Wednesday October 8th, 2014
On Wednesday evening I witnessed 4th year Design student Jamie Vella’s piece For Site to Become New: a performance in many acts at The Abbotsford Convent.
It was enlightening. Experiencing a performance with roots in design was powerfully different to what I have come to expect as a theatre studies scholar. The aesthetics of the piece were flawless. They were meticulously crafted from the finest shadow to the broadest brushstroke: the placing of the objects in the space, the use of light, shadow, sound, raw materials, colour, shade, shape…all was designed with an architects eye.
The witnessing or ‘performance’ was actually part two (site two) of a two part work. Before actually arriving at the space, the audience were engaged in part one (site one), an online activity. Spectators were given a multiple choice selection panel of sights and sounds (see image above). We were asked to tick boxes next to descriptions such as “dust in corner”, “tray of drinks” and “soft applause”, as we liked it.
It appeared as though our selections provided the scripting for the action in Part Two. The performer had four piles of A4 paper, precisely placed in the centre of the playground (see images below). She returned to the pages, dramatically overturning them and then following a series of actions with objects in the space. Actions included sitting, turning lights on and off, running her hand along a railing, unwrapping and eating a lolly…all the time generating interesting shapes and sounds. It was all aesthetically very impressive.
The impact of the designed architecture in the room combined with our previously provided ‘stage directions’ or ‘requests’, was instantly spellbinding. However, where the enchantment could have culminated in a playful exploration or personalised experience, it instead wore thin, and faded with the daylight.
Beyond the aesthetic the piece seemed to lack substance. It certainly touched on something interesting in Site One, but there was no room in Site Two for our previously instated engagement and investment with the piece. Despite the movement and action, and the curiosity and divine visual pleasure of this piece, the monotonous and linear unpacking was a little boring.
I was disappointed. Where in the first site the audience were privy to a personalised and intimate experience, selecting their preferred elements. In the second site, the physical audience were superfluous. I really felt that if I, and all other spectators in the room, had not been present – the integrity and existence of the performance would not have faltered. With two go-pro’s strapped to the ceiling, two upright cameras recording and two photographers furiously clicking away to capture every angle – it was clear this was being performed not for us, but for future viewers to enjoy and critic via digital mediums.
I wanted to be engaged with by the performer. I wanted her to see me, to invite me into her world. I wanted to play, even if it was virtually, to give her more instructions, in real time. I missed the performance – spectator relationship.
In saying this I am probably being unnecessarily critical; judging a design piece through a theatre lens. Vella’s For Site to Become New: a performance in many acts, had many wonderful elements that I would simply never conjure up. Because of our different roots, we see and imagine spaces differently. It’s certainly opened up my mind to the power of collaboration and the possibilities generated when disciplines collide.