The festival’s theme this year, curated by Andrea Williams, was around Professor Timothy Morton’sconcept of ‘Dark Ecology’ , which in short articulates an ironic and horrific complicity with impending ecological catastrophe that unites all living and non living things as uncanny actors in events that are ‘already written’. This theme seemed like the perfect opportunity to collaborate with Reza, whose work on ‘petro-politics’ and ‘telluric conspiracy’ in Cyclonopedia has been inspiring both of us for years, and greatly compliments Morton’s own work on Object Oriented awareness and Ecological myth-twisting.
In long skype calls and email exchanges with Reza, a central theme of conspiracy and ‘the psychotically mundane’ began to emerge. That is, that accentuating mundane aspects of the performative environment to their psychotic extreme would in some ways increase temporal environmental awareness and hopefully provoke a potent sense of threat, complicity and the uncanny in audience members. This was a lofty objective that took a lot of late night conversations to try and satisfy. On Reza’s recommendation, we visited the work of film director Larry Cohen, and attempted to restrict our plans from drifting into ‘sublime’ or ‘fantastical’ territories, which could in some part work against our intention of implicating audience members in the here-and-now, and work against Morton’s insistence on ‘the mesh’, or a new understanding of seeing the living and non living as unequivocally one and the same.
This distinction led us to concentrate on the immediate performance environment, rather than fetishize ‘environmental’ source material. We focussed on the cell phone. The bottle you are drinking out of.The sentient protocols of attendance and respect.
The mundane aspects we targeted were:
- The stage photographers. We had a remote observer trigger a loud camera sample for every time a stage photographer snapped a picture, with the intention of creating an uncertainty whether the photographer was disrupting or contributing to the performance.
- Cell phones. Cell phones of select friends were called throughout the performance, again attempting to invoke this concern of disruption or protocol, and also reconciled when the same ring tones appeared within the composition. Holly performed live feedback with her iPhone to further implicate the device.
- Dormant instruments. This aspect was not as apparent as we would have liked, but we planted laptops amidst other performers instruments to play timed samples that complimented and clashed with the performance. We thought that this mesh of ‘diegetic/non-diegetic’ would heighten awareness of objects within the environment, however the sound levels made it difficult to discern their contribution. I maintain that this concept could be explored a great deal more though.
- Applause. This was probably the most profound and successful ‘deception’ of the piece, where the audience was invited to applaud, only for that very applause to be played back to them to signal the rhythmic finale. The audience was notably uncertain whether to applaud at the actual end of the piece. We hoped that this exposed the mechanics of the performative environment, and also worked to implicate each audience member in the conspiracy. We felt that this also represented the most clear indicator of our greater narrative, in which roles had been pre-established for each audience member and performed dutifully and unwittingly – an homage in some sense to both Reza and Timothy Morton’s interest in predestined events and our complicity with them.
We attempted to generate a conspiracy from these mundane elements as a means to brand them, in a sense. We thought that by crafting uncanny scenarios around routine and mundane aspects of performance, we might somehow succeed in invoking similar environmental awareness in an audience member at a future performance, planting a seed of doubt the next time one applauds, or unexpectedly hears a cell phone go off in an inappropriate place.
Overall, we were thrilled with how the performance went, and would like to extend the narrative to further performances in future.