Scott MacLeod: Looking for Martin Klapper

Impromptu Performance
Entartic Shelf Festival, June 1995




Scott McLeod


Hermit Foundation


Plasy Monastery

"In 1990 and 1991, I had made many performances and produced several festivals in Czechoslovakia; lots of cultural activities over several months. In 1995, I came back, to what was now the Czech Republic, with no cultural agenda but only to visit friends and enjoy myself. I don’t remember how I knew about Plasy and all the activities that happened there; it was very well known in the social circles I was connected with, so it would have been unusual if I hadn’t known about it. Similarly, there are many people who might have been the ones who told me I should meet Miloš Vojtěchovský.


In any case, in late June of 1995, I found myself at the monastery in Plasy during the [Entartic Shelf Festival]. I wasn’t in any way prepared to make performance (nor had I been invited to the festival), but I had some ambitions of being invited the following year, so I wanted to meet Vojtěchovský, so that he would know me, and so I would learn more about this place and event. After roaming around the stone halls of the square monastery for some time, I found Vojtěchovský. He was willing to speak with me, but he was on an urgent mission to find Martin Klapper,(1) so in order to have a conversation, I would need to follow him as he walked around looking for Klapper. I am asthmatic, so my breathing is not strong, and I find it difficult to speak while walking energetically; and we definitely walked energetically. I am six foot tall but Vojtěchovský is (or at least seems) much taller, with longer legs; I don’t recall anything we spoke about during the 15-20 minutes I spent trying to keep up with him as he strode quickly down hallways, up stairs, through adjoining rooms, across another hallway, down a different stairway, always asking the many people milling about if they had seen Martin Klapper, who had allegedly just arrived at Plasy and who in each case “was here just a moment ago” but now had disappeared. 

Plasy Monastery is a large multi-story square building set around a large square lawn, with stairways at all four corners, so in theory two people looking for each other could wander in circles on different levels forever, never meeting. To me that’s what it felt like was happening; I don’t remember thinking of Kafka while it was happening but I am thinking of him now. In any case, at some point during our search, I decided that my circumstance was a bit unique, and I devised a surreptitious performance to amuse myself as I labored to keep up. My performance,(2) which I later named “Looking for Martin Klapper,” was simply that I attempted to replicate Vojtěchovský’s walking as accurately as I could. I tried to mimic the length of his stride, his pace, the pauses, the occasional stutter-step to change direction when a new lead came to light. I followed just a half-step behind and to his side, like a cattle-dog follows its master. This intentional (albeit completely silly) discipline gave me a surprising amount of pleasure, as did the knowledge that I was doing this secretly. It was interesting but still a bit hard work for me and after 10-15 minutes it got a little boring, so I peeled away, ending my secret performance, and started to wander on my own.

After awhile I found a large room (that I think was called the Chapel of St. Gregory (3) with a grand piano set up in front of twenty or so empty chairs. The piano was a Bösendorfer, I think. In 1991, I had made many cassette tape recordings of myself playing friends’ upright pianos in their homes in Czechoslovakia and Germany, even though I have no musical training or ability. I would put my fingers on the keys and completely improvise, trying (like I would imagine Keith Jarrett trying more successfully) to find a sort of melodic line or rhythmic pattern that I could follow and augment in my tone-deaf way. It amused me to do this, and I could even enjoy listening to some of my own recordings.

So when I stumbled upon this grand piano in this “St. Gregory chapel”, with its grand vaulted plaster ceilings and sharp acoustics, I found Vojtěchovský, and asked and received his permission to play this piano privately. I sat at the beautiful instrument, set up my cassette recorder on top of it, and began to play in my usual hesitant fashion. The wonderful acoustics made even my most-poorly-chosen notes sound not-so-bad, slowly lifting my confidence level as I began finding more pleasant notes than unpleasant ones. I almost always keep my foot on the damper pedal when playing, so notes will layer over each other; the room’s acoustics added more layering, and a sense of grandeur that must have fed my ego, because I became enthralled with my own playing. I felt that I was incomprehensibly and against all odds playing “correct” notes instead of my usual “incorrect” ones. I played magnificently and deliriously for about fifteen minutes, which was a long time for me, and before I could relax into the private inner bliss my playing had bloomed into me, THE ROOM EXPLODED INTO APPLAUSE! I whirled around, terrified! The room was FULL OF PEOPLE CLAPPING! I was mortified and bewildered! It took me some time to bring my heart back into my chest and understand what was happening. People passing by in the hallway had heard me playing, assumed it was a scheduled festival performance, snuck quietly into the room and taken seats, all so quietly that I was completely unaware that I wasn’t alone. It was kind of an unpleasant experience, as it brought me out of the private space I had been enjoying and put me in an uncomfortable public situation. The audience clapped for a long time, and then ASKED FOR MORE. Here’s maybe the second-worst part of this story; I don’t remember if I indulged them. I would like to think that I didn’t, because that would have been more true to the spirit of what I had been doing, ie privately, just for myself, but I am right now imagining the position I must have been in, there in front of thirty-or-so enthusiastic people wanting me to play more. I think it would have been very awkward, if not downright rude, to refuse them.

My memory though is a blank, and I will never know, because later, when whatever did happen was finally over, I checked my cassette player and discovered the worst part of this story: that I had never pressed the Record button, so my once-in-a-lifetime triumphant sonata (and its possible encore) were lost forever."
Scott MacLeod, Oakland, January 2023

1 In my memory, Martin Klapper has always been a Dutch drummer, but the research I’ve made in order to finish this story informs me that Klapper is in fact a Czech film artist and saxophone player, and that it was Klapper’s collaborator Raymond Strid who was the drummer, but Swedish not Dutch.
2 While typing this, I made a type that I think I will use in the future: “poorformance”
3 I am very likely completely wrong about its name. (editor's note: it is in fact St. Bernhard chapel)

I create situations in which materials and processes can “be themselves” without constraints of expectation or convention. Found-object sailing ships, reconfigured dartboards, fake museums, and other experiments exhibit qualities simultaneously of craft and accident, high tragedy and low comedy, intriguing mystery and unsettling familiarity. I take things apart and put them back together in a “wrong” way, to show where the edges of emotion, power, language and pedagogy overlap and cut into each other, without admitting that’s what I’m doing. My best works resist visual and cognitive resolution, hovering between representation and abstraction, referring to both while capitulating to neither.

Scott MacLeod has been presenting live, time-based, conceptual & static work in the San Francisco Bay Area and internationally since 1979. His installations, paintings & sculptures have been widely exhibited in the Bay Area at venues including Southern Exposure, The Lab, George Lawson Gallery, and SFMOMA as well as internationally in the Czech Republic, Belgium, England, Italy and Germany. Visual arts awards include the San Francisco Art Institute’s Adaline Kent Award (2000) and a Wallace Alexander Gerbode Visual Arts Award (2001). His fiction, poetry, theater and critical writings have been widely published in the USA and abroad, and he has co-produced several international cultural exchange projects between USA, France, Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. He lives in Oakland, California.