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Monday, 23 March 2009

Inanimate Live Objects

My visit to Glasgow a couple of weeks ago happened to coincide with New Territories, The International Festival of Live Art. I chose to see ‘Technological Phantasmagorias I, II, II’ by UBU (Quebec) at Tramway.

The peice was en promenade and three separate works were shown. As we were led behind a large black curtain I did not expect what came next, as my eyes were fooled and brain baffled. And when I re-emerged I was at a loss at how to define it. How do I talk about something like this? Well here’s my best...

When entering the first space you were faced with three tiny figures dressed in white sat atop a high ledge in front of a bright translucent white screen. The bodies were made of plastic and each head had a video projection of a human face cast onto a mannequin head. The preciseness of the projection was very deceptive; I thought that I was watching real people’s heads protruding out of a screen. I even imagined the actors standing on a block behind the screen, and then I realised that the screen was almost see-through! The projectors were well hidden and the lighting very crisp to outline the 3D figures.

The script for the peice was John Fosse’s play called ‘Sleep My Baby Sleep’. The characters sat chatting, staring into bleakness, their blank faces stayed forward and wide-eyed. They were talking of nothing and everything, of understanding everything and knowing nothing! They were asking existential questions about the state of being and nothingness. The use of ‘dead’ plastic objects with ‘real’ faces with pre-recorded script created a cold atmosphere. There was no live action but the objects existed in the present time and space. The peice felt endless as the characters went round in circles not knowing if they had just arrived there or had been there all their lives. The peice could physically be never ending; the technology allows for this and could carry on (pending power supply) without wavering.

The second peice was Samuel Beckett’s ‘Play’; the seated theatre space had three large terracotta pots with mannequin heads sticking out of them. The heads looked as if they too were made of terracotta. Darkness remained until one of the characters spoke and a bright light (from a hidden projector) transmitted a face onto the mannequin. The peice gave me a bit of a headache because we were sitting in near total darkness and according to my eyes I was seeing real people talking in the present. But my brain did not believe my eyes, as there was something not quite right about what was happening. I could not feel the energy of living, breathing human beings and as with the first peice, the work and performance space felt cold.

The actors spoke in French and the subtitles did not appear until half way through the peice. The three characters were in a love triangle, each talking about their experience; the light shining on the talking head highlighted the self-importance that each character possessed. But I did not enjoy ‘Play’, the words were spoken very quickly and the subtitles went by too fast to read. Sitting in the dark trying to work out if these faces were 'real' or not strained my eyes and overall I felt that the piece really isolated its audience.

The third piece ‘Blind’ was absolutely entrancing. Sitting again, in near darkness, 12 heads emerged. There were 6 males and 6 females but only 2 actors who had been recycled to create each individual. These projected images of hologram beings were suspended on stage, behind a clear screen. The ensemble were blind, they had been left alone by their minder from the hospice where they resided. The image of these heads in mid-air was rather haunting but incredibly beautiful. Each character talked about what they could hear and where they thought they were. The group were physically together but completely isolated from one another.

The coldness that I felt in the previous two installations was now replaced with peace, stillness but also a feeling of being lost. I felt for these technologically fabricated characters, which were lost in darkness. Using only the head of each character brought the focus onto the mind. Was I hearing their thoughts? Or their actual speech? The characters looked vulnerable in the blank space that surrounded them. 'Blind' came to a chilling climax when one of them realises that their minder has not abandoned them, but had been for some time sitting next to them, dead! I was submerged in this incomparable peice and the images presented and conjured by language will not be forgotten anytime soon.

The technology used by UBU gave life to the dead objects physically present onstage. It was a test for the brain. ‘Technological Phantasmagorias I, II, II’ did lack something and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I now realise that it was missing a certain energy. The energy that is created between a live performer and their audience was absent. There was no sweat, muck ups, or adrenalin. This is not a draw back or negative but an unusual feeling, something that I was not used to. The brilliance and preciseness of the technology overrides this lack. When using pre-recorded material I think that one has to sacrifice the live factor. I was however suprised and pleased that I really felt something for the characters in the first and last installations. People that I have seen but will never meet, people that potentially coule be dead in real life. I do not know when these real people acted out the scenes for the first time in the past, that were then re-presented in the time and space in which I saw them. This technology appealed to my senses and I was amazed by this.

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