A History of Psychasthenia
Jon Keith Brunelle
Here’s a brief sketch of the performance work that occupied me for fourteen years, when I partied and created with some truly remarkable New York video artists and musicians. The scene changed, as all scenes do, and mass video culture morphed into a beast that I doubt any of us foresaw. This is a bit of a window into what was, with a link to some archived video clips.
During the span of 2002 to 2010, I wrote and performed pieces that I name-tagged “laptop storytelling.” These were slideshows built from many, many still images ripped from movies, reordered in PowerPoint to form new narratives and paired with music clips keyed to the slide changes. The stories typically were political and cultural standup satire, delivered as I clicked through the slides.
Soon after I developed my first pieces, I began collaborating with some of New York’s deevays and veejays, running longer shows that interwove the stories with video and music mixes. It was a fresh concept in 2003 and bookings weren’t difficult to come by. I quickly settled on Daniel Vatsky as the one video artist I would partner with consistently; by 2005 Dan and I decided that our laptop musician of choice was Matt Peters, a.k.a. Mad EP. In this trio format, we performed as The Psychasthenia Society, and eventually moved from the clubs to a brief but succesful theater run with our show, The Nanolove Report.
And yea, like many a band of greater renown, pressures internal and external squelched further development: arguments with the show’s producer, a romance that took Matt to the UK, bad business planning — the traditional dance. Dan and I continued to perform as a duo intermittently until 2010, when the Psychasthenia Society shows came to an end and we each moved on to other projects (we’re still fast friends, happy to say). Dan became an in-demand video designer for major theater productions and these days is often on the road. I began writing and performing solo shows that shifted the storytelling into lecture mode.
The new idea was to satirize America’s descent into image-saturated madness by self-presenting as a drink-the-KoolAid advocate for data mining, remote warfare, digitally-curated realities, and the other heinous developments that surely will kill us all. I was the madman with the remote clicker, explaining that surveillance was sexy and nanobots were cute and furry, and presented five shows in this mode over five years at New York downtown theater vanguard Dixon Place.
Reality caught up with this work and overran it after the 2016 election, when it became clear that these shows were beating a dead meme. But for its time, some good stuff happened. I’ve embedded selected video clips from The Psychasthenia Society and my solo performances on this page.