don't you get back into bed
Why don't you get back into bed
Why don't you get back into bed
Why don't you get back into bed
to be cheerful part 3
1 2 3
I arrive at Café Mir to find the place almost empty. Only two of the
three speakers are present, and one of them is helping the event's
host, Per Platou, to sort out technical problems with the sound system.
guests are slurping beetroot soup and it looks like Reality Check
3 is going to be a flop.
18.55: Trine Falch, the third speaker turns up, cool, calm and collected.
18.59: The audience has arrived! 30 or so people flow into the cafe,
but still no joy in the sound department. Crackles and pops mix with
frenetic jazz music as plugs are pulled in and out of their sockets.
The first scheduled speaker, Håkon Lindbäck, jumps on his bike to
fetch a replacement for a faulty cable from his studio nearby.
19.10: Trine, scheduled to be the second presenter, offers to speak
first as she does not require technical aids.
19.15: Per decides to wait for Håkon and announces that technical
problems have delayed the start of Reality Check 3. Nobody seems too
19.25: Håkon returns with a cable replacement, and all is well. Per
briefly presents the theme and format of Reality Check 3 and Håkon
is introduced as the first failure. He quickly takes his place on
the podium and Reality Check 3 is underway.
to be cheerful 1 2 3
session of Reality Check focuses on 3 artists who share a common attitude
that failure can act as fuel for creativity. But this is no guarantee
for success. I liken the 3 presentations of Reality Check 3 to Plato's
allegory of the cave where the prisoners would mistake appearance
for reality, thinking the shadows they see on the cave wall were real,
but know nothing of the real causes of the shadows. Both Håkon and
Jørgen Larsson (the last speaker) presented us with projects where
their inability to see beyond their own shadows hindered them in producing
successful artworks, while Trine took us on a reflective, philosophical
journey of the adventures of the notorious theatre group Bak-Truppen
(1), splattered with anecdotal episodes of both their collective history,
and stories from her everyday life.
presentation centered mainly around the development of an "(untitled)
interactive installation" (2002-2003), first staged by the performance
group Force Majeure (2) at Grusomhetens Theatre in Oslo. This installation
emerged from the combination of two separate ideas - sound feedback
generated by walking over a floor with hidden sensors, and automised
telephone answering machine systems, or talking robots. The set-up
was like this.
of the theatre was painted red. A large projection screen covered
a wall. The actresses/actors took turns to sit in the dressing room
and dub telephone answering machine messages which they listened to
on a cassette via headphones. They also dubbed video recordings of
themselves dubbing automated telephone answering machine messages!
A curtain covered the dressing room window (visible from the stage
area) hiding their activities from public view. Their projected image,
sometimes recorded, sometimes live, appeared on the projection screen.
The projected imagery was processed such that when the public moved
across the red floor, the imagery moved from being abstract to concrete.
The sound of their voices was treated in a similar manner, but in
opposition to the visual imagery. So when the visual imagery was concrete
(showing the actresses/actors, either live or played back), then the
sound was abstract (more like a soundscape) and vice versa. From this
description I hope you will gather that the group had many ideas about
recorded and live presence and diametric movement. They also expected
the public to recognise the pattern on the curtain covering the dressing
room as being the same curtain as on the projected imagery, and thereby
discover that the actresses/actors were actually in the dressing room.
feature was the triggering of a loud crash sound when a hot spot in
the centre of the space was stepped on. The group envisaged that the
public would intuitively find out that their movement was affecting
the theatre environment, but in reality they had no idea that the
installation was in any way interactive. Most people just stood still,
thinking it was just another obscure video installation. And of course,
as they failed to move around the space, nothing really happened to
make them think otherwise. Those who did have an inkling of an idea
of the nature of the work were disappointed that they were unable
to link their movements to any direct responses in the audio-visual
landscape. Those who did hit the magic spot and trigger the loud crash
were offered a moment of instant gratification, which soon dissolved
into disappointment when they tried the trick again. Håkon had designed
the system such that the crash was not immediately repeatable but,
once triggered, generate other types of sound modulation.
Force Majeure were so caught up in their own ideas that they failed
to see how the public failed to realise that they were participating
in the creation of the work. Neither did they make the connection
between the dressing room and the rest of the installation. Both the
artists and public were trapped in their own separate caves. Håkon
and his group eventually learnt that when dealing with complexity
and interactive environments there must be something that allows you
to make contact with the system. It would have been much more interesting,
said Håkon, if the dressing room curtain was opened, so the public
could witness the activities going on inside.
okeydokey, sing-a-long a Smokie
Coming out a chokie
dilemma was later described by the third speaker, Jørgen Larsson,
when he worked as part of a team who won a competition to develop
and produce “Elektra” (3), a national water power monument in Tyssedal.
time Jørgen was employed as the manager of BEK (Bergen Electronic
Art Centre) (4) who were responsible for the audio part of the monument.
With no previous technical experience save that of a half-studied
pianist, his job was to produce the interactive, generative sound
system for the installation whereby the the musical parameters of
the composition would be modulated in accordance with the shifting
daily parameters of the workings of the water power station itself,
including visitors. Many people were involved in the project, including
the composer Natasha Barret, who promptly backed out when she heard
the word “generative”. One intriguing detail that Jørgen mentioned
was that, as part of this system, Elektra could receive emails which
automatically updated the compositional parameters of the soundscape.
public participation, recorded water-related sounds were triggered
and modified in a computer when people walked across a metal platform
that formed part of the monument. Complicated rules were made for
this interaction, the most absurd being that if you managed to figure
out that when you ran four times round the platform you would trigger
the sound of Tyssedal's (and also Norway's) largest water turbine
starting up! The turbine had to be shut down and re-booted in order
to acquire this recording. That the public were unable to grasp the
interactiveness of the installation was but one problem. The sounds
that they unknowingly generated were inaudible, covered over by the
rushing sound of the water works, and that the speakers were not even
waterproof was a detail that the design team had overlooked!
opened in 2000, and ran for a grand total of 20 minutes. It then crashed
and never restarted. The sculpture is now a crumbling wreck of its
original grandeur - a complete and utter disaster. Elektra received
NOK 275.000 in support from Arts Council Norway, with an additional
NOK 125.000 in artist consultation fees, not to mention resources
from additional sponsors.
to be cheerful?
Falch stood in front of a backdrop of burning logs projected from
Per's computer screensaver. The projector light shone in her eyes,
so she carefully re-positioned herself so she could make eye-contact
with the public while she talked about 20 years of Bak-Truppen's lisence
to fail, Trine style, pointing out that there are seven other renderings
of her story corresponding to the current seven other members of Bak-Truppen.
Persian rugs are designed with a fault, says Trine. Only God is allowed
to be perfect. But as we are people, we can put as many mistakes into
our work as we wish.
sees failure in everything around her and she wishes for a life without
deadlines. She tells the story of her neighbour, once a respected
trombonist in Bulgaria, now unemployed and depressed in Norway. He
occasionally plays with dance bands, but otherwise potters green-fingeredly
in the backyard. Trombonists do not enjoy the same respect in Norway
as in Bulgaria. Following a disastrous attempt to make a comeback
in Bulgaria, where time was too short and rehearsals so long that
his lips became very sore and insensitive. He played so badly that
after one concert he was taken off the programme. He returned to Norway
with a only a poster and a programme to show for his efforts - and
then his wife left him. Trine knows when he's really down because
he plays Norway's national anthem over and over again with great vigour
from his balcony.
to be cheerful 1 2 3
first you don't succeed, failure may be your style, says Trine, quoting
Tarantino. If really good things can get even better, then imagine
how good really bad things can get. This is a translation of a Chinese
saying Trine has picked up on her travels with Bak-Truppen. Which
brings me back to Jørgen, and his story about the birth of BEK.
to Jørgen, BEK came into existence in 2000 due to an application for
project funding in 1998 for something called pl0t. pl0t was an ambitious
net-based art project where artists from Bergen could create collaborative,
complex, chaotic artworks via a web browser for the whole world to
see. It is described on BEK's website as “an ongoing development,
net collaboration with midi, visuals and text. A control unit and
communication tool.” If you click on the pl0t link to discover more
about this ongoing development, you will find the following comment,
project # 1:
the BERGEN MAX LIGHT TOWER CONSOLE is now over.
phase 2 is coming soon to a browser near you ! (5)
more, nothing less! In reality, project #1 was the only pl0t project
to be realised. It was a nice one - though I say it myself (being
one of the involved parties). Lights were installed in the tower windows
of a building that once housed Bergen's Electricity Board and is now
part of Bergen Art Museum. By clicking on a web browser interface
people could control the colour and pattern phases of the lights remotely.
The project was exhibited as part of Motherbord's installation “Sement”
(6) commissioned by the National Annual Art Exhibition in 2000. The
Max Light Tower was realised in collaboration with Gisle Frøysland,
director of visual arts at BEK.
project, says Jørgen suddenly, who introduced his presentation as
“funding application art”. Never before have so few cheated so many!
He adds. He told us that the grant application was designed to fit
in with the aims and values of Norway 2000 who supported the pl0t
with NOK 100.000. Arts Council Norway provided NOK 60.000 and Kunstnett
a further NOK 40.000.
it really bullshit? asks Per Platou.
defends himself by claiming that naivety in relation to the technical
requirements of the project at that time was partly responsible for
its failure, but before I go any further, I would like to add that
the pl0t engine has since been used for several other art projects
and is freely available for downloading on BEK' s website.(7)
claims that pl0t, though not really achieving its aims, was never
the less responsible for getting BEK off the ground. Apparently, a
member of the funding committee for art and new technology told him
that, as Arts Council Norway are unable to provide funding for general
management costs, they used pl0t as an alibi to support BEK anyway,
suspecting that pl0t was over ambitious and likely to fail. pl0t provided
BEK with sufficient funds to establish a functional infra structure.
It also helped to unite the BEK team (Jørgen, Gisle Frøysland and
Trond Lossius), as did another project called “The Living Room”.
Room (2000-2003) emerged from two seperate project ideas that were
merged together, and was produced by PNEK (Production Network for
Electronic Art) (8). As one of the potential participating artists
approached in the early days of the project, I understood that The
living Room was supposed to be an installation made up of everyday
objects that came to life via various modes of local and remote public
interventions. I was therefore interested to learn that The Living
Room was actually intended to be an extensive, competence-building
project that, through collaborative explorations of the technical
and artistic potentials of DVD, would result in a large exhibition.
on DVD as a medium was ditched and the large exhibition never happened.
The Living Room ended up as a series of workshops led by the PNEK
nodes, and culminated in a final worklab and public presentation in
Trondheim in 2003, produced locally by TEKS (Trondheim Centre for
you have to attend to the mere surface of the incident, the reality,
the reality I tell you, it fades ...... (Emilie Brecht, 2004)
on an initial application for funding, Jørgen's description of The
Living Room process was brief and somewhat vague, possibly due to
the fact that he was interrupted by questions from the public, which
led him to refer to other projects. This made it more confusing as
to how and why The Living Room failed to live up to its original intentions.
It is obviously an intricate story that can be told from several perspectives.
Stang Dahl (the current leader of PNEK) was quick to point out that,
in her opinion, The Living Room should not be considered as a failure,
but as a project that was modified by the shifting times. It acted
as a catalyst that helped to strengthen the resources and connections
between the PNEK nodes, she said. In retrospect, it is easy to laugh
at project descriptions and grant applications that now seem over
ambitious and full of outdated trends and jargon, while at the time
of writing they seemed to make sense.
bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You're welcome, we can spare it - yellow socks
Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on 40 - no electric shock (Ian Dury, 1979)(9)
no electric shocks so far, but explosions. Yes. In 1992 Bak-Truppen
performed “OFmü P18. A post wall tragedy” in Berlin, a piece that
proved so problematic for Trine that she made herself a dog costume
in which she could disappear.
in a Berlin art milieu that hated the DDR but hated the west more
was not without tensions. That the theatre text was badly translated
and deconstructed to the extreme making it hard for anyone to grasp
was an understatement. That the audience asked for the 10 mark entrance
fee back was not encouraging either, but the worst tragedy was that
several of the performers were badly injured during the first (and
last) performance. The technical details are not exactly clear for
me, but due to Erik Balke using the wrong saxophone, pyrotechnic devises
sewn into the performers' costumes were detonated at the wrong time
while the performers were in the wrong place. Erik sustained the worst
injuries, and when Trine posed the famous question, “is there a doctor
in the house?” a doctor came forward with the following advise - drink
lots of cognac!
point I realise that the Chinese saying quoted earlier loses its ambiguity
in translation. If really good things can get even better, then imagine
how bad really bad things can get, could be another interpretation.
is our aim, said Trine earlier in her presentation. Unpredictability
and the possibility of failure are more desirable qualities than correctness.
But we are fragile. We are different people with different opinions.
Our relationships are fragile. They become more fragile when approaching
deadlines. It is a fine balance between order and chaos, and we never
know how much of it we can take.
emerged in the mid-eighties (10) as a collection of post-brechtian
performers where everybody did everything - whether they could or
not. Those who couldn't, but never the less tried to do their best,
seemed to succeed in capturing the hearts of the audience more than
those who could. Hopeless but charming. It's not what you do, but
the way that you do it. That's what gets results.
never deliberately try to fail. They rarely rehearse for long, if
at all (with the exception of recent works such as Do.Undo, a series
of very demanding choreographic works). Or rather, they rehearse in
they performed an untitled work at Black Box Theatre in Oslo built
up of 11 modules of texts and songs. They cast a dice to let chance
decide in what order these modules would be performed. Now Black Box
has two stages, and on the other stage the Dissimilis (11), a group
of intellectually challenged musicians, were holding a concert. Their
sound system was so powerful that their music seeped into Bak-Truppen's
stage and mingled with their own equally weird-but-charming music.
The fact that Bak-Truppen were performing from the dressing room and
were therefore hidden from view, made it difficult for the audience
to figure out who was a part of what.
dressing room incident brings me conveniently round to the last project
I want to write about, where blindness on the part of the group led
to deafness on the part of the audience. "Null, a multi-interactive
live installation" by Force Majeure, is the title of the piece.
It has been performed in several different versions from 2000-01.
a long story short, several actresses/actors performed texts which
were provided to them by the audience via five serial-connected computer
keyboards. Additional interactive elements, such as a sensor on a
highly pregnant actress's stomach, modulated the general soundscape.
Force Majeure had not bargained on the way that the trigger-happy
audience would use the keyboards. Here is an example of audience input
I snapped from their website:
imagine that you are an actress and a computer voice is reading realms
and realms of similar twaddle into your ear, which you must directly
relay to the audience. Not an easy job. When I saw Null performed
at Stenersen Museum in Oslo it was in fact hard to hear what the performers
were saying at all as the generative soundscape overrode their voices,
sometimes completely. So how do you capture people into a complex
system that also seduces them to act with some degree of sensitivity?
pleased to say that we heard that Force Majeure overcame at least
some of their problems, both with Null and the (untitled) interactive
installation described in the beginning of this report. The solution
for Null was partly to provide the actresses/actors with a text basis
that made sense, which they could combine with the input from the
public. The solution for the untitled interactive installation was
to re-assess and redesign the interactive system and to provide the
public with some pedagogic clues. For example, in the new improved
version, each time someone took a step on the red floor they triggered
a tapping sound. Tap. Tap. Tap. Onomatopoeia is the name of the game.
It is a simple solution but if you take a look at the quicktime documentation
of the Gothenburgh version of the installation (12) you will see how
the public were immediately drawn into the piece. You will see the
old and the young playing and dancing, and you will see their projected
image moving in relation to their own movements.
we can! Said Trine, at some point in her presentation.
yes dear dear
perhaps next year
or maybe even never
in which case
Reasons to be cheerful part 3 (repeat x7)
Check 3 was less showy than the previous event. Less entertaining,
more concentrated, and just as informative - if not more. I have failed
to note more questions from the public because, in my memory, they
seemed to blend in with the presentations. Per Platou took on a more
relaxed mode of being, less like a TV show host and in keeping with
his lack of enthusiasm for allowing NRK TV in to the seance, despite
repeated requests. The dramaturgy of the evening was understated.
People arrived close up to the kick-off time (despite the free soup).
Some left after Trine's presentation, which ended in a strange phenomenon
that I have never got used to - “allsang” (singing together), while
the majority of remaining public left soon after the last speaker
to be cheerful part 3
but not coincidently, Trine chose Alf Prøysen's song called "The
Christmas Present" for us to sing together. It describes an intention
to transform an old wooden crate into a wonderful gift - a sewing
box for the lady of the house. After a process of trying to make a
sewing table, then a wooden chest, a box to keep letters in and a
bird table, the original idea eventually ends up as a simple wooden
platter. So much work for such a modest result. Per Platou used this
song when he unsuccessfully applied for funding for Reality Check.
The story goes that a certain committee of Arts Council Norway apparently
thought this application was a joke:)
to be cheerful part 3
Check 3 was the first of the events that lacked the presence of a
presenter from outside Norway, which seemed to change the flavour
of the evening. What has struck me while writing this report is how
incestuous the Norwegian art arena is, especially apparent when you
enter the interdisciplinary sphere of art and new technology. How
fragile the intermingled relationships become when deadlines have
to be reached and limited funding is competed over, not to mention
the issue of where credits are dealt out. With a point of departure
from the 3 speakers, or myself for that matter, I could draw a complicated
web of interconnections and professional and informal networks between
artists from various fields, funders, producers, curators, writers,
art centres, institutions, etc, not to mention the role-swapping that
goes on, too. I blush as I see the web growing wider in my mind's
it is easy to jump on the drawbacks of such a situation, I think it
is as Trine mentioned - that in reality the balance of order and chaos
(if such dualities really exist at all) is not stable and creates
unpredictable situations. As individuals, we (and I really hate using
the word “we”) don't know how much of it we can take. Most of us are
only trying to do our best, aren't we? Whether we like it or not and
though we each have our own special voice, we are all part of the
same song. One thing I am perfectly sure about is that, having been
a presenter at the first Reality Check and written reports for the
second and third a new voice is needed. Therefore Per Platou should
choose someone else to write the next Reality Check report - a cook,
a librarian, a deep sea diver, a nurse, whoever. Just not me!
by Jonas Eggen)
18th April 2005
(7) Try here: http://plot.bek.no/~lossius/plot/index.htm
and here: http://plot.bek.no/~espen/docplot/
and here is Jørgen's browser-crashing anthem melody: http://www.nossral.org/nas_san/nas_san_frames.htm
(10) Since 1986 people have come and gone, and come again and, as
far as I can tell from the Bak-Truppen archives, Trine has worked
within Bak-Truppen since 1988. http://www.baktruppen.org/new_cv.html