This Is Not A Title

 

THIS IS NOT A TITLE

THIS IS NOT A TITLE is a video by created from an obsessive need to deconstruct performance.   It is a wormhole of representation that is equal parts text, temporary spaces, dying, and failure.

In 1929 the painting titled ‘The Treachery of Images’ by surrealist artist, René Magritte became a cornerstone for the subject of representation in art.  The painting is of a realistic pipe with the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (this is not a pipe) written underneath it.  When we see this painting we are faced with the problem of how we attach significance to images.  The dialectic relationship between the verbal and the visual keeps our mind bouncing back and forth between reality, and the representation of reality.  It is this relationship that makes art a compelling activity to engage with.

The theatre as a space for live performance is a hotbed for this relationship. From the moment a performance begins we are in a situation of pretending.   Whether it be an actress chased by a killer, or a dancer imagining in an internal world of geometry, a backdrop painted look like a forest or a sequence of lights in the colours of a sunset, the performers, technicians and audience are wrapped up in a game of pretend.  The game is to say that what we see is real, when it is not real.  It is the constructed, framed and pretend version of real.

The text in THIS IS NOT A TITLE continually questions the constructed image.  Using a game of positive and negative statements that ride a line of factual and poetic, the image of a dying actress against a chalked out version of her set, is repeatedly defined then redefined.  As soon as one truth is stated, it’s own lie is revealed.  “This is a picture.  This is not a picture.”  As soon as one meaning is dangled in front of us like a carrot, it is snatched away again.  “This is a moment. This is not a moment.”

This text came out of obsessive writing sessions, beginning with trying to define the borders of objects such as tables and chairs by writing these positive and negative statements around the edges.  These poems were then spoken and recorded in a digital before taking Magritte’s lead and ending up as titles.

Digital media and temporary spaces take advantage of the thematic world in THIS IS NOT A TITLE. The audience, in traverse, separated into a relationship where one side cannot exist without the other, are faced with a large paper screen that hangs between them, threatening to fall.  The statements, in black and white oscillate at irregular intervals, keeping an absurd guessing game, full of inevitability, at play.

The paper screen is one of many temporary situations set up in the work.  There is a sense that the screen could be crumpled up or torn down.  Paper, as an image making medium usually associated with paint or ink is used here as a projection surface for a digital image.  A temporary surface serving a permanent medium.

White walls break up the black box in which it hangs, negating illusion and reminding us always that this is a digitally constructed world. The frame of the video is ever present with the body repeatedly falling out of it.  There is no denial that this moving picture is a self contained, framed image.

Within this frame is a blackboard, another temporary space.  On it, the set described in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is drawn hastily in chalk.  Miller’s play is a seminal theatre piece that uses the story of an elderly Salesman losing his job in 1950’s America as a metaphor for the decline of the American Dream. This picture of a stage set for a politically charged death gently echoes the main act in the video.

THIS IS NOT A TITLE employs the act of dying to further the conversation of representation and reality.   The actress is caught in a series of three slow motion dramatic deaths.  These are underpinned by the sound of the Comet Rosetta, a comet that is spinning around with a dead and failed probe on its surface after a ten-year chase. Tragedy, sensuality and the romance of falling embed themselves in these three death scenes through a grotesque, open-mouthed, German Expressionist style face and an Aria performed by Maria Callas.  As the actress falls we fall with her, invited into her internal world, seduced in to the wormhole of falling and failure.

 

Performance artist, Mark Harvey wrote in his article Promises, Promises, (Performance Research Journal Vol. 18, Iss. 4, 2013) the moment we say we intend to fall before an audience is the moment we suspend its eventuality through a never ending play between not falling and fallingWe cannot guarantee a true fall.”  The same is true for the theatrical death.

“When an actor dies, no one’s fooled for a minute,” writes theatre director Tim Etchells in his programme notes for the Forced Entertainment show, Spectacular. We know it can’t be real.   It is the one act that can never truly be represented in the theatre and is bound for failure.  We know this, but we revel in the charge of commitment it takes to make it appear real.

These moments of falling and dying are the moments where audience and performers are bound up together.  The construct of reality struggles to keep up its illusion, and it is up to performer and audience to fail together; the performer in actually dying/falling, the audience in knowing that it is a lie but believing it in any case.

THIS IS NOT A TITLE is a process consumed with identifying what it is we are witnessing when we go to theatre.  Why is it that we attach significance to obviously constructed representations of the reality?  Why do the moments of failure in performance lure us in to the game so deeply that we yearn for more?  This yearning is what invites us to continually search for meaning in space and time.  It is why we chase comets, and why we pretend to die over and over again.

References:

Promises, Promises, Mark Harvey (http://tinyurl.com/qemzpmv); Spectacular, programme notes, Tim Etchells (http://tinyurl.com/qbcc9yn)