Thursday, December 8, 2011

Live Collision | Bite Size, ‘Before Talkies’ & ‘Orchid’

Project Arts Centre, Dublin
Dec 1-3

A few thoughts on Live Collision | Bite Size coming up just as soon as I have my photograph taken …

Lynette Moran has her finger on the pulse of contemporary performance discourse. As a curator of Project Brand New, she has provided artists a platform for developing alternative forms of performance, re-working classical questions of aesthetics to break new ground. With the more frictionally named Live Collision (here in a three day mini-festival ‘Bite Size’ format) we are treated to a line-up that promises to interweave theatre, virtual art, Eastern mysticism, physics, poetry, dance, and dirty music. ‘Technology’, the most obvious theme addressed by the two performances on the night I attended, was interrogated by Raymond Scannell’s play Talking Babies and Adam Fearon’s immersive photography installation Orchid.

It makes excellent sense that Raymond Scannell would be wrapped up in this interdisciplinary web. The wonderful Mimic – in which he performed the duties of playwright, performer, and pianist – was emblematic of sweet virtuosity, and, in retrospect, glimpsed at the writer’s concern with an increasingly technologized culture.  In Before Talkies a young man named Justin sits at a laptop, reciting his past in the form of a screenplay. After a horrific accident which claimed his speech and left him mute, he is left in the care of his tough Grandfather. As they clash indignantly, Justin becomes ever more determined to breach the attic that his Grandfather has forbid him to enter. Encounters are complemented and contradicted by scenes from silent movies that play out behind him.   

Scannell’s writing continues to be swift, clever, and almost visionary. In contrast to the grim technologically advanced society obsessed with self-betterment in Mimic, here we are treated to gorgeous images of “screensaver dreams”, “laptop sunrises”, and “Tetris blocks reflected in teardrops”. Scannell sees how humanity has been elementally changed by the advent of modern technology, especially in how the two have become existentially intermingled. Shane Falvey gives a humble performance as the media-saturized protagonist. I would be very interested in seeing more elaboration in the staging though. Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of this piece.(*)

(*) It has been announced that Scannell is part of Irish Theatre Institute’s new ‘Six in the Attic’ line-up – which provides creative and practical space for artists. That’s certainly an encouraging sign!   

As technology reflects and responds to human emotion (and possibly vice versa) in Before Talkies, it can be argued that the case is very different in Orchid. In Adam Fearon’s immersive photography installation, the audience sit in the dark as two cameras lurk like ninjas and strike with flashes that literally leave stars in your eyes. The image is then projected very briefly for us to see. Initially, the effect is charming as we see portraits of ourselves and our peers stupefied and partially blind. However, it does get repetitive and the flashes do begin to feel like kicks to the optic nerve. The idea of making the audience the subject matter is interesting but the technique is cold. Fearon himself admitted in the post-show discussion that usually the piece is performed in galleries, I presume, where an audience have more freedom in the space. It’s hard leaving this particular installation though without feeling subordinate or unreciprocated.

These offerings have made me more curious about the rest of Moran’s line-up. I hope the festival returns as I suspect that, experienced as a whole, Live Collision is truly calamitous, defiant and electric.

What did everybody else think?

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