Frowning face with open mouth

SoLow Fest 2018: Katharina Schmidt and Victoria Moyer’s Eraserhead 2.0

3 minute read
In the battle between emoji and interpreter, emoji wins. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Moyer.)
In the battle between emoji and interpreter, emoji wins. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Moyer.)

“The limits of my emoji are the limits of my world,” or so the creators of Eraserhead 2.0 would have their audiences believe. Directed by Victoria Moyer and performed by Katharina Schmidt, this SoLow Fest show at Philly Improv Theater is a tryingly facile riff on Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ideas about language, thought, and reality.

Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Wittgenstein argued that language restricts what can be known or even thought about the world around us. For Wittgenstein, the world as we know it is a collection of facts, which are propositions, which are ultimately sentences. “Whereof one cannot speak,” he famously wrote, “thereof one must be silent.”

Apparently the Eraserhead 2.0 team didn’t get the memo. Their show is an empty, misguided attempt to update Wittgenstein for the digital age. If language mediates reality, they ask, what does it mean that we have begun replacing language with emoji? The answer is, “I don’t care.”

More goats

When the audience entered the theater, YouTube Roulette was being projected onto a big screen. Random videos played for a while. Then the projection switched over to videos presumably been made or selected by the creative team.

At the performance I attended, the audience was treated to a few seconds of a goat screaming. This was far and away the highlight of the hour.

A performer entered bearing balloons Sharpied to resemble common emoji. The performer had an iPad where her face ought to be. (Those who attend for the David Lynch references will also be disappointed; the only allusions to Lynch’s Eraserhead come in the form of visual quotations briefly flashing across the performer’s iPad face.)

“It looks like you need an update,” said a computerized voice. The projection screen showed video of Philadelphians more indulgent than I complying with an unseen interlocutor’s request that they physically transform themselves into an emoji.

Next it was the audience’s turn. The performer approached spectators and called upon them to “become” various emoji. These little performances were captured on camera and simultaneously played on the screen of her iPad face, so spectators were forced to witness their own humiliation. I, for example, was a cherry blossom.

Lame performance art

After this experience, the audience were invited to use their phones to vote on inane questions. Which came first: chicken, egg, or primordial oneness? The audience were also invited to use their phones to “leave a comment” suggesting a new emoji.

At the performance I attended, “lame performance art” was declared the winning suggestion (and it wasn’t mine). Everyone laughed because it was true.

As things wound down, the performer fought some balloons and lost. Perhaps this was intended as a warning about the dire threat to humanity posed by emoji and other ostensibly delightful spherical things. But when the performer collapsed motionless on the floor and didn’t get up, Team Emoji won my allegiance.

Since Eraserhead 2.0 has no structure, it was not obvious when it was over. To solve this problem, the computerized voice told us, “Nothing else is going to happen.” As if something had happened.

What, When, Where

Eraserhead 2.0. By Victoria Moyer and Katharina Schmidt. SoLow Festival. Through June 23, 2018, at the Philly Improv Theater, SecondStage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

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