Published on February 17, 2014 | by Caroline Jouinot

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Celebrating 100 years of William S. Burroughs

Poster advertising Interzone

Interzone combined everything weird and wonderful about Burroughs’ literary genius [Guerilla Zoo]

To celebrate William S. Burroughs’ 100th anniversary of his birth on February 5, Guerrilla Zoo put together Interzone – an experiential immersive evening inspired by the life and works of the beat writer.

Taking place in a secret London location on February 7, Interzone was certain to be a unique event combining everything weird and wonderful about Burroughs’ literary genius.

Theatre performances, live music and art installations alongside a whole range of other entertainment were lined up for a night that never be forgotten.

William S. Burroughs, considered to be one of the most influential American novelists of the 20th century, belonged to the Beat Generation of writers, contemporary to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

His innovative literary style, using the cut up technique, along with his sharp, political trenchant and thought-provoking works all had a major impact on popular culture.

His novels, gravitating mostly around the themes of drug use (Junkie, 1953), gay subculture (Queer, 1985) and murder (The Naked Lunch, 1959) were often described as obscene; Burroughs’ dark, sardonic humour and intentional extensive use of foul language contributing to their controversial aspect.

Sordid

Bringing the writer’s sordid and eerie universe to life, the venue was transformed into a sleazy marketplace; dark corners, dimly lit alleyways, smoke-infused caverns filled with the state’s dubious inhabitant.

Named after a collection of the author’s short stories and early works first published in 1989, Interzone was to become the theatre of Guerrilla Zoo’s Burroughs celebration: a metaphorical, self-governed city where the rule is the moment, action defines the atmosphere and anything that can be dreamed, can happen.

Bringing the writer’s sordid and eerie universe to life, the venue was transformed into a sleazy marketplace; dark corners, dimly lit alleyways, smoke-infused caverns filled with the state’s dubious inhabitant.

Established in 2004, Guerrilla Zoo is no stranger to the strange: a self-described ‘revolving collective army’ of artists, musicians and performers, they specialise in experiential environments, live events, festivals, immersive theatre and art exhibitions, providing a creative platform for exhibiting new talent.

Some of their past productions include Goblin King’s Annual Masquerade Ball, a themed costumed ball exploring the darker side of fantasy, and the Make Believe Festival, an ‘unrivalled sensory bombardment, where Victoriana meets Fairytale.’

A few instructions were sent ahead of the event to make sure all visitors would be fit to enter: compulsory passports (tickets) had to be presented to be allowed into the state, and the wear of appropriate citizen’s attire – that included beatniks, cannibals, merchants of sex, Egyptian gods, practitioners of the Dark Arts and Sufi Dervishes.

After arriving at the meeting point in North Greenwich, guests were transported to the curious, secret location that turned out to be a bunker in South East London.

Bewildered fear

A puzzling yet spectacular introduction to the evening, arousing ever so greatly the intrigue of what was to follow.

Upon entering the venue, visitors were greeted by the Transportation Security Administration: belligerent soldiers, armed with semi-automatic weapons.

Rather loud and violent instructions to “Face the fucking wall, hands where I can see them,” were met with bewildered fear.

Following an apprehensive phase of crawling through narrow corridors and being told to drop on their knees for random security checks, entry into the main room was permitted.

A puzzling yet spectacular introduction to the evening, arousing ever so greatly the intrigue of what was to follow.

Once inside, a dusky, gloomy decor set the scene, with the sound of trance 1950s jazz serving as a musical accompaniment.

The visitors were hit with strange scents exuding from the grim and dimly lit, labyrinth-like city alleyways, cornered by small rooms, the foggy sight of faint, disappearing shadows coming and going.

Self-discovery

Photograph of William S. Burroughs

Burroughs’ death in 1997 killed one of the last sparks of the Beat Movement. [Flickr: Max Kiesler]

A few busking musicians scattered across the halls, one of them playing Indian drums, nod from time to time to the rhythm of their own beats.

It is a journey back in time of self-discovery: the first room entitled ‘Look with your eyes closed’ circles a table with a rotating flickering light bulb.

“Travel as far as your brain is willing to let you go,” preaches one of the punters. Visitors close their eyes as they get ready for a psychedelic trip into their minds.

The next room is an olfactory firework; an intoxicating tea smoked, patchouli and sandalwood infused incense that drops your senses into coma paradise.

The feeling of getting lost in a dark forest and waking up in New Delhi is enhanced by the room’s furnishing: teapots, small wooden tables and antique pillows casually dispersed around the place.

Three typewriters are being used in a frantic, sponteanous-prose manner by visitors. “You should be writing. Why aren’t you writing?”, an authoritative voice yells at them from time to time.

Tucked away in a dead end lies a flashing light, sculpture and film installation. A confusing vision, that transports you into an underground daze where a face-painting artist proposes his services.

Opting for facial dysmorphia, visitors got away with an additional eye and heightened features.A definite contributing factor to the misty atmosphere are the fragrances, which seem to ooze from everywhere.

Gorilla Perfumes, a word play on Guerrilla, are accustomed to work with interactive installations. Inspired by art, music and poetry, their guerrilla-style scent creations are to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

A multi-sensory experience in itself, Interzone whisks you away to bohemian reverie.

Moving through the space and deciding whether to engage or act as a passive bystander is up to the guests.

Realms of insanity

The voyage continued to the very realms of insanity, with a queue leading up to the divinatory room. Setting foot into the shaman’s office, guests are welcome to take a seat at his desk and get asked what they want to free themselves from.

They then get to pick a card and are blindfolded, taken outside by a nurse, slowly walking a few nervous steps. Participants look unsure as to whether they have lost their minds or are simply disoriented, before being taken away to a pagan ritual and meeting with the ancients.

The rest of the night was lined up with live acts: artists, performers, musical and DJ sets. Playing to what was probably the most eclectic crowd in London – Beatniks, Mexican wrestlers and Indian princesses alike – the nightmarish world turned into a lucid dream experience in a snap.

While Burroughs’ death in 1997 killed one of the last sparks of the Beat Movement, it seems a new generation will keep his legacy standing firm.

While this was a one off event,  you can catch a glimpse of the madness at the writer’s universe at William Burroughs 100, an exhibition of spray-can paintings and file folders for Burroughs’ centenary at Soho’s Riflemaker Gallery until March 22nd.

 

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