SCREEN: The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical) by Christopher Kline

Written and Directed: Christopher Kline

Title: The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical)

Curated by: Ana Iwataki and Marion Vasseur Raluy

Cinematography: Derek Howard and Dafna Maimon

Screening: September 6 – 27, 2017

Year: 2016

Duration: 5’39”

A native son of New York, a manipulator of the political machine, a pioneer of the spoils system, an ideological mystery with no obvious loyalties or agenda except the furthering of his own power. Here we speak not of 45, but of The Red Fox, The Little Magician, Matty The Enhancer, The Careful Dutchman, The American Talleyrand, Martin Van Ruin, O.K. (Old Kinderhook). The eighth president of the United States, Martin Van Buren, here imagined as an Ebenezer Scrooge, visited by the ghosts of a “stereotypical Cherokee brave” perished during the Trail of Tears and the leader of the Amistad slave revolt.

Taking the form of a community theatre musical, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (2016), and the ongoing project from which it stems, O.K.–The Musical, delves into Christopher Kline’s hometown of Kinderhook, New York, and the surprising ways it has acted on and acted out a larger history. Many miles north of New York City, Kinderhook is a rural township with a population of 8,500. The word “O.K.”  is a pinnacle of globalization, a term that has surpassed its humble beginnings to spread to almost everywhere, to become as the video’s introduction tells us, the most popular word in the world. Van Buren is sometimes falsely credited with its invention (its origin is  “oll korrect”, a Boston area-language fad), although he did contribute to its wider popularity by utilizing his nickname Old Kinderhook. “O.K. is O.K.!” became a campaign slogan during his 1840 US Presidential reelection campaign, of which O.K. was the only lasting effect; he was not re-elected.

Kline’s O.K. probes this and other facets of local history, giving Kinderhook a new and more discerning once-over, based on extensive research and resulting in a collaborative project spanning multiple countries and disciplines, taking the form of exhibitions, performances and workshops. The grounding principle, however, remains the idiosyncrasies of a small town, which the kitschy form and aesthetic of community theater serves to illustrate and uphold.

Our narrator is the pumpkin head held by the Headless Horseman, another Kinderhook anecdote that has far outgrown its hometown to insert itself into the culture at large. The sets and costumes, like the ones depicting Pumpky-Pumpkin and his sidekick Nightmare, are often designed and produced during workshops the artist holds internationally. The most recent iteration was held at the Tate Liverpool, where galleries were used to house meetings and workshops with locals to work on all aspects of the musical—from its script to set design and representation on stage. The form of a community theatre production is a nod to the possibilities of amateur, participatory models, as well as an aesthetic and conceptual anchor for a long-term project that tackles a wide range of themes, from the broader history of Kinderhook, to the paranormal, to facets of theatrical productions itself, such as dress rehearsals. Prior to the Tate Liverpool, Kline worked with Kinderhook elementary school students, art students in Europe, as well as professional artists, craftspeople, and filmmakers.

At the center of this constellation of anecdotes, participants, and forms is a critical look at Kinderhook’s relationship to its “favorite son”, Martin Van Buren, and the reality of his legacy. Kline offers an updated reading of history, challenging the too-easy willingness to chalk up wrongdoings to being “of their time.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson’s rebuff to Van Buren and his policy of Indian Removal in an 1838 letter is eloquent and timely evidence that this was not and cannot be an excuse:

“Will the American government steal? Will it lie? Will it kill? (…) now the steps of this crime follow each other so fast, at such fatally quick time, that the millions of virtuous citizens, whose agents the government are, have no place to interpose, and must shut their eyes until the last howl and wailing of these tormented villages and tribes shall afflict the ear of the world.”

-Ana Iwataki

Christopher Kline (b. 1982, Kinderhook, USA) is a Berlin-based artist and musician who co-runs the project space Kinderhook & Caracas with Sol Calero, and co-produces the artist-run TV Network CONGLOMERATE. He is currently developing O.K., an ongoing project based on the lore of his hometown, realized in the form of an in-process community theatre musical, exhibitions, videos and publications. Recent iterations of O.K. have taken place at Tate Liverpool and within ‘Objects Do Thisings’ curated by Joanna Zielinska, Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw, ‘Viaja y no escribas’ curated by Carolina Jimenez, La Casa Encendida, Madrid, ‘Natural Instincts’, curated by Samuel Leuenberger at Les Urbaines, Lausanne, CH (2015), ‘(Run Through)’, Arken, Ishøj, DK (2015) and ‘(Dress Rehearsal)’ at KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2015).

Produced for La Casa Encendida, Madrid and CONGLOMERATE
Pumpky Pumpkin – Joe Clark
Nightmare – Dafna Maimon
The Headless Horseman – Ethan Hayes-Chute
Headless Horseman Costume and Pumpky Special Effects – Ethan Hayes-Chute
“The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren” constructed, composed and performed by Christopher Kline
With additional puppeteering by Derek Howard
O.K. Historical Markers designed with John McCusker
Intro Jingle performed with Lo Specchio Youth Theatre (Roskilde), Ethan Hayes-Chute, Jan Pfeiffer, and Suzanne Quesney.
Special thanks to Conglomerate, Carolina Jiménez, La Casa Encendida, insitu, Leanne MacKay, Sílvia Torrus and participants in the O.K. workshops for their help in realizing various set elements.

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

Christopher Kline, The Many Ghosts of Martin Van Buren (O.K. – The Musical), 2016 (video still)

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