Saturday, October 31, 2009

So happy together!

Performance is also about working as a team, and that is what we had been doing for the last two weeks, in collaboration with Douglas (our course leader). He had decided to involve us in his project for the Gradute School Festival, and that was really a great 'beginning of the year' opportunity for us to get to know each other better and work together.

As we all come form different backgorunds it has been interesting to see how everyone approaches a certain issue, be it a cenceptual or a techinical one. I feel that communication between us has become more effective, considering that we are a very international group, where a lot of languages mingle together, which is a great thing, but it may get in the way when one is trying to make a statement. I guess throughout this petite experience we have developed our unique language, after all the final piece came out quite well, considering the amount of time we had for preparation, the technical devices available, and the space we share with a lot of colleagues, who had other projects to work on. 

Of course we have had our moments of misunderstanding, disagreement and simply ignoring a situation when it all got too much. But at the end of the day you feel closer to someone if you had the courage to tell them off about something. We all know that when the clock is ticking and things need to be done one has to simply act.

The theme for the piece, which was mainly a video projection on the outside of the MA building of our college, with some shadow theatre play projected from teh inside, was climate change. That seems to be currently a very popular theme, however we believe that despite its exagerrated use we managed to put together some ideas that went beyond the main theme and so the piece was accessible to a wide audience. 

So thank you VLPs for the wonderful experience, and looking forward to working with you again... that shouldn't be long, so on second thought, let's concentrate on our projects for now!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Some like it blind

Last Friday Amanda Beech gave a lecture on neutrality at Wimbledon College of Art. She discussed on different theories and philosophers, such as Theodor Adorno and Maurice Blanchot. Amanda started off by talking about the tragic story of Oedipus, arguing that in this case knowledge and innocence are closely associated with power and violence.  Of course hadn't Oedipus come to learn the truth about his parents and what he had done without knowing, he wouldn't have blinded himself. 

The image that was before us for quite a while was the figure (of Oedipus) with its hands tense and eyes bleeding, obviously just as he blinded himself. 

What struck me most about Oedipus was his choice of punishing himself. One would generally expect that the worst punishment that one chooses, after realising the terrible things they have done is to end their life.  But Oedipus chooses to continue living, and suffering for his past actions, living in eternal darkness, unable to see the external world.

This reminded me, although in different perspective, of Orhan Pamuk's great masterpiece 'My name is Red', which tells the story of a misterious murder in a  circle of Ottoman miniaturists of the 16th century. Apart from the fact that the novel is written in a an elaborate manner, keeping the reader always in suspence, it contains a great deal of insight on the philosophy of life of those artists. In their attention for the mastery of minute details, their excellent vision was of vital importance, especially as young apprentices. As they grew older and therefore more experienced in their specific field of drawing or colouring it was expected that with time, they would slowly become blind due to the 'exhaustion' of the eye. Not only was that a sign of great mastery, but it was considered a blessing from God (Allah) who granted those who had served him faithfully all their life the gift of seeing the world through His eyes, far from the earthly  beauties we see with our eyes, but in the eternal world of darkness.

I found it amazing that artists, whose eye sight was so vital, embarked on a  journey that was to take it away form them, and that was considered the most precious reward. Some would deliberately blind themsleves  after a long career as miniaturists, and they would still continue drawing and painting, as by that time they had mastered the art so well they could do it without even looking.  To produce visual Art they no longer need to be able to see the outside world, but the darkness that not many are entitled to in the world of the living.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

See- Saw -Seen

Any performance, for as much as it can be based on verbal interaction, or any work af Art, whether we are perofrming or watching, it requires first and foremost our ability to see. As simple as it may seem, we need our eyesight.  I have been terrified at the thought of losing my sight; what would happen then?  Would I still be able to create something which is meant to be seen and experienced as visual?  Everything around us is visual.  And yet the lastest film by Spanish director Pedro Almadovar, 'Los Abrazos rotos' (Broken embraces) tells the tragic story of a film director who kept on writing scripts, despite the loss of his eyesight in a car accident.  Not to ruin you a night at the cinema, but the most striking thing about it is that he edits his best film ever as a blind man.  Yes, his visual masterpiece of cinema is something he would never see.  But would it have been his masterpiece if the shooting hadn't taken place when he could still see?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Live vs Mediatized

Which one was to be my fist book from the 'essential' list this term? Got quite a few of them at home, they are all brand new, with beautiful covers and almost all of them have the word 'performance' in their title, so it's really my perfect reading. My eye fell on Paul Auslander's 'LIVENESS Performance in a mediatized culture'. 'Liveness' suggested something playful and yet the cover of the book is almost austere: a dark theatre, with its traditional red seats, all empty. Impossible to say if that is before or after a performance, but it was certainly a great book to examine some aspects of the mechanism and development of performance in the contemporary world.

As performance artists, although we perennially co-exist with the digital reality, of today, when it comes to creating a piece we use digital technology as a tool to get the desired effects, rather than recognising it as an integrated element of the whole. The audience is mainly made up of people who grew up watching tv programs, go regularly to the cinema, or at least if they don't, they download movies and all kinds of software form the internet. They look at a medium of three hundred ads a day, according to recent statistics, they meet friends and relatives online every day and many of them skype their partner on the other end of the world before going to sleep; then wake up with a morning tv program, the radio, jogging with their ipod and checking emails. Well we are certainly going beyond this with technology nowadays, but that is not the point. It is simply clear that we are all part of a complex mediatized network that has kept on developing since the arrival of television. Our everyday use of technology is no longer simply a tool for our jobs, it's not even just a necessity. It's part of our existence and I would dare to consider that we are loving it, despite complaining of this 'digital world that's going faster and faster'.  Undoubtedly, we very well know we cannot survive without it.

So if this is our audience, how can we expect it to understand the 'magic' of theatre? I always thought that was the difference between any mediatized event (from tv recorded programs to global live events being transmitted online) and live performance. The presence of an actor and his direct and physical relationship to the audience is still considered by many the principle characteristic of live performance, that makes it so unique. But can we accept this view, given the mediatized world which we live in? Can we really expect the audience to 'feel' the magic of theatre or live performance, without taking into consideration their visual, psychological and structural surroundings, their broad perception of relationships and comunication?
It can be argued that the physical presence of the audience as a whole, as a collective group that is present at one single event, is another trait that renders live performance such a unique experience. And I would gladly agree to that, but it is also true that we have in mediatized performances we have the same audiences as in live performance.  Auslander is right in saying that 'mediatized performance makes just as effective a focal point for the gathering of a social group as live performance'. There is certainly a difference between the two, but not necessarily one of quality or originality. Further, we are able to discuss a mediatized piece in real time while generally at the theatre comments and thoughts are shared after the performance is over, which obviously takes away of the authenticity of the performance as comments are based on something that has already vanished and referring to what is already gone would mean reframing it in some way, paraphrasing it.
Going back to the relationship spectator- performer, we must recognise that theatre or any other kind of performance is made up of two elements: the actor and the spectator. If we go to see a live performance don't we expect to get more than seeing it on television for example?  Blau argues, very reasonably in my opinion, that the very experience of live performance creates a desire for community, which can be hardly satisfied given that performance is founded on difference and separation. For as much as the barrier between spectator and performer is narrowing in contemporary experimental theatre and performance, as long as we are talking about performance, there will always be those two 'opposites': the one who performs and the one who watches. Auslander takes Blau's argument further, stating that while we are unable to satisfy our longing for community between actor and audience in live performance, we tend to feel more comfortable and socially integrated within the audience in the case of mediatized performance.

Nothing is going to substitute going to the theatre, just as nothing will replace the commodity of enjoying a recorded performance at home in the company of friends or watching a live transmission of an event on a massive screen in a crowded city square. But we'd better get used to considering those two different options, both of which offer unique possibilities of perception, only in different ways. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

If you choose so (First time at the Royal Court Theatre)

After a tiring day of tube orienteering, city trekking and visiting exhibitions around London, our MA group went to see 'The Author', directed by Tim Crouch at the Royal Court theatre last week. I didn't know him till then and think this was a good piece for me to be introduced to his work. The structure of the performance and its presentation didn't quite give me a clear idea of what Crouch's work is all about, which is a good sign; meaning I might go back to see his next play.

Climbing up the stairs to get to the top floor, where the Jerwood Theatre is situated, quite gave the impression that the place we would have arrived at was some sort of a big attic transformed into a theatre space. As we entered I was not surprised that it was so, only when we had to take a seat I realised I mustn't be having any further expectations of what was about to happen. The seats were arranged in such a way so that one half of the audience was facing the other, while in the middle was a very narrow passage, which could hardly be called a stage. So there we were, inevitably staring at each other, chatting away, laughing and waiting for the performance to start.
Well at this point that could already be called a performance, since we were put in a pre-defined space and therefore forced to create some form of interaction different to the one created in a more traditional theatre. As we already had an object in front of our eyes, that might as well have been the subject of the show.

An expansive voice attracted our attention so there goes the first performer. He was not visible, or at least not to the whole audience, although one could sense he was certainly amongst us. An informal conversation was rapidly wound up as the actor threw compliments at us and picked a few people to share something about themselves. So was that a discussion group now? I still hadn't seen his face when another one cut in, and there he was, sitting amongst the audience just infront of me. And then again a third one spoke, behind the second, and then a lady, just behind me, had her story to tell.
What I found interesting was the fact that you were not expected to look at the actors, as some of them were behind you. Soon, it was a matter of choice looking at the ones in front of you as well, you could easily just look around the audience, take notes or even read a book, as during most of the performance there was a uniform light spreading in the whole space.

Four actors, engaged in a conversation, telling a story of scattered pieces, discussing their experience with handling the performance of and relation to violence, hope, choice. They were clearly acting, but as they searched every now and then for the audiences' approval it became more natural that we were all gathred together; so much that after a while it felt like being in a theatre workshop rather than a formally announced performance.

It was natural to leave the stage, shortly after the actors did. It had indeed been an interesting encounter, a hybrid between theatre, performance and a discussion group that could have engaged you emotionally, only if you chose so of course.

Me? A Blogger? Why?

I guess most people open a blog when they feel a certain urge to broaden even further their ways of sharing information, exchanging ideas, meeting new people, showing off with something, pretending to be someone else. I once followed, for a short while, a couple of blogs, enjoyed the daily newsfeed, but as I wasn't a blogger and couldn't comment on the articles published, my acquintance with them ended very quickly. I didn't have a good enough reason to start my own blog at the time, and I certainly didn't feel comfortable writing something that everyone could see.
Well, today I have a good reason to 'open' this blog: I am back to school and I need my journal. Yes, we all had journals at school, only this time the journey I am embarking on is MA VLP, and times have no doubt changed since I went to high school and wrote little notes in paper journals. Well with this blog not only will I save lots of paper but put my ideas forward to be shared, critiqued and commented on.
VLP stands for Visual Language of Performance.