Tribal Baroque: Moments and Metamorphoses
Photographs by Dan Rubin
S.K. Thoth and Lila’Angelique, a duo known as Tribal Baroque, captivate audiences worldwide with their unique art of “prayformance,” in which they sing and dance, while simultaneously accompanying themselves on the violin with additional rhythm produced by bells strapped to their ankles. Their powerful voices range from Lila’s crystalline soprano to Thoth’s plangent countertenor, resonant baritone and guttural speech-singing, with which they weave deeply emotional narratives, all in an abstract language of their own devising.
They first met and began their collaboration at Central Park's Bethesda Terrace beside the monumental fountain featuring the iconic "Angel of the Waters" statue. Inspired by the Angel and by the lively acoustics of the sandstone arcade, they considered this to be their home base. Regardless of their wanderlust, they have managed to return almost every year to be re-inspired at their place of origin.
The essence of their art is in sound and motion, whereas a photographic image exists only in stillness and silence. Nevertheless, a photograph is capable of revealing aspects of their performance that would otherwise go unnoticed, and the camera's seemingly magical ability to stop time enables the viewer to grasp and contemplate fleeting moments that would vanish in the ceaseless blur of activity. These moments reveal nuances of gesture and expression, the infinite variety of forms taken by a dynamic body, the details of costume, makeup and facial expression, all taking on an extra measure of gravity and significance when presented within the glorious architectural setting.
About 20 years ago, long before meeting Lila'Angelique, Thoth performed alone at the Bethesda Terrace. When Dan chanced to pass by he was stopped in his tracks by the otherworldly music that was coming from a strangely and scantily clad figure who was simultaneously singing, dancing, and playing the violin with a passion and ferocity that seemed more than human. Dan stood transfixed until the end of the set; then, far too shy to attempt contact with such a fearsome creature, he wandered off with his thoughts. Over the following years, Dan would occasionally visit the park to watch Thoth and began taking photographs of the performances. Eventually he introduced himself and was glad to discover that Thoth was not such a fearsome creature after all. In the spring of 2009, Dan was surprised to see that Thoth was performing with a young woman with an extraordinary soprano voice, a partially shaved head, a somewhat ragamuffin style of dress, and a passionate intensity that seemed to match Thoth’s. Sensing the potential development of this pairing, Dan returned regularly to the park to document their evolution. As he witnessed the bond form between the two and the birth of Tribal Baroque, he has continued to photograph them on each of their subsequent annual visits to NYC.
In addition to visually documenting Tribal Baroque's 2009-2016 seasons busking at Bethesda Terrace, many of the photographs employ various techniques, both in camera and with digital processing, that transform the straight image for expressive purposes. Most elementary is the conversion of color photos into monochrome; Dan began photography with film and retains a fondness for the classic look of black and white. Several approaches to offer a sense of motion in the still image include slow shutter speed, multiple exposures in camera and by means of digital collage. Digital processing was also used to create more fanciful representations of the dynamic duo with the look of old film processes such as solarization or with graphic media other than photography.
We invite you to explore the photographs in each image section on the menu above. Dan had a lot of fun creating the pictures in this exhibition and hopes that, even in this silent gallery, viewers will be able to feel something of the magic of Tribal Baroque.
Curated by Tina Seligman
The exhibit was originally installed at Flushing Town Hall October 13 - 21, 2018
with a special performance by Tribal Baroque on October 16