Experiments in Fake News: ‘Crowd-Surfing’ at Handel’s Messiah

Project ran 2014 – 2015

classicalPunkEver since completing my MA in cultural theory, I have been fascinated by the mechanisms that modern power uses to create subjects. The kings of old might be gone, but we’re subjects nonetheless – and I’m consistently interested in how institutional, political, religious, and media structures combine to shape ideology, morality, individual choice, and collective/individual identity. As I’ve gotten more involved with the institutionalized & ‘establishment’ brokers of art power, I’ve become increasingly interested in the mechanisms by which power is enforced in artistic expression, and whether it possible to use artistic means to subvert established cultural power. In this particular performance art piece – which took place during a staged version of Handel’s Messiah in the Bristol Old Vic theatre – I went viral for ‘crowd-surfing’ during the Hallelujah (Hebrew for “praise God!”) chorus. As the alleged ‘crowd-surfing’ incident never happened, this piece offered a frightening glimpse into the “fake news” phenomena, long before it became the buzz-word that it is now. Even more frightening was the fact that these experiments highlighted the susceptibility of networked media to what cultural theorist Paul Virilio has called the “information bomb”. Nevertheless, the whole affair sparked a fascinating artistic & cultural discourse for millions worldwide, with residuals which are still scattered across various domains of the world wide web… Last time I checked, the final line in the wikipedia entry for ‘crowd-surfing’ stated: Crowd surfing extended for the first time to the classical music scene, when in June 2014 at the Bristol Proms an audience-member was ejected by fellow audience members during a performance of Handel’s Messiah after he took the director’s invitation to ‘clap and whoop’ to the music a step too far by attempting to crowd-surf. Anyhow, type some combination of ‘messiah’ + ‘crowd surfing’ + ‘glowacki’ + ‘scientist’ into your favorite search engine, and you’ll turn up all kinds of stuff.