at all the case. Quite imperceptibly, everything has changed. Within the spirals of time and play gravity has been implanted and the substance of matter and memory has been given recognition. Goat Island opens relations and offers relations. They juxtapose multiple materials, fragments of text, sound, images, objects and gestures.

As a spectator one is invited in the space between things, to make one’s way through these spaces, to travel through the materials. Meaning is always a set of dynamics.

And yes, there is the possibility of getting lost, but always care and effort are put into bringing the spectator back – be it by a gesture, a dance, by a text, a song, or sometimes a particular strangeness of a situation.

The first phrase in „The Lastmaker“ is „If you want to build a house you have to build a wall“. I found a note saying: „If you want to build a house you have build a memory. Building construction is the process of adding structure to real property. And structures have the ability to be many more things than just structures. They are various extensions through time and matter.“ Space and wall, memory and event.

A construction is a feat of multitasking and, in the case of Goat Island a delicious accumulation of operations, which has been developed through years. In „The Lastmaker“ it turns at times into hilarious playfulness. Until at the end the performers rise from the ground. This is done with the help of good old wooden planks. It is the child who seeks and plays with profound joy.

Goat Island has decided to leave the house they constructed through the door. They do not fly out, they put a foot on the road.


„You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here, I believe that much unseen is also there. … You air that serves me with breath to speak! You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape! You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers. … I believe you are latent with unseen existence, you are so dear to me.“ [9]

„We end Goat Island in order to make space for the unknown that will follow“ and „our lastness is no more and no less significant than our studying of buildings.“ [10]

That’s what is said. To be continued.


[1] Source Text from „The Last Performance“ by Matthew Goulish

[2] St. Bottoms and Matthew Goulish (Editors): Small acts of repair, Routlegde, New York 2007; p. xiv
[3] Adrian Heathfield: „coming undone“. Included in Goat Island’s Reading Companion to „It’s an Earthquake in My Heart“
[4] www.thelastperformance.com; click project blue print.
[5] St. Bottoms and Matthew Goulish (Editors): Small acts of repair, Routlegde, New York 2007; p. 224
[6] St. Bottoms and Matthew Goulish (Editors): Small acts of repair, Routlegde, New York 2007; p. 222
[7] Quote from „The Lastmaker“
[8] Lin Hixson, director of Goat Island during the Artists Talk at In Transit
[9] Walt Whitman: „Song of the open road“
[10] St. Bottoms and Matthew Goulish (Editors): Small acts of repair, Routlegde, New York 2007; p. 223

(July 14, 2008)

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