by Dacia Clay
Imagine that you’re having a nightmare. There’s a monster chasing you. It’s a dark, shadowy threatening thing that devours everything and everyone in its path, working its way ever-closer to you. You instinctively try to run. And then, at the inevitable moment when it’s upon you and you know that you’re done for, something unthinkably terrifying happens: you realize that the monster is you.
That moment of Edvard Munch-level terror is at the heart of Nat Evans’ multimedia work, Flyover Country: How do contemporary people deal with, as Evans puts it, our “disconnected collective consciousness,” wherein we have convinced ourselves through the stories that we tell that we are separate from the natural world and from our origins?
Flyover is also a meditation on the power and function of story in our lives, starting with Evans’ own family. In 2017, he began to look at family trees and photos dating to the 1870s, piecing together the stories of his forebears; he also began to dig into the stories of contemporaneous indigenous people. What emerged from his research clearly mortified him. Where his family’s historical records petered out, stories of their indigenous counterparts came violently to the fore. In short, Evans began to suspect that there was a direct link between his family and mass atrocities of the past.
The audience at Beacon Hill’s Grocery Studios this Sunday night (May 20, 2018) experienced the horror of what Evans unearthed along with him – his family’s link to the genocide of indigenous people, the slaughter of the bison, and the pillaging of the earth – when the performance reached a climax of truly scary cognitive and musical dissonance. For most of the piece up until that point, Will Hayes’s guitar had been dreamy and expansive. But at that moment, it escalated to wretches and squeals, and the room went dark as the audience choked on the starkness of what Evans had laid out for us. The story completely unraveled leaving us to sit with the heartlessness, callousness, and opportunism deep in the roots of the United States.
But what were we to do with that information? Where were we to go from there? Especially when, as Evans pointed out, our country is still doing it. We’re still, for example, draining the Ogallala Aquifer and leaving behind dead lands (aka, “flyover country”). The land beneath the building we were sitting in, as Grocery Studios’ Janet Galore pointed out before the performance began, was part of unceded indigenous lands that belonged to the Coast Salish people.
I don’t want to spoil the experience of Flyover Country for you so I won’t tell you about the edict/conclusion that Evans left the audience with. But I will say that it had to do with harnessing the power of story for good. And that it involved a really stubborn buffalo.
Flyover Country is the distillation of one artist wrapping his head around the enormity of his origins – both those of his family and of his country – and what those things mean here and now. Through acoustic and electronic music, a slideshow of archival photos and video, field recordings, and spoken text, Evans has woven together a deeply personal story, but he leaves enough space for us to inhabit it. It’s a piece that’s impossible not to think about for hours and days after, precisely because it’s a story that we’re all still writing.