Thursday, November 16, 2006

Installation Evaluation

It was important to install the stage blocks into the Powerhouse as they were found at the Church on Rise Park. I configured them at the same angle to the door as they had been arranged when we entered the store room to collect them. The transplantantion from amateur to academic, from offstage to onstage was complete.

By opening doors that were usually left closed during performance, by switching on the working lights, by taking down the tabs I was turning the venue inside out. By playing the stage directions - the words that were never meant to be heard - with silences where there are lines - I was turning the material inside out. By arranging the stage blocks as I found them I was commenting on the memory of performance that resides within the wood and exposing visible traces of their theatrical history - palimpsests of paint, scraps of brickwork wallpaper, fliers wedged beneath the wood.

The technical equipment was arranged around and inside the stage blocks and made as visible as possible - wires trailing, LCD displays glowing. It occurred to me, during very useful and challenging discussions with Frank Abbott, that this was installative not performative, and any attempt to use stage lighting, or hide or tape down trailing wires would go against the anti-theatrical nature of the installation. To some extent I had to learn how to unprogramme my theatrical training. I come from a world where everything is meant to be hidden. There would be no presence of pretence here. I had experimented earlier with hiding the amps beneath the stage blocks but it made more sense for the mechanics of the installation to be on show, like the mechanics of performance (stage directions) heard in the audio, and the mechanics of the theatre (backstage area) exposed in the Powerhouse. I wanted visitors to feel they could walk around the backstage area, the green room, the toilets ('at the end of the corridor on the left') the kitchen, the technical cupboard. Everything became a part of the installation, an abandoned script, the scaffold tower, a blue gel on the floor, a drum kit, a fire exit.

I was interested in the proliferation of Fire Exit signs now visible in the venue. Exit as stage direction. In contrast to the handpainted sign at The Church on Rise Park, these were illuminated and came with strict health and safety guidelines. In conversation with Sophia Lycouris about how distracting these can be in a performance environment, it occurred to me that by exposing these signs and not wanting to hide them I was making this act of Acts of Communion site-specific to the Powerhouse. I had always assumed the 'site' in 'site-specific project' referred to the stage - the stage as the 'site' - and the installation could happen anywhere, but in this incarnation, the 'site' was the venue. The empty performance space, with the buzz of the working lights, the seating bank 'at ease' and the light outside the venue door which says 'Performance in Progress' deliberately left off. The work was intended to be encountered in this space in a way in which this space is rarely used. In fact, given the Powerhouse's uncertain future, it could be seen as a eulogy for the space's own performative past, involving as it did the detritus of performance.

There is a sense of absence as you enter the empty space to experience the stage directions from four acts of four plays performed on these abandoned stage blocks. Absence of narrative. Absence of physicality. Absence of action. Absence of emotion. Interestingly, two visitors to the installation, perhaps liberated by experiencing the work alone, chose to enact the stage directions they heard and film them. Sitting down, drinking from invisible cups of tea, laughing or sighing, as the disembodied voice described these actions. Physicalising perhaps what happens in our heads when we experience the work. We complete the picture. The theatrical act is made imagined. The collisions and echoes between the four acts of different lengths generate endless coincidences and feed a master narrative understanding of the work, impossible to physicalise, a world where one act's silence is filled with another act's action.

Overall, I was happy with the way the installation took shape and responded to the resonances of the space. There were moments when the porters would walk through the installation to make a cup of tea. The boiling kettle in the kitchen then became an extra layer of sound and mirrored moments in the recordings when doors slam, buses brake and kettles boil. I recorded the audio at home after finding that the amateur style best suited the amateur content. A technician would wander in to find a light. Again the work situates itself in this world of off-duty performance. Perhaps a world where the amateur meets the academic, the performed meets the unperformed, as in Richard Schechner's 'performance mobius strip.'

'real life - pretending - acting on stage - simulating - real life' Schechner, R., Performance Studies, 2002, London: Routledge

Interestingly this progression is present in the performance but it seems more forced. Here it happened without prompting, without writing, without acting. I am becoming aware that this installation seems a more appropriate vocabulary for and expression of my aims for the project. The absence of performer(s) and the importance of the encounter with the work in an empty space seems more pertinent to my research questions and this idea of 'to puzzle'.

I will develop the installation visually, aurally, technically and experiment with the work in different contexts and in different configurations. Criticisms I could make of this work in progress was that the configuration of stage blocks and technical equipment could have seemed 'too considered.' It was simply a case of placing it in an available space to see how people would interact with it. I agree it was 'considered' but I feel this what I am on the MA to do.

Interestingly perhaps only because this is a performance space do the problematics of placing the work 'centre-stage' surface, drawing as it does on the performer / audience relationship. If the work was exhibited in a gallery space then perhaps this would not be an issue.

I feel that this installation marks an important shift in my thinking from performance / live artist to visual artist and it is interesting that it is a shift I am more than comfortable with. I am beginning to think that the performance could be my last act and I will work more in the visual / installative medium in the future thanks to this MA.


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