Richard Foreman: Note on ZOMBOID!

Richard Foreman includes these note to his theater work ZOMBOID! in his new collection from Contra Mundum Press –– Plays with Films, edited by Rainer J. Han­she. Thanks to Contra Mundum and Richard Foreman for permssion to publish this excerpt here. Check out Contra Mundum's other titles, including Nietzsche, Wordsworth, Pessoa, Bates (on negative capability),  and, one I am eager to see, the first substantial translation into English of the great Italian poet Emilio Villa. 


Notes on my next project, ZOMBOID!

Amongst the many possible strategies
of "spectator oriented" art — two seem to me to stand out. In one style — the spectator is carried on a rollercoaster through various pre-determined emotional focal points. In the second, more meditative style, events are slowed up and relatively detached from each other so the spectator can project his or her own depths, resonating with the presented "material."

ZOMBOID! (Film/Performance Project #1)
partakes of these two strategies simultaneously, with live action visceral involvement in counterpoint to on-screen projections of a more meditative nature — the actual aesthetic "event" arising in the elusive psychic space “BETWEEN” these two contrasting styles.

ZOMBOID! is the first manifestation of the International Bridge Project. A completely new venture for me — in The International Bridge Project, along with collaborator Sophie Haviland, I not only film material around the world to serve as continual "bas-relief" backdrop to my performances — but I also explore an unusual aesthetic procedure.

It is not unique that ZOMBOID! utilizes continual projected background for a performance event. 

is that that background is a self-contained full-length digital film, with the live performance orchestrated in front of that film, using the self-contained film as a theatrical score against which the performance is adjusted and articulated.

The performance of ZOMBOID! presents people responding to, echoing, and being "infected" by projected on-screen manifestations, in much the same way that in “real” life we are all psychically invaded by the many levels of material that flash in and out of the consciousness that seeds that great psychic ocean inside of which we drift.

The film itself is meditative, non-narrative, beautiful and somewhat off-kilter — yet containing no “extraordinary events.” 

Again and again these days I see films and plays being promoted to audiences on the basis of the many “interesting” real-life subjects presented in those works.

It seems we live in a world where everyone is interested above all else in "interesting subjects." But shockingly — I maintain, that the desire for subjects of "interesting subject matter" is, in fact, an avoidance of the REAL subject of real art, which is — What?

The real subject is presence itself, the scintillating "presence," of any and all selected items — but presented in such a way that one's primary experience (the aesthetic experience) is to realize that the SUBJECT ITSELF doesn't matter — but is always in fact the TRIVIAL aspect of the art event.

That trivial aspect (the “subject”) is what we focus on when we chose NOT to be deeply engaged with what art is deeply about — the full, multi-dimensional “presence” of whatever subject is being obliterated by the power of “present-ness.” However, by the usual gluing of our attention onto the ostensible “subject matter” — we try to protect ourselves from the deep ego-shattering experience of art.

Oh, you say — but Shakespeare had stories and subjects! Yes — but we've had it, and had it, and had it ad infinitum — and now we are into something else — new, adventurous, rewarding and full of delight in unexpected ways. But, you say — Shakespeare (for instance) had stories PLUS a poetry that fragmented simple coherence with a wide range of associative mental links. But I maintain that now the time is ripe for other strategies in the midst of this floundering and spiritually confused world.

much to my surprise, I began this work believing I was entering a new realm of art-making — and that with ZOMBOID! I was entering a realm of pure aesthetics — but as I started putting down my thoughts — describing to myself and to others what I believe I am doing in this work — I realized a certain ANGER rising in me, and I realized I was thinking more in political terms than I had expected. (The politics of art-making, certainly).


Let's dare proclaim that in the face of a society increasingly crying for a media-driven, market-oriented, popular art, reaching out to everyone at once — while “deep thoughts” are officially allowed in such art, they must only come in a form that is easily communicable to all.

that to feed the individual human spirit, the true art of these times must be a kind of demanding gymnasium where sensibilities get rigorous exercise — so that those sensibilities then become more refined, able to pick up on and appreciate the patterned intricacies of a world which is usually, in art, simplified into recognizable social and psychological clichés or knock-out effect. Such normal strategies lie about the world because they talk about what we already know (which is always wrong) in languages with which we are already familiar (and therefore put our more delicate mental mechanisms to sleep) — all this, instead of waking us up with the uncharted energies that throb behind the facade of the shared world of communicable convention.

presents the true facts of “always-in-process” human beings who, while pretending to themselves and others that they are coherent “wholes” — are really but a tissue of micro-tendencies and impulses, most of which are effectively ignored by the defense mechanism of consciousness that allows the individual to feel secure in his or her “picture of the world.” 

offers the spectator a chance, through the development of subtle discriminations, to enter the true PARADOX of lucid, aesthetic sensibility.

“trumps” the popular art of media culture, offering the alternative to the bottom-line world that leaves so many of us parched, spiritually depleted, half-human precisely because we are asked—



It tends to speak of powerful hidden things and energies, in language (the full range of theatrical language) that is isomorphic with those hidden things and energies, rather than in the language of daily life — because a language made isomorphic with such intuited processes seems most connected to ultimate, deep-lying things.


in the case of this performance — ZOMBOID!, the motif utilized is


How does this work? The aesthetic goal in ZOMBOID! is to build an entire world from small image/idea clusters that bounce off other image/idea clusters — much like the way the real world is generated from millions of small, local interactions between event quanta from different realms.

The performance of ZOMBOID! is then an attempted model of the depth of the world at work.

The world, it would seem, starts out not with a story or a theme, but with the random (statistically guided, perhaps) pouring forth of multitudinous radiations — twitching and throbbing in concert.

So now, here in front of an audience — we invoke and mirror this world process, generating the energy of eternal delight.

Required of us all, however, in order to be sensitive and alert to what is invisibly taking place in the depths of the world's creativity, is to free ourselves from both perceptual habit and inherited mental habit. (Keatsean “negative capability.”)

One must, in effect, blindfold oneself, blocking normal faculties so that other inner resources are forced into play.

The theme of the blindfold becomes, then, the theme of “in-sight.”

But an insight that that produces not “ideas,” because ideas, no matter how convincing, are never more than the tiniest slice of the full pie of reality and, therefore, always less than the whole truth.

Instead, we would, through aesthetic means, rhythm and composition, event and paradox — “tune” the deep self to the “truth” that all things echo and reflect all other things. We would work toward the perspective that each isolated moment, even those that seem relatively empty, is in fact pulsating with the full energy of the deep source,

and so, the motif of ZOMBOID! is the facilitating


But in ZOMBOID!, the embodiment of that motif generates a unique “No Man's Land” between two aesthetic worlds presented simultaneously on-stage. 

between the meditative world of archetypal TABLEAU, (imaginary “mental” content projected on screen) — and in counterpoint — the concrete world of physical bodies, twisting and lurching in reaction to irrational impulses that “trump” the myths and hierarchies of consciousness that we normally believe organize human life. 

between these two worlds is the “location” in which ZOMBOID! manifests itself. The art event is, then, a new and un-namable “thing” that arises in the space between screen image and live bodies — a space that is intuited rather than seen and identified.

To risk offering an art based on this “split” is to walk the tightrope over the abyss between imagined human mastery and the un-chartable “other” that is never controllable or knowable.

in that energized limbo where the art called “difficult” does its secret and unpredictable work. 


Richard Foreman is basing his new work on projected images, but NOT because he accepts the fact that this technological form should now take center stage in our current version of reality.

He rejects such an idea. Rather — he places slow, tableau-like projected images at the center of his forthcoming productions because they are able to ground the “Reality” of the live performance which occurs in front of these images, in the hallucinatory temporal coagulation of time passing — evoked in projected symbolic tableau that do not so much “advance,” but rather breathe, drift, and palpitate, just like the world around us is quietly doing while our limited mental faculties agitatedly invent adventures and interpretations we project as our daily reality — but which in fact exists under that atmospheric blanket of the “GREATER” reality which is the slow oscillation of the cosmic drift.

So the projected images in Foreman’s new work certainly do not point toward a commitment to the new and superficial technological society, but rather to the slow evolution of cosmic forces, massively coagulating into images and symbols behind our backs, that used to be called, dare we say it . . . God.