Climbing in the Ghost Ship

The Village Voice 14 May 1974English

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What Douglas Dunn has been doing at his loft almost every afternoon in April and May isn't called dancing: it's advertised as a performance exhibit. A pretty accurate title for a concrete, yet eerily ambiguous event.

To get to it, you take a subway, probably, then a walk, then a long upstairs climb. Neatly printed signs point the way. At the door of the loft, another sign tells you how to open the latch. Silence. In the tidy living area, an open book waits for visitors' names and a paper bag for their dollar bills. I suppose sometimes -Saturdays, maybe- there are a lot of people here chatting quietly in museum voices. There's someone else here now, though. A girl with a tangle of black hair and rather forlorn stocking-feet is sleeping, face down, on a mat on the floor. The non-watching watchman.

Come on out, Doug, I know you're here. My adventurous, rambunctious little son makes a sharp right and starts to run and crawl and chatter his way through ... my God, what is it? Dunn has filled the room with slatted wooden cubes about three or four feet square piled on top of each other. He must have been dragging in heavy-duty skids from building sites for months and months and nailing them together. The path through this hulking maze is narrow; the distance from the entrance to the window wall seems interminable.

Our talkative caravan winds back and forth: "Mommy you come on up here let's go this way you help me this way mommy you climb up it's dark in here." It is dark, except near the windows and in the middle where one spotlight beam pierces the slatted roof. Looking up at this beacon, I see two bare feet. Quick, climb up and out onto the roof of the structure. There's Douglas Dunn, lying on his back with his eyes closed. Folded blue towels cushion his neck and ankles. He's wearing a white shirt and trousers with red trunks over them. Around his ankles, wrists, and neck are tied small bandannas -navy blue or red. Thin red lipstick lines run out the corners of his eyes, his mouth. I stare; the baby simply refuses to notice and embarks on noisier and more perilous climbs. Beneath the tranced figure, we go back and forth in the maze. I think I may measure it or count the boxes, but I don't. How will anyone ever dismantle this labyrinth of dim, ragged wood?

My son and I help each other out to the antechamber, although we're clearly in separate worlds. He's just been clambering in a splendidly dangerous, splintery jungle gym; I've been stalking through the empty corridors of a Viking burial ship that encases the body of a solitary warrior. Both worlds were made by Douglas Dunn.