Cynthia Hopkins has climbed out of her own skin and plunged into the global consciousness of what she calls “This Clement World.” Her new work, which opened a short run at the Walker Art Center on Thursday, is part cri de coeur for her planet, and part bare-faced challenge to the human civilization currently wringing its hands over the ecological changes that have occurred in the past century.
Hopkins is a New York-based performance artist who crafts intricate multimedia presentations. For several years, she and her collaborators created shows intended to exorcise Hopkins’ personal demons — what she refers to in this new piece as “my own private melodrama.”
Her earlier dense and haunting constructions used invented narratives, religious imagery and scientific exploration to sweep away her psychic chaff and create a new personal mythology.
Now that she’s gotten that out of her system, Hopkins assembles much the same artistic palette to cry out about Mother Earth. In “This Clement World,” Hopkins works with the dry and clinical evidence of global warming, hoping to captivate us with an entertaining charisma greater than say, Al Gore. I know, quite a challenge.
This show rests largely on a three-week expedition Hopkins took with 21 other people to the Arctic Circle. She uses footage from that trip, video tricks and lots of music.
Hopkins also portrays several spiky characters who weave throughout her 90-minute performance: a Native American with the blunt message that we have poisoned our well; a space alien disguised as a friendly dude who narrates the Earth’s ecological history with the fervor of a Southern evangelist; a German physicist (who she met on the Arctic trip) reminding us that the Earth is an unsentimental organism bent on its own survival — even if that carries catastrophic consequences for human beings.
Hopkins feels the need on occasion to settle for journalism — the lecturing transmission of information — but it is when “This Clement World” sings that we feel a power deeper than mere intellect. Eight singers and seven instrumentalists put their backs into a suite of big emotional anthems that swell with spiritual dimension and transformative energy.
Through the music and through Hopkins’ keen understanding of iconography, she creates that mystical moment of art in which we open up to her plea. She embraces that opening with a charming joy and optimism. We should be glad to be alive at this splendid moment in Earth’s history, she says, because we have the opportunity to shape what happens next.
Her spirit is ebullient and magnetic, so that even as she spares no truth, she convinces us that if she cares about this, we should care, too.