There are few things so eerie as forsaken dolls; then there’s what’s going on at The Cell’s converted townhouse theater in Chelsea. “FOUND” is the space’s first-ever immersive theatrical experience, a deep-dive into the spooky world of visual artist Mikel Glass, just in time for sweater weather.
It is difficult to describe “FOUND.” The Cell calls it “a new and exciting way to consume the visual arts” (also: “an explosion of dolls”). Glass had free reign to curate all four floors of the townhouse, which The Cell’s founding artistic director Nancy Manocherian converted, in 2006, into a multi-use space for interactive and immersive installations like this one. Glass let loose with chaotic junkyard energy. There is stuff everywhere, found objects strewn about between, above, and below his paintings and sculptures. There are piles of loose pill capsules on the floor. Suitcases and pizza boxes. A cooler of Cherry Garcia ice cream. Even the paintings themselves have a dissonant, slapped-together sensibility; in “Birth of B-Art,” for instance, a faceless woman gives bloody birth surrounded by bobbleheads, baby dolls, and some kind of spider-crab, and upon closer inspection, you’ll notice the emerging baby has the head of Bart Simpson. But the dominant feature in “FOUND” are the aforementioned dolls, creepy things of various sizes and materials—they’re innumerable, literally everywhere, and all, apparently, were discovered by Glass on the streets of New York. Some of them are missing limbs or eyes; some stand and keep watch, holding onto the staircase bannisters; some hold iPhones in their weird little hands, displaying effectively spooky loop-video footage of JonBenét Ramsey.
There are also people everywhere in this interactive exhibit, actors from Mason Holdings (directed by Kristjan Thor), whose disconnected scenes interrupt and enhance Glass’s visual landscape. Audience members are vital participants in what goes on at “FOUND,” willing or not: if you go, you will have to accessorize a distraught woman, add brushstrokes to already-existing paintings, and maybe fill out a beyond-the-grave adoption application. I’m still working through what these theatrical snippets have to do with one another, and how they’re related to Glass’s works. It’s clear that they are all similarly atonal, curious, disquieting; it’s also clear that these cross-medium collaborators are inviting people to have a wholly visceral art experience. Glass sees “FOUND” as something closer to participatory theater than to the typically passive Chelsea gallery walk-through (he’ll tell you so himself, when you find him on his perch somewhere deep inside the house).
I, admittedly, had trouble taking in everything in “FOUND.” There is so much of it, and it’s also hard to focus on a painting when an actor standing in front of it is asking you for your blood type. But overstimulation is part of the game here. “FOUND” is a disorienting but engaging experience, like being tasked with wading, for an hour, through the detritus of a strange and vibrant brain. Which, if you go, you will have been. “FOUND” will have performances through October 31 at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. You can purchase tickets at their website.