For the past two years, Christopher Kline has been working on, O.K., an ongoing project based around the history and lore of the artist’s hometown of Kinderhook, New York. While the project often manifests as installations, artworks or texts, the linchpin has become the creation of an expansive community theatre musical developed slowly, scene by scene, over several years through workshops, performances and even a “TV show”, synthesizing and expanding on Kinderhook’s mythology to construct a fresh overview of local history.
At WNTRP, Kline presents O.K. – The Musical (The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren), a scene of puppet theatre from that larger work which depicts the late President Martin Van Buren sitting in his study at his Kinderhook home Lindenwald. As he attempts to write his memoirs, Van Buren is pestered by ghosts of his past, namely Joseph Cinqué who led the Amistad Slave Revolt and an unnamed Cherokee brave who would have endured the Trail of Tears death march in which 4,000 Cherokee perished during forced relocation. These individuals were never mentioned in Van Buren’s 850 page autobiography, and the historical events they represent were given barely a passing nod. By bringing the three figures together, Kline gives face to larger abstract issues, and forces Van Buren to justify their exclusion from the official version of his life. The repartee between the characters is at times funny, insightful, and uncomfortable, and teems with contemporary relevance.
In the exhibition space, the five-minute video will be presented on a screen set into a painted cardboard version of Van Buren’s yellow mansion. The three puppets of historical figures will be perched above the screen, within a replica of Van Buren’s study at Lindenwald, as if returning to the stage after a performance to take their curtain call. The theatricality of the display speaks to Kline’s larger aesthetic concern for O.K., where craft materials like cardboard, hot glue and paper maché help to retain the feeling of an amateur theatre piece.