Sunday, February 28, 2010

Franco B at the RCA

Last Wednesday I visited the Royal College of Art for the first time to see an exhibition and symposium on gender and performance. Although my work does not deal with gender directly, I was interested in seeing Franco B's work as I was aware that he is a well known performance artist across the UK. The performative character of the symposium was of much interest to me in terms of the audience role and the autopoietic feedback loop.

Described as a sculpture swing, Thinking of you went into exploring the spectators'  will of participation and moreover their trust in the other members of the audience. A swing stood in the middle of the space, waiting for its first volunteer; the lack of predefined performers made this piece a purely participatory performance, where the volunteers became performers and their audience was responsible for the direction that the piece was to take next.

Spectators were invited to ride the swing and take turns, the only (apparent) rules being that if one chose to participate they had to undress completely in order to use the swing and that the swing must not remain empty. This meant that you'd have to stay naked on the swing until somebody decided to take your place. The specially composed music that played in loop for the whole duration of the piece (an hour) made a beginning and an end clear each few minutes, but of course the mechanism of the audience had its own pace and each member of the audience had a different response.

Despite the gallery atmosphere and the fact that the piece was described as a sculpture, I found it highly performative and yet the audiences' participation did not seem in any way forced. The piece flew with a changing pace, and it wouldn't have taken place if it wasn't for the audience.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Audience Geography

Audience Geography Diagram 
(brown is the audience, arrows are its gaze)

I have been looking at different sitting arrangements for the audience. Since my work is about the spectator's gaze and point of view, I would like to test unconventional positions from which the spectator's view is challanged as opposed to the more traditional 'all audience look in the same direction' plan, pictured in the first picture. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's all in your camera... Click!

Yesterday the Chinese New Year was celebrated in London, one week after its real arrival last week. Trafalgar Square and China Town were bustling with crowds, apparently eager to see the numerous executions of the lion dance, the dragon's swirling movements, the various artists and their tricks. Since I don't know when I will have the opportunity to visit China and see these traditions in a more authentic environment  I figured out it would be a good idea to go and see.

Some years ago I saw a traditional shadow puppet theatre from Bali and was amazed at the energy and movement that Asian performers are able to transmit through puppets and the subtle effects created by their colourful costumes. It was the first time that I saw what Chinese call 'The Lion dance', which is generally performed by two people, one being the head and upper body of the animal and the second animating its back paws. Although there were many interpretations around China Town, I think that the one presented in Trafalgar Square was the best. The performers were two young brothers, who were clearly very skilled. The doll moved with dexterity, jumping around on the wooden polls and whenever it turned around, making its stomach visible, you could spot the performers and see how they moved to animate the lion. The expressivity of the lion was not only given by the fast and diverse moves, but also by some little details on its head, which permitted winking and ear movement. 

Being a big event, it was obviously very hard to see everything live, so a big screen allowed most people to see what was going on stage, though omitting the brightness and texture of the real colours. The audience. It was the saddest audience I ever saw. I just couldn't figure out why they were there. Oh yes, to take pictures. I must admit that the ladies presenting the event were not very good at getting the crowds excited, but on such events people are ususally there to have fun together; shouting at the top of your voice and clapping hands is a normal reaction one would expect. There were no reactions whatsoever, I found myself  clapping and saying 'Kung hei fat choi' along with a few more people, while everyone else was looking at their digital cameras' screens. Not something new, of course, but I was still shocked at how people seemed so indifferent and couldn't help wondering whether their impressions are formed solely on the digital reproduction of the images or also on the 3D, live effect. 

Somebody standing in front of me was filming for around ten minutes and then spend the remaining time of the performance watching his footage, claiming it was so much better than what was showing on the big screen. But what was better about it? It's funny, if somebody found themselves there without a camera, would they be able to prove they were really there?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pictures form Mannequin!

Photographer: Dun Yu
Click here to view all pictures.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fancy an audience caugh?

While having the opportunity of viewing various performance artists' footage yesterday I realised that audiences have an excessive desire to caugh during shows. It is something very common in theatres and cinemas, and although most may claim that they simply have a cold or an allergy, it is clear that audiences ( I won't say 'we', as I can't recall caughing during a performance) embrace this loud and germ-expelling act in moments of silence. Silence may be eerie at times for many. Coughs wouldn't be noticed that much, but they always happen to be in moments of silence. 

Does a spectator say: 'Come on, what are you showing next?', or does he think: 'Ok, I'll make myself heard now that noone is talking and I might just get a response from another lad'? Or is it simply that a considerate spectator coughs at a moment when nothing is happening on stage and the rest feel free to do it as well after the first one? Whatever the case, audience caughs are undoubtedly part of theatre and performance.

The video recordings I viewed yesterday just underlined this phenomenon. In the beginning I thought it was part of the show but as I went on watching different shows I realised that it was not quite so. As my work examines the role of spectators within a performance and their degree of activity in a piece, I am going to try and incorporate a caughing member of the audience in my next piece.

I did some recordings this morning and played with the projection on a black screen. Dark colour screens seem to absorb colours in a such a way that images appear more realistic as opposed to the strong and contrasting colours projected on a white surface. Czech set design artist Josef Svoboda, who contributed a great deal to modern and contemporary use of light and projections, widely used dark purple screens, claiming this was the best colour to project on. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How did it go? (Mannequin- Dress me up!)

Mannequin - Dress me up! was on last Tuesday. As opposed to the last piece (What you see is what you get?) it was done only once and was not originally designed for a limited number of spectators even though the space was much smaller than last time. The wall that divided me from the audience had little holes, which were for spectators to look through; this was their only way of seeing me. I must be honest, I expected less people to come, so I didn't put a limit to the number of spectators and it was my intention to pose an obstacle to their vision. While last time the performance took place in stark darkness, giving the possibility to each member of the audience to see by using a torch, this time the white space was heavily lid up, almost like a photo studio, but visual access was denied by closing the overall view and opening up little details that, given the number of spectators, one had to take turns to see.

Everyone brought a piece of clothing and placed it just under the separation wall (which was rising seventy centimetres from the floor). As they came in I could hear comments, laughs and realised how everyone was trying to find a place where to stand and be able to see. During the performance I sensed that people were taking turns to look through the holes as I saw the shapes of eyes changing in their little holes. From the video documentation I watched last night I could see that there was a lot of movements within the audience, and it was my intention to put them in a situation of 'Where do I go to see?'. By the end almost everyone was sitting on the floor, watching me from unedrneath, as I finished folding their clothes to give them back.

My physical presence on stage was very much based on free movement and improvisation, as I wore the audience's  clothes for the first time. I tried to interpret their clothing and how it felt with my movements in space, strongly opposing the view to judging clothes by their looks. This is why I had a tv set playing a Valentino fashion show catwalk in loop, where clothes were there for everyone to look at. Although my performance did not refer to the fashion industry in any way, I found the catwalk an appropriate example of how people judge something by only looking at it. What would the audience think they would see upon entering if a fashion show was playing at the entrance? It is about clothes, and each spectator had one piece of clothing to give, and it is about looking at clothes...but the performance made of looking and seeing a technique each spectator had to develop on their own.

The soundtrack of the piece was once again a collaboration with writer and musician Giacomo Natali. I wanted to have some pauses of silence every now and then, when spectators could perceive me breathing or walking, even though some of them didn't see me. The sounds used were those of different sewing machines, the rhythm of which was transformed into that of the beats of a mechanical typewriter, thus suggesting that clothes can assume character according to who wears them rather than being produced to be looked at and chosen for their appearance.

The participation of the audience consisted in providing the costumes for the performance, just like spectators provided the light in What you see is what you get?. They were also induced to interact within the space and each other, in their choice of how much on stage to see and from which angle.

I am quite happy with the the result and believe that I can develop some elements further, incorporating them with some of the discoveries I made with the past project, shifting slowly to the outlines of my final piece in September. 

Feedback from spectators was greatly appreciated. Some had enjoyed the 'non seeing' part of the show, while others suggested the holes were much bigger for everyone to see better. But I definitely think that the use of the 'hole wall' can be developed further and used in different ways.

I was very lucky to have a photograher at the performance this time, Simon, and soon hope to have some professional photos from the show to put up!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mannequin under construction

Preparing for Mannequin - Dress me up! has been great and I am extremely happy with the set up. Today was a decisive Monday, technicians at school have been really helpful  throughout the past two weeks and despite little problems on the way everything seems to have worked out. 

Now the performative part will be entirely influenced by the audience, or shall I say their clothes?

Clothes are a girl's (and a boy's) best friend!

My project to be presented tomorrow started as a two week collection of clothes. I sent emails, put up posters around school and was quite positive about people filling up my pretty handmade container! No chance though. The idea of performing in audience's clothes started looking like a much harder task than what I had previously expected. 

Involving spectators this time will be through using on stage something theirs: a piece of clothing, of any kind, any size, any colour. The Analysis of Performance Art (A Guide to its Theory and Practice) by Anthony Howell gave me material to ponder on and develop on the theme of clothing. For a contemporary dancer/performer what usually matters is being comfy in order to move freely and show your natural body, without any excessive embellishments. So although  I have always taken some care of choosing what to wear on stage, especially when performing with others, it felt more like choosing what to wear before going out rather than preparing for a show. But being aware of how different clothes may affect our movements, I wanted to go for creating a piece that is based on clothes. How do we choose our clothes? By apperance? By feel? By price? We are so visually bombarded with fashion catwalks, although some very artistic, they always end up presenting the same models with the same walk, the same face. So we can all look the same, but do clothes feel the same on all of us? 

In a city like London, where second hand clothing and flee markets are places visited on a regualr basis by almost everyone (especially Art students), I thought it wouldn't be difficult to fill up a basket with clothes: it was a way of creating some curiosity in spectators and ensuring that they do come to see the performance. But the basket was empty after almost two weeks of being at the entrance of college, despite all statements on my poster assuring that clothes will be taken care of and returned. Well it made me aware of how much people are jealous of their clothes; the difference between a Brick Lane vintage shop and my project at this stage is purely economic. I bet if I was giving ten quid to people for their clothes I would have collected some good garments!

Well to make a long story short, I had to change my tactics. When creating the flyer for the actual performance, I decided to tell people that they must bring a piece of clothing on the actual performance. It may be considered as their ticket to the twenty minute show. No clothes - No entry! I am curious to see who shows up tomorrow.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

New Collaborations Opening Up

Some days ago I got contacted by a colleague and friend of mine, Filipe Canha, who was directing a show and was in need of a second performer. I had already accidentaly read an article on the project in question the previous day, the concept of which involved our senses besides seeing, so although a coincidence it turned out a great opportunity of collaboration for me both as a performer and concept creator researching on ways of (non)seeing.

Useless/Useful participatory fashion performance and exhibition is an ongoing project that involves both graduates and current students from UAL as well as other professionals. Episode one, which was presented yesterday at the Rag Factory in Brick Lane, was, as the name suggests, very much about fashion and audiences' participation. The costumes, created by Christina Tso, looked at the touch and hear aspect of fashion, rather than solely rely on the visual effect. The costume I performed in had sound sensors attached to it and therefore sounds were generated according to body movement. Even though the rigid parts of the costume along with its cables and little gadgets did restrict the fluidity of movement, it allowed me to perform a consistent and yet simple choreography that exhibited the garment and at the same time brought it to life. Dancer Marta Masiero wore an unsusual black tutu that unveiled thousands of tiny blue lights that somehow resembled colourful sea corals that moving under water.

Along with the performance director, sound technician, set designer, make up artist, graphic designer, film maker, cameramen, photographers,  and many more who were there for help and support it was possible to put up a great piece of work in a matter of weeks. I was not there from the very beginning, but working all day with the same people on the same thing makes you familiar with it all in no time. 

The end part of the performance was about audience. It aimed at showing spectators the costumes, letting them interact with the garments' qualities and possibilities. As we had two performances one after the other it was good to see how they changed according to the number of audeince. The sencond one proved to be the best and we even got a spectator who got so interested in exploring the costumes that by the end of the show she was believed to be one of the performers. Indeed she was, as  we all merged together to bring the piece to an end. The whole project was documented step by step, so I will update with links to material from the actual show.

I really enjoyed working on the project and got to meet lots of great people. I am looking forward to future collaborations and whatever future results may bring, I must say that this time the timing was perfect, given the performance I am presenting next Tuesday explores clothing and fashion in a way very close to the themes of senses and audience participation that Useless/Useful is working on. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More than shadow theatre

Last week I was happy to learn that Pathosformel, an Italian based company was coming to present one of their pieces at the Mime Festival. I had gotten to know them through a workshop I participated in Bologna last summer and was eager to see their work after having a look at some videos they have on youtube.

La timidezza delle ossa (translated as The timidity of bones) was a work that combined graphic simplicity with body movement and sound design. Its duration was just under half an hour, which is the safest and most effective time for a performance, as stated in some of my older posts. There is time to develop a concept and yet keep all the visual imput fresh in a way that it leaves the spectator concentrated, without loading them with too much information.

The set design consisted of a white screen, behind which the bodies of the dancers interacted, making visible to the specatator only certain parts of the body at a time. What I found of exteme originality was that it was not simply the 2D shadow theatre play that took place behind the screen, but that the choice of felxible material for that screen permitted  the performers to press their bodies against it, creating 3D protrusions that varied slightly in their intensity, so creating a visual play of shadows that was very visual and physical at the same time.

Many critics refered to the archeological quality that these images created. However, the fact that bones were actually performers moving, pushing against eachother and transforming themselves did not really give me the idea of archelogical reamins, which have been static for centuries. Further, I noticed how at some point diring the show, although the quality of the images had developed a certain consistency and therefore the spectator knew what the work was about, my eyes started perceiving what was on the screen as a digital projection even though I knew it was real bodies behind the screen. Talking to Paola Villani (founder and performer along with Daniel Blanga Gubbay of Pathosformel) I was surprised to learn that this seemed to have happened to other spectators in the past.

It is amazing how our perception changes even if the qaulity of an image stays the same. Is it our brain that is so used to changing pictures and different qualities that it inevitaly offers a variety of perceptions even when not needed?