By James McCrea
On Friday 22 February, the John Cooper Studio on Monkgate appeared less like a performance space and more like an abandoned laboratory, in preparation for Samir Kennedy’s solo performance, Looks Like God. As such, the audience was presented with no context aside from Kennedy’s still body—mostly bare—in a nearly pitch-black room. A low-lying table separated him from the viewers, cordoned off by bright-yellow hazard tape. The air trembled with the sound of an amplified piano playing a deep plodding heartbeat as distant sirens blared from what sounded like other parts of the building. The only illumination came from a red strip-light as it bled florescence that pooled around him, tracing the contours of his body within the stifling darkness.
Slowly and impulsively, Kennedy began to shift. His head sank heavily into his chest while he laboured to upright himself. The burning red incandescence of the lamp accentuated the curves and musculature of his body as it strained to move. His fingers didn’t seem to work, and neither did his feet. When he managed to stand up, he walked on the sides of his ankles rather than the soles of his feet, moving very painfully and clumsily. Grappling with spiteful gravity, Kennedy fought to hold the lamp aloft while a sudden swell of industrial noise emanated from all corners of the room. All was revealed when the light reached his face. Kennedy’s mouth was a gaping black expanse, fixed open to perpetually bare his teeth in a joyless grin. His eyes were milky white, his hair haphazardly shaven in post-op mockery, and his entire body a nightmare landscape of bruises and scars. The audience watched a dead man given new life as he struggled to remember what it felt like to be alive.
Looks Like God seeks to deconstruct the contemporary zombie archetype by embodying the physicality of a corpse and subsequently sharing space with an audience. Viewers watch Kennedy clumsily attempt to do something as simple as lift an arm—a task he achieves with the same careful forcefulness of someone trying to stretch a recently-healed limb freshly cut from a cast. Likewise, Kennedy’s zombie is a recently healed wound in the shape of a man.
In addition to watching Kennedy deal with his wounded body, the audience is also given glimpses into his mnemonic wounds via careful sound design. Amidst the crescendos of industrial noise and distant sirens, shards of reverberated musical refrains slip into the fray, acting as audible memories awakening in the reanimated brain. Kennedy’s muscle memory returns as he awkwardly sways his hips to a loop of gentle Middle Eastern music, culminating in a loss of balance as his stiffened body tumbles from the table and cracks against the concrete floor.
In the final moments of the performance, the rhythmic thud of loud dance music prompts Kennedy to pull himself on his stomach—completely unable to walk—out of the performance space and into the bar at the back of the John Cooper Studio, leaving a trail of saliva (and possibly blood) in his wake. Harsh white light from the bar pours into the performance space, along with a handful of alarmed drinkers.
Looks Like God utilizes zombie tropes very well by means of careful lighting, intense sound design, and most of all through Kennedy’s movements. As a dancer, Kennedy knows how to move eloquently, and is able to invert this training to very effectively render his own body corpselike, by moving as ungracefully as possible, seemingly without effort. Kennedy’s zombie is at times wounded, child-like, recuperating, triumphant, sexual, and terrifying—all of which Kennedy evokes without dialogue, through the voice of movement alone.
Ultimately, Kennedy’s performance stimulates questions about mortality, while seeking to answer none of them. The title, Looks Like God, is indicative of this in and of itself. Is this stumbling mess of a man what God really looks like? Or does God manifest via technology? The faux-clinical setting and industrial atmosphere implies that Kennedy’s resurrection is not supernatural, but scientific in nature. If humanity reaches a point where death itself can be amended, will humanity itself become God? Or is God present in the LED glow of a laptop, attracting humanity to electronic divinity like moths to the moon? Perhaps the title is a statement that’s been cut off prematurely. It looks like God… has abandoned us? Or is it possible that it looks like God has arrived? Is this what the Book of Revelation looks like when God proclaims, “I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever?” Or maybe—just maybe—does it look like God has made a mistake?
Looks Like God was performed as part of SLAP Festival 2019: York’s pay-what-you-can contemporary performance festival.