Sivilization’s Wake is less an adaptation than an expulsion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, floating beyond a cesspool of cinematic repetitions. Beginning with the premise that film itself, in the very act of casting light as its subject, necessarily defaces the written word which birthed it (and whose nature is always darkness), Unknown Friend attempt a further disfiguring of the text’s legibility. Misreading darkness as drunkenness, swerving toward a state of total blinded-by-the-lightness, the artists want to drive themselves—with Twain in the backseat—off the well-lit roads of authority, and down into the dark gorges of prophecy. Drowning in the rivers of Disney’s Magic Kingdom, spelunking in the bunkers of Sicily’s past patria, the gang grope wildly for anything that shines, only to find that the sunken treasure they discover is too heavy to be carried, and can only be added to the mythologies that flood, in overlapping projections, the walls of this rented basement. Using the advanced technology of the Star Trek franchise, as well as a cast of flexible characters, Unknown Friend travel through time and space performing society’s primal scenes (as well as a few of their own), often before involuntary audiences. In the process of staging these conundrums of exodus— freedom? banishment?— Sivilization’s Wake attempts an ecstatic desertion of the source text, only to wash up once again on the shore of history’s traumas, and find that the displacement, dysphoria, imprisonment, and injustice that even Mark Twain at times could not fully face, continue to plague civilization today, 200 years down river from the “Sivilization” of Huck and Jim’s time.
“Beware. Trouble is brewing. Keep a sharp lookout.”
- Film still from “Sivilization’s Wake”, Unknown Friend (Stephen G. Rhodes and Barry Johnston), 2018. Courtesy of the artists and INCURVA.