Sep 5, 2010

So what's this?

If you would like to see what the project turned into as a final product, click here directly for what is called the Luminoceros project.

This page is a kind of scrap-book, a collection that I'm putting together for a new project. In a nutshell it hopes to be a miniature Opera House that is big enough for a couple of performers to play on. I have spent the last few weeks reading a lot, looking at real theatres and watching performances. Sometimes I have little realisations, other times they are curious parts of a puzzle that I haven't tried to connect yet.

Usually I do this in a big book, but I thought it might be interesting to put my research book into a 'public space' since the intention is to create something FOR a public space. What is a public space anyway? I read a magazine the other day with some nice quotes which I will add soon but it implied that the most public space right now is online. So this is a reaction to that provocation.

Feel free to browse, comment if you like, I'm interested in reactions and will be sending links to a few people to see if I can find the through line. I'll try to update this regularly. You may notice that it is all in reverse with most recent first so reading this may be like some kind of archeological dig.

(not real date of entry, it's just so it stays at the top)
This is some of the quick sketches in my book recently, mostly looking at the most obvious ways of creating visual illusion in a simple space. There are some notes at the end, mostly me trying to work out what I think the relationship between light and the physical world is. I know that's a little bit old fashioned of me to think in those terms, but I feel like i need to figure that out to proceed with this.

Jan 20, 2010

Maquette number two

So here it is - the second conceptual model, which has managed to solve a lot of the initial problems. The big difference is that the stage is in the middle of the structure with audience on all four sides. This allows everyone to feel like they are inside the belly of the same great fish. I had initially put a second level with all the way around too but on reflection decided there was advantage to having it on one side as this creates a kind of natural hierarchy that the actors must address or overcome.
(This model is made of cooking skewers but represents approximately 6m across and 5m high)

The first thing you notice is how intimate the space is. It forces the audience almost onto the stage, I like this because they will truly impact on the performance itself, unable to be faceless figures in the dark as we are so often used to in conventional theatres.

By my figuring there is enough room for just over 50 people in the space (depending on whether or not you use the area under the mezzanine for public)

But here is the exciting bit... I wired the model up with some LED lights (explaining the blueish tint) and introduced a few wire-framed figures. These are the shadows those 3 or 4 lights managed to throw.

This is a shot from above with shadows on the walls of my bathroom. I like the ambiguity of scale and the confused layering of imagery that multiple light sources can throw.

So now I need to turn this conceptual model into a living breathing structure. Now we get down to structural details like how much load it needs to take from people and more importantly wind hitting the side like a sail.

More on that later.

Nov 8, 2009

Maquette number one

So here is the last couple of weeks work on a model. As soon as I put the frame together I realised this was a good way to work because I was able to inhabit a three dimensional object. I think this has a lot to do with the way my thinking works as much as anything else.

The overall structure represented here is a 6 meter cube to be made out of scaffolding. The paper audience give a vague sense of scale.
The scaffolding frame

Floors for audience and stage, upper floor for balcony.
With pitched roof frame added. Audience in seated area and a drop covering the stage mechanics.

The interior with scenic backdrops. The audience would theoretically enter from the right of the picture through the theatre mechanics. The outer shell of the structure is covered with a strengthened PVC to allow light in and out.
The full model with two PVC sides open to reveal inside workings. The audience are part of the full playing space.

View from outside the space with audience.

This has been an incredibly valuable stage to go through, I have been able to ask a lot of questions, some of which I can answer and some I cannot at all. My next model is forming in my head already. I need to blow apart some of my own preconceptions in order to really re-examine this space I call 'theatre' in my head. That's the next challenge.

Oct 10, 2009

New ideas for the new millenium

So many images have passed through my head in the past few weeks. As a narrative it goes something like this… a trip to Venice to the Biennale after I moaned to someone that it was far to expensive to get to Venice then they told me how to do it cheaply. The artwork and the city seemed sometimes at odds with each other and other times inseparable. There was the trip to Charleville to the 4-yearly festival of Marionettes where the best and worst of puppetry were played out on a vast scale. Now there is Paris, a city where I spent lots of time in the 1990s and today seems different yet all so familiar. The cultural shift, the massive compression of people in small spaces, the layers of histories (both mine and the city). Each of these places seem like a parallel dimension, entirely consuming when you are there and yet so much of it washes off like dust from your skin the moment you are gone. I will need to be back at home in my studio again to realise which seeds of ideas will find fertile soil in my mind and those which will not.

This was a market stall on the street in Venice, incidentally not far from the NZ pavilion of Francis Uprichard. It was late one night and N and I were in a bar drinking either Rose or Red wine (for some reason our poor Italian pronunciation meant it was a little bit of a mystery which we received) when on the street a stall selling the usual tourist paraphernalia was packing up for the night. A bright tungsten light was hanging in the middle of his stall and the objects he had hanging from the roof were dancing about on the church wall just behind him. There was something about the severity of the light that made the shadows seem all the more poetic. The man working away at taking down his stall didn’t show any interest in the shadows, they were like dancing clowns mocking his hard work. The stall itself was a beautiful design, it packed up to something about the size of a large chest of drawers.

Then there was the shadow work of ?? – in the Arsenal pavilion who is apparently is a great collector of things (in fact there were several exhibitions that featured collections of things –like the Finnish fire engine collection). This shadow show was a lot more conscious of it’s apparent effect on the wall nearby, but the charm of it was the simple brutality of the fixtures that made the shadows. They were very simple objects stuck or wired onto a turning plate then stuck in front of a light made from an old coffee tin. Almost all of the work in the Arsenal Pavilion made a conscious effort to expose the mechanism or the technology of the artwork. It struck me that so much theatre I watch fails to expose the technology, opting instead to present a kind of ‘magic’ where the image or the words have been crafted without the audiences knowing. I wonder whether this is a distrust that the audience will understand the craft being presented. When you present an audience an idea where buried under the craft I think a contemporary audience feels alienated or tricked. An advertising sign will never reveal the wiring that makes the light work because they wish to manipulate our reading of the object. The moment we see the wiring beneath the coca-cola sign we are reminded that this is a construct or a device to communicate and to consider the device as much as the ‘message’. Is theatre naïve, or simply less self assured. Commercialism in any discipline creates this obsession for craft, you only have to look at Hollywood to be reminded of the banality of craft over content.

Here’s another piece where the device (of film in this case) is pulled out to be entirely visible to the audience and where the device becomes the object itself. The film projected on the wall opposite reflected the mechanical brutality and poetry of this object.

This is a strange one, I didn’t really understand it despite reading about it before I went to the exhibition. It was shadow puppets videoed and playing out a kind of orgy scene (apparently inspired by the Marat Sade though surely our contemporary references of internet pornography are more immediate). The movement was very strange and the cuts deliberately harsh, I wanted to like it but just felt unsettled. The second half of it were these coloured shapes moving, which seemed to make more sense to me because they were abstracted so strongly. I think I need to read more.

And here is a piece I only got a glance at because we were running out of time. It is a projection where the narrow depth image reads more like a detailed silhouette, in order to create an equality between the different characters speaking. It was a very beautiful effect, using I suppose a diffusing fabric to throw anything not hard up against the cloth out of focus.

This is some graffiti in the toilets, after the conceptual strength of all the pieces I’d seen that morning, this piece seemed so relevant to the environment, to the material and to the activity of me going to the toilet, not to mention the history of toilet graffiti art. “Oh my god” said N, “everything is an installation, everything is an installation!”

Ok here is something that I know there are reference points I need to follow up, yet it was still a very strong piece. The sign on the bench says please take off your shoes before you enter and play with the objects. I can only presume that the objects were being damaged through mishandling so they were keeping people out because the whole piece was inviting you into a surreal land of symbols. Each symbol complete in itself (this is where I need to do some research because I am sure I have seen these objects in Jungian paintings). So the invitation to arrange the objects in this weirdly exaggerated perspective ‘stage’ was surely an invitation to create a narrative of your own. I suppose we do this in our minds when we look at objects but there is quite another implication when you put yourself into that space also. I loved the scale and relationship between object, symbol, architecture and dream logic. It was a playful world that seemed limitless in possibility. There was a false perspective door at the back but once you walk around the back of the object you can see that it is just a slit with a door painted on, again the mechanism is allowed to have the same importance at the crafted illusion.

What I think I mean is that illusion is a throw-away treasure. Unless we really do believe in leprechauns we are being treated like idiots to watch little people running around the tree. I want to see the strings manipulating them, I want to see who and why someone is wanting us to believe in leprechauns in the first place.

So that seems like a pretty good lead-in to the festival of Marionettes in Charleville-Mezieres in the north of France, and to anyone who thought puppet theatre might be a dying art, I can tell you there were 50,000 punters who put that theory to rest.

This is the kind of thing I expected to be referenced but not actually see, so it was nice to be confronted by this very traditional Punch and Judy type performance going on the middle of the town square. Somewhere deep in my childhood past I have memories of this kind of puppet show, I remember it being very dead and feeling frustrated with what I was watching compared to the enthusiastic-voiced character speaking all the way through. This show was exactly that, kind of fascinatingly banal. The layers of artifice and illusion is quite impressive, a large set with heavy curtains, a large PA, a dozen puppets all dressed up in period frocks. But the illusion was utterly dead still. Why? Because we live in a world where materiality is acknowledged constantly in everyday life, so to watch something like this where you are expected to turn your brain (and your senses) off in order to believe in the illusion is like taking an Atheist along to Sunday School and hope he’ll like the nice stories. It just seems incomplete.

This is N and I on the streets of Charleville creating a shadow show of our own in the sunlight.

Here is a show from Chicago by a company called Redmoon. I was excited to see this work because the set was a large toy theatre operated by 4 actors, AND their show was in English – a rare pleasure. The machine itself was truly incredible, the level of research was impressive, the scale of it, the reference to toy theatre and to epic stage design and most certainly the technical level of old school theatre machinery. But the sum total was honestly horrible horrible horrible. When I think about why I dislike Walt Disney cartoon films of sleeping beauty or Cinderella so much, I realise that so much is stated that there is often no room for the imagination to engage it’s own idiosyncratic version of what is going on. The more information that we are bombarded with, the thicker the layers of sentimental music or cutesy personalities, the less resonance the objects or symbols or materials have in themselves. There was so so many devices and machines that I felt like the creator didn’t trust me the audience to have an imagination of my own. What’s more, the whole thing was filmed by a live camera and played on a screen just above the toy stage so that… umm, I dunno, so I could see it bigger I suppose. In reality it just competed with the images happening live.

At the end of the show (god it was a relief – the story was some moralistic tale about a little BUURRED – that’s bird with a thick American accent), the actors invited the audience to come and have a look at the bits and pieces. What a terrible idea! It was like the actors taking off their underwear and showing us how much they were sweating! We had seen everything already, so we got to see everything again up close and touch it. Well, that’s a bit hypocritical cos I was happy to see the rope mechanisms inside the theatre. Ah well, it sorted out a lot of things I was thinking about making a great model theatre, so thanks Redmoon for that.

Next one was a great production, by a Belgian group called Theatre Taptoe. This production has been touring for 5 years I believe so the performances were really beautiful, but the essence of it was a great concept and a great dialogue between poetic illusion and skilfully acknowledged object manipulation. The premise was great. This place is the council meeting rooms of the city council (Marie) for Charleville and the room is utterly 19th century in materials and design. The actors are playing the family of the house where we the audience have been invited as guests to see their rendition of the toy-theatre production of Genevieve. We are guided into the room one by one and announced to the rest of the audience, the family introduce themselves and begin the performance with all the sincerity and historical accuracy of the era. By announcing us into the room, “Ladies and Gentlemen, a guest from the Comedy Francaise de Paris, Monsueir Stephen Bain” we are being acknowledged as understanding the artifice and asked to participate into it at the same time. We are immediately complicit.

The toy theatre sits on top of the piano, which is played by the woman of the house, while her fiancé and father play the glory roles and the servant plays everyone else, including armies of thousands, maids, ministers, and various buffoons. They operate the figures standing at tables either side of the piano and speak into the theatre and to the audience present at the same time. We enter this silly artifice because we are constantly reminded and acknowledged of it. The show was beautiful, very funny but also very visually rich and managed to create a real poetry. It was great to come away from the festival having seen a true gem.

Sep 5, 2009

paper and scissorsng

I think best with a pair of scissors in my hand. Sometimes things don't go to plan. Jeff always says there is no wrong note in an improvisation, when you hear that white key you accidentally hit, go right into it because it's the beginning of something new and is probably the most important event so far.

Here is a shitty cardboard model, actually it's my third but the first I've taken pictures of. I like it because it didn't go to plan. Cardboard is great. It's free. And it's so strong.

Some pictures from Brussels

I was in Brussels recently and went to the BOZAR there. In one room there was a group of books to read through if you wished, but they were displayed in cases which you had to put your hands through little holes to turn the page, a cross between a museum vitrine and a post-natal incubator. It made me realise how fetish-like a book is, the touch and smell of it.
This was one of the books, by a Belgian artist by the name of Michael Barreman. There is a natural sense of relationship here between the giant person and the little building which still feels gigantic and the human still feels small. How does that work? I've had a look online at his paintings, there is a great fantasy going on a formal kind of playfulness.

And this is a photo I took from the park in Brussels one evening. Such formality to the gardens and such a striking compositional intrusion by that great beautiful big piece of machinery.

I was really glad to see this performance, it was in Brussels and to be fair it was on the main tourist drag so it was mostly trying (I think) to fulfill a kind of preconceived stereotype of what puppet theatre is.
There is such a great feeling when you see a puppet like this because it has been endowed with such wonder and fantasy without even seeing it come to life. But then when it is used in such a traditional way as this (though the puppeteers were pretty adept at what they were doing) it leads my fantasy absolutely no-where. The puppets soon die because they are following a kinetic or scenic framework that is imposed on them rather than coming from them. Here, they were used in Romeo and Juliette and you couldn't help wondering why they didn't just use humans.
This was the bit that came to life for me. Being able to watch the puppeteers. They were absolutely fascinating, the way they formed their bodies and their movements around the restrictions of space and need to manipulate the characters. I wanted to switch the lights off the puppets so that I could watch them better. There was a little story going on between two of the girls on the left, the more experienced girl was telling the other one when to pass the puppets over and when she got it wrong a couple of times she really ripped into her. But of course you are not suppose to see these things because they are part of the hidden machine.

Ok perhaps I shouldn't comment on these too much because I know them second hand from books and so it is so affected by what OTHER people thing in terms of how it represented.
This is from the Venice Biennale (I still haven't given up hope of getting there myself in the next few weeks). Apparently this exhibit is very popular because it is semi-pornographic, derived from or responding to the Marate Sade, but OF COURSE it's popular. Isn't that the first thing you do when you turn on a projector, you exaggerate the size of your cock, you fuck another figure, these are things that the unconscious release in us instantaneously when our imagination is given a whiff of freedom. I read that book called Story of the Eye by George Bataille the other day (I was desperate for reading material in English). I really enjoyed it, because it reduced sex and bodily fluids and desire and darkness to simple benign fantasy. It reminded me of a great album that Jeff gave me once called Passenger of Shit, just wild and fantastic descriptions of perversity.
And then there is this, I'm going to get to the bottom of this guy (I will see a performance on which he is scenographer in a couple of weeks) because it really touches me.
So strong and heavy are his lines yet so utterly impermanent at the same time, there is a wonderful contradiction that keeps the whole thing alive and propelling you forward into the image or moving image.

And lastly here is a beach in Brussels.
Just a minute, isn't that lame, a beach in Brussels right next to the dirtiest canal you have ever seen, a measly 10cm of sand and a garden hose. Well yes and no. It is exactly that but the fantasy is alive and well in everyone who lies there under the sun in their bikini sipping on a Margaritta. To quote a friend, (John R) it's like the kid with the tiger mask, it doesn't really look like a tiger but it's the fact that they are wearing it that allows you to be afraid of the roar.

Aug 5, 2009

Pictures from the British Museum of Childhood

A weird museum because it's very old fashioned - lots of dead looking things in glass cases and somehow not that much information about them. It's like someone had an idea for a museum but didn't quite follow through with it - yet. Maybe it will last and be transformed in time. The building is an old exhibition hall and is very charming in it's heavy iron and glass.

The toy theatres were interesting, partly cos I've been reading about them so had a clear context. This one was interesting because of the false perspective. Also the depth is probably about as ridiculous as real theatres got.

It also looked like it had been played with a lot, so it had a kind of memory imbedded in it. The warp of the cardboard or the chipping of paint on the figures are surely as engaging as the printed perspective of trees.
And here is an interesting one - it is lit very badly in the museum so it's hard to get a good impression of it, the reflection is the museum building itself which seems quite apt. It was very elaborate and heavy heavy heavy made from wood. It seemed very dead as an object, like the fantasy had been squashed out of it.
And this is one of the figures inside. So heavy. So dead.

Atmosphere is a concept I've been thinking and talking a lot about recently. I was speaking with Moko yesterday and he said, 'why isn't atmosphere in the theatre dictionary?' and I turned around and saw him with his head in a book book of theatre concepts.
I don't know why.
Isn't that the most important bit?

There were a few interesting toys too. Again, the mechanics of it were engaging.

This one is from a box called L'Ombre Chenoise, reminding me that the europeans stole the idea of shadow puppets from the Chinese.
I saw some brand new shadow puppets in a coolie coolie design store in Luxembourg. They were of Robots and another of a woodland forest. Have they come back into fashion?

This is a Chinese toy garden, as you would imagine the craftmanship is extraordinary and it had that beautiful compositional complexity of an oriental garden that does not reveal itself from one perspective. It's almost the complete opposite of the Opera House in that sense. Hmmmmm.
Nice objects, makes you want to touch them.