THEATRE PERFORMANCE BY MOTHERBOARD
Created and performed by Hauk Heyerdahl, Runar Hodne, Annesofie Norn, Per Platou & Amanda Steggell
Original text by John Erik Riley
Premiere: 1 December 2005
Performances: 2-4 & 8-11 December 2005
Venue: Grusomhetens Teater Scene, Hausmannsgt 34 (Hausmania), Oslo.
From the flyer:
What makes an icon an icon?
Is it someone who has become larger than life? How do you know if someone has really become one or not? Possibly it is when a person becomes signified more by pictures of their picture than by their actual picture - or life. Given the track record of iconic figures of the past and present whose lives frequently end in tragic circumstances, who on earth would want to be one? Possibly someone who feels that they have nothing else left to gain -or to lose.
A wanna-be documentarist weaves himself into the making of his own documentary film - a masterpiece through which he dreams of acheiving acceptance, notority and iconic status. His film is about the rape and murder of a young boy - a crime which he may have committed himself. He has constructed a DIY film studio for the purpose. Though he is alone on stage he converses with an interview subject - possibly the victim, an eye witness described as the victim's twin brother, or a figment of his imagination?
Live video design: 4 dv cameras (live image) on camera stands are connected to 4 tv monitors. The idea is to create the feelling of a makeshift film studio and initially to extend the sofa (see image below) such that the actor's body becomes cut up into segments on the four screens when he is on the sofa.
His body is distributed on the TV screens in an unusual way (out of correct
order - he can appear extra long, very short or disembodied according to where
he places himself, and how the filming is done), and manual operation of the
cameras by myself and Annesofie allow us to "play" and improvise
with the video images by filming both the stage area and the different tv
- duplicate images on the TVs
- create feedback effects
- focus on details
- disturb "natural" order
Lighting system: A set of 4 redhead lamps on stands constitute the only sorce of lighting other than the light given out from the tv monitors. These lamps are generally used for on-location filming, and for temporary film studios/sets, and fit in with the notion of a makeshift film studio.
The redheads are connected to a dmx box and a lan box which is connected to my mac. I used max so that the lamps can react to sound input from a microphone. Several presets for various scenes - some automatic, some manual control. At one point the actor reveals himself os the rapist, clad in a Spiderman mask. He discovers that the lamps are reacting to the sound he makes and uses this "power" to accentuate parts of his story.
Aromas: 2 sets of 4 synthetic aromas are placed in airbrush guns connected to an air compressor via long tubes. In keeping with the stark scenography the airbrush guns are fixed to wooden benches and placed at the fron tof the stage close to the audience.
The valves on the airbrush guns are controlled manually by myself (L) and Annesofie (R). We syncronise our actions to spray the aromas over each side of the audience at the same time. We also wear gass mask warning signs (icons) on our backs as a hint to the audience of the impending aroma attacks! The aromas are released in a dramaturgy that passes from pleasant to disgusting smells. The aromas should evoke the presence of a character who is only virtually present throughout the play and act as a Greek chorus - to provide information that would otherwise not be present in the play, and to give the audience a hint of what is to come next. By spraying the aromas directly over the audience they have a short period of time where the singular aroma can be smelled before it combines with previous aromas that are still present in the room, making a composite smell. The final stench of the four combined aromas should be sweet, sour, bitter, mouldy, sweaty - basically extremely rotten and sickly.
I think that in relation to my project, this exercise was mostly relevant from a practical point of view. Despite earlier descriptions of Ikon becoming what could be described as synaeathetic theatre, the notion of synaesthesia was eventually not significantly present in the work apart from influencing my process in working with light/video/aroma. Even given the fact that some people experience character/smell synaesthesia (eg. whenever I meet John the smell of fried bacon fills my nostrils), a notion I worked on to evoke the physical presence of a character that was virtually present on stage, I still think that it would be pushing things to describe the piece as synaesthetic theatre.
However, the play has been described (by the critics) as a live art/performative happening where the combination of the elements of text/actor, video, light, sound and smell brought a strong feeling of physicality/physical presence to the space.
The emphasis on the sense of smell in a theatre work provoked diverse responses. It was one of the first elements to be mentioned in a review by Jon Refsdal Moe:
It stinks of mouldy stables and burnt bacon in Grusomhetens Teater. It's all about me, writes Jon.
... the theatre looks and smells like a shabby porno studio in a frozen, desolate place far from here.
- Just the atmosphere I wished to create.
Critic Elisabeth Leinslie writes:
Aromas are not often released in Norwegian art. When we in Ikon are confronted with two smiling women who spray aromas towards us we are submitted to an intimate and almost new experience. «We use aromas as a part of the scenography. It underlines the atmosphere», says Hodne in an interview in Klassekampen (01.12.05). Yes, we understand that, but do we really need the smell of mint when the man on the stage drinks a cup of (mint) tea? Isn't it a bit superficial? The fact that unpleasant and disgusting smells that are more in keeping with the theme of the play are also used is a relief.
The reason why I have initially referred to the response of the critics here is not because I value their opinion over all others, but they have at least had the opportunity to take the time to reflect over what they have experienced, and their job is to try and contextualise what they have seen. The two reviews also expressed quite contrasting opinions. To get audience responses is more difficult. Never the less, there were several people eager to comment on Ikon after the show.
One member of the audience described how, after the release of the last aroma (horse/stable), he experienced a minor asthma attack. He, unlike most other members, identified the synthetic smell as being "horsey" - he is allergic to horses. During another performance a woman who is an experienced rider exclaimed "horse" when the smell was released. Most members experienced the smell as disgustingly unpleasant but could not identify it - it smelt a bit like urine, was a common response.
Several people picked up on the notion that the aromas progressed from being pleasant to unpleasant. When they saw the two smiling women approaching the airbrush guns they were prepared for bad things to happen. All identified the second smell as mint. Very few could give the third smell the descriptor "bacon" but some associated it to burning flesh. One person described to me how the aromas helped to provide a distance to the unsavory development of the play. Another said that the aromas brought them closer to the narrative. Yet another member of the public remarked that the theatre "smelt" of something when he entered the space. I wonder if this comment would have been made if aromas were not used in the play. If you put your mind to it, can you think of a place that doesn't smell of anything?
Here is an extract of an email sent to us by a non-Norwegian speaking member of the public, artist Andy Smith:
I just wanted to write and say gratulerer for IKON. Of course I didn’t
get the complexities of the story, and did not understand that it was based
on real events, but I was surprised that I picked up more than I thought and
was really glad that we came too see it. Maja thought it was fantastic.
I really loved the sound and images. Distanced or broken through the 4 screens and then and re-distanced again and again by the layering of video on top of each other. The realities at play: of what was happening in front of us and simultaneously on the monitors. Great.
On a practical level Ikon gave me the opportunity to gain some experience about how aromas function, and how subjective responses to aromas are.
The opportunity to work practically with mapping the audio level onto the control of four stage lights was useful in relation to my work with the Emotion Organ. Many thanks to Pjotr Pachjel who helped out with programming the stage lights.
While the video work was not directly mapped to any other media and the cameras were controlled manually, at one point in the play I can say that something reminiscent of synthetic synaesthetics was acheived as visual feedback was generated on all four monitors and seemed to dance to the music. As the four monitors were the only source of light at this point in the play the whole space was bathed in the fluctuating light of the monitors.
While I must admit to being disappointed by not acheiving something that I could describe as being synaesthetic theatre, there is no doubt in my mind that my own focus on the notion played a strong role in how I approached the tasks I was assigned, and also influenced my collaborators to a certain extent.
I also believe that a longer rehearsal time would have led to a greater intergration of the elements and closer collaboration of the participants. Much of our short time together was dominated by the psychological text treatment between the actor and the instructor. While I think, given the manuscript in hand, this was the correct way of treating the text, if this work had progressed faster, or been carried out as preparation it would have formed a base for further work together rather than dominating the process. It is always easier to be smart in retrospect. What is encouraging is the debate Ikon caused about the role of both theatre and the theatre critic in Kunstkritikk, a prominent website dedicated to critisism of, and discussion surrounding Norwegian art.
From this experience (and previous experiences of collaborative artworks I have taken part in during my fellowship period) I think that the synaesthetic notion could be useful as a method of art practice/production, regardless of whether an audience perceives the work as being synaesthetic. But, on the other hand, it all depends on the aims of the project at hand and the context it is presented in.
So, in answer to the 2nd question I posed in my project description:
02) Can an artwork be described as "successful" in synaesthetic
terms in relation to:
a) Process, input and output - from an artist perspective?
b) Output - influencing the way an audience perceives a work?
- the answer regarding Ikon seems to be:
a) Yes - as method for the artist(s) process.
b) Debatable. As Ikon was presented as 50 minutes of jam-packed monologue with sound/light/visual/aroma elements occuring simultaneously and performed in a structured improvisation mode, I suspect that the correlations between the elements were too discrete to have any significant impact that could mark the work as synaesthetic.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE!
I want to return to one of the texts I was inspired by at the start of my project, namely (Syn)aesthetics and Disturbance - A Preliminary Overview (1), where Josephine Machon writes:
(syn)aesthetics is an aesthetic potential within performance which embraces the sensory experience, in both the process and the means of production, insofar as it consists of a blending of disciplines and techniques to create an interdisciplinary, inter-textual and multi-sensational work, coupled with a sensorial mode of appreciation affected within the audience resulting from exposure to such work....
At its very essence (then), the physiological condition of synaesthesia is a disturbing procedure in terms of sensory impressions; of cognition and reaction, of memory and emotion. Such features are integral to a (syn)aesthetic performance style. As with the physiological condition, this disturbance can be difficult, unsettling, even alarming, and/or exhilarating and liberating. It requires a degree of interpretative, (re)cognition by the audience. It is a performance style which attempts to reawaken the spectator as a participant that reads, and responds in a complete manner to the performance. Following on from the discussion of the body as the modality for experiential appreciation, in terms of phenomenology a (syn)aesthetic performance mode can deeply affect the way an individual perceives their immediate world and the way in which they perceive themselves in this world.
Jon Refsdahl Moe wrote in his review:
Questions such as whether Satan or Posh Spice best represent Icons of today are simply not raised. Instead we are served a long and acursedly detestable monologue, broken against four video cameras and phlegmatic surfing across FM bandwidths .....
Twice in his review he comments that the play is about him:
What makes it more detestable is that I also know that it it is about me.
This man has locked me in with him and thrown away the key. Now him and I shall interact. Help me out of here!
Rather than being an artistic attack on a superficial media society (blah!),
Ikon is primarily an attack on artistic strategies. Transgression is nurtured
today in the institutional counter-culture, but where it once dealt with establishing
utopias beyond logic, we now talk about aesthetic invasions: of the field
of media as well as the observer's totally private room.
Icon is the story about a project where these invasions merge, formulated via an art practice which is strikingly similar. This makes Icon one of the most interesting comments on contemporary times that I have witnessed for a long while.
I am attempting to make some comparrisons here between Josephine's arguments for the (syn)aesthetic performance style and the response of someone who saw the show to try and determine whether or not, according to Josephine's principles, Ikon could be considered as successful in terms of (syn)aesthetic "style" from an audience perspective. At this point in writing, I think it could.
I would like to comment on a comment (!) made by someone called "Erik" in the Ikon debate on Kunstkritikk, in which he contested Elisabeth Leinslie's critic of the show - particularly with regards to liveart aspects. His comments are therefore particularly relevant to my project. Erik saw the show twice, and this is a quick translation of what he wrote:
The two shows I saw where extremely different. The first time it seemed to me that Mr. Platou drove hard on the FM dial which he contrasted with a deep vibrating bass sound to underline the darkness of the main character. This exchange, together with a slightly over-enthusiastic performance by the actor, resulted in my experience of Ikon as being not so great but interesting enough to make me take my partner along and see the show again two days later.
The second time around, everything was more toned down, more quiet and Heyerdahl and the radio (a program about food, I think, on P2) were delicately weaved together. The aromas were milder, and the 4 video cameras moved more smoothly. I suddenly discovered some constructions in the text that I had previously overlooked. The play was no longer about an unconvincing psycopath, but a sensetive actor who served an intricate and elegant dark text in a burlesque and softly shadowed abstract room. Totally fantastic!
Liveart, and the use of live media depends on the moment and reacting to the moment. It is a space of potential, of being in the moment, rather than acting "as if". You have to be in the zone. It is an unpredictable place to be where, despite the best planning in the world, the work, by nature is doomed or blessed to be "in progress". I was therefore delighted to read Erik's comments on Ikon, and also the fact that he actually returned for a second ride.
Finally, I would like to return to the conclusion of Josephine's article:
(Syn)aesthetics presents a performance theory that is open and embraces immediacy, ambiguity, disturbance and playfulness. In doing so it celebrates creative work that shares these essential traits and provides a means of articulating a response to such work. Crucially then, (syn)aesthetics provides a foundation for the analysis of both performance and appreciation strategies simultaneously. The (syn)aesthetic style denies a single accepted valuation as the nature of the work presented strongly favours individual reaction and appreciation. It is a process of interpretation which prioritises complete perception, engaging the senses, the imagination, and the intellect in an alternative way. Consequently, a personal, innate response is respected over accepted codes of analysis and judgement.
LINKS AND REFERENCES
(1) (Syn)aesthetics and Disturbance -
A Preliminary Overview
Josephine Machon, Body Space & Technology Journal, Brunel University, vol.1, no.2, 2001
IKON Project website:
by Jon Refsdal Moe
ærlig forsøk (An honest attempt)
by Elisabeth Leinslie
[NB: In Norwegian, and includes the debate that Ikon has sparked about the performance itself, and theatre/art crtitisism in general.]
See diary posts:
MEETING WITH RUNAR HODNE AND PER PLATOU
19 -21 Jan 05
A modern monologue by Motherboard
Version 02, Jan 05
RANG ODD GYTRI OF GAC-NORGE
I called Odd Gytri of GAC-Norge (airbrush specialist) to order the system for emitting aromas.
EMAILED DALE AIR
A MODERN MONOLOGUE
Trials at Grusomhetens Theatre