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Spoken Into the Void

Exhibition Design PQ 2011

At the invitation of the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space our practice prepared a proposal for the French National Exhibit; the project was not built owing to funding questions.

This proposal begins from the premise that exhibiting performance-related subjects requires a special approach. Showing props, costumes or models in this context is terribly reductive in terms of what the theatrical arts actually consist of. Film of performances has a certain documentary value, but it too reduces the 4-dimensional, real-time character of theatre, removing the value of interaction and intersubjectivity. Purporting to hold a live performance within the context of an international exhibition raises all the questions which compromise video and installation art: one must make a context (acoustically sealed or limited) and set a time (inimical to circulating, browsing exhibition visitors).

What is proposed here is a unique object, a unique event, and a container which can incorporate a certain level of ‘exhibition,’ documentary content without excluding the possibility of real-time, live encounter. 

Taking its cue from French neoclassical representations of ‘ideal’ monumental forms for contemplation, democracy and spectacle (such as Ledoux’s prison project and Boullée’s celebrated opera and cenotaph for Newton), it proposes a Platonic geometry of unplanned democratic exchange and representation. It is also a particular form of the ‘Empty Space’ promulgated by Peter Brook.

One approaches the 5-metre diameter sphere and finds a hole at one’s own head height (whether on the ground or on the gallery level). Without any further instruction one becomes a disembodied member of the interior community, the sense of touch and capacity for movement isolated from the sensing head, which exists in an intersubjective relation with the randomly-assembled other visitors.

What happens then? What is the surprise within this magic sphere? A simple rig of two motorised video projectors, a small vari-light and loudspeakers driven from a remote control booth create an interactive environment in which the filmed heads of notable French-based theatre professionals make comments which are shown in juxtaposition (Peter Brook ‘debates’ with Ariane Mnouchkine, with Patrice Chereau, with Luc Bondy). Occasionally the commentary stops to show a scene from a production. On other occasions darkness falls and a spotlight illuminates one spectator; a distant ‘voice of God’ asks them their opinion on what has just been said. Sometimes a trainee actor posing as a member of the public is illuminated and starts a debate on a given question. At some times of day debates are programmed on given themes with well-known animators. The public is incited to return regularly to the sphere as the content is somewhat random and improvised.

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