Time instead to start sifting through the large pile of submissions from animators who've said they'd like to work with us on Wound Man and Shirley. We did a couple of really fun readings of Wound Man last week, in London and Manchester, which only served to amplify our sense that the animation in the show is all about extending the tone of the piece into a visual language. Definitely that rather than trying to illustrate the narrative, which is a job best done by everyone's brain (and/or whatever other organs they wish to press into service).
Looking at various animators' YouTube channels this afternoon, I saw that many of them had links to a guy I'd never come across before but who is obviously pretty hot in cartoonland at the moment. (No, no, I know they're not cartoons, I'm just being naughty.) The gentleman in question is a New York artist by the name of Adam Pesapane, a.k.a PES, and I was particularly struck by his beautifully ingenious little film Western Spaghetti, which feels like a cheerful American take on classic Svankmajer:
The incredibly economical visual wit is hugely appealing, I think. But it kind of got me reflecting in a new way on the conversation that emerged, via rather a bumpy and not always good-humoured route, in response to my last post, and which has by now transmogrified into a fascinating conversation between two longtime denizens of Thompsons about ideas to do with audience roles in relation to play and/or (by which I mean as variably distinct from) performance. What I'm thinking hasn't quite formed yet but it's something along these lines.
Recovery, the improvised piece with Jeremy Hardingham and Jonny Liron that I blogged about last time, was very much concerned with the specific qualities of materials: as is Western Spaghetti. But the imaginative extensions of PES's film are all to do with (a)likeness -- that one thing can stand in for another; Western Spaghetti becomes sort of a Martian-school poem accumulating these amusing resemblances. (For some reason it's way more interesting as a series of visual propositions than it would be as, say, a Craig Raine poem.)
The total theatre of Lepage or Complicite, in its classic 80s/90s dialects (of which traces remain even in those artists' sophisticated video-heavy current works), also derives a lot of its springy energy and fluid dynamics from exactly this kind of metaphorical deployment of objects and materials, often with an upwardly-mobile junkshop aesthetic. (We can't afford to put an aeroplane on stage, and anyway it would be grandiose to do so: so here's one we made earlier -- no, here's one we only just thought of [that's the other important bit of the technology: making it feel as improvised after a year of performances as it would have felt in the rehearsal room where it was first discovered] -- created out of a colander and a shower curtain.) I love this stuff, am a big fan of it -- most recently in Akhe's constrained and uncharacteristically heavy-footed but nonetheless likeable Faust.2360 Words -- but have never really incorporated it much into my own language.
The reason for that seems to be becoming clearer of late. I find I prefer work -- in theatre and performance, at least; I don't mind so much in other media -- that sets out to say what something is, and not what it's like, or what it reminds us of, or whether we recognize it, or what else it might be. In a way this is a sort of antithesis of the pronouncement that Robert Wilson has been reiterating (with small variations) throughout his career: "My responsibility in creating for the theatre is not to say what something is, but to ask, 'What is it?'" This kind of holding-in-question seems at first glance both artistically livelier and politically more pertinent -- the ways in which even the familiar might contain multitudes of otherness, whole panoplies of potential change... But the fact is, theatre now exists within an apparently inexhaustibly liminoid culture, in which the mutability of function and identity is not only in itself a given, but also has become uncoupled from any sense of political programme or location. To be able to say what something materially or objectively is has become, post-Thatcher and mid-Web 2.0, the more radical, more dissident position than to gesture vaguely at its categorical slipperiness and its ineluctable contingency.
Of course there is something impossible in this task. The materials in Recovery included eggs, rope, wine, crepe bandage... -- it's very hard to bring any of these into play without the uncontrollable invocation of an infinite net of resonances and hidden narratives. The great materialist visual/performance artists from whom we were hoping to draw inspiration, from Beuys to Schwarzkogler to Matthew Barney, are all also inveterate myth-makers, whose presentation of the object or the substance is always also a re-presentation, and a private assertion (or half-stifled limning) of personal codes and relations which, in the multiplicating context of theatre, go reverberantly apeshit. So this is not about some kind of anti-poetic purity kick and it's certainly not about simplicity or singularity.
Nonetheless, at base, there seems to be a fundamental difference in these two gestures, the difference between the indicative and the subjunctive, between what is and what if. And I seek to extend this concern not only to my self-presentation and my presentation of others (as in Hey Mathew, say, most contentiously) but also to my response to the presence of the audience and the negotiation of their self-consciousness. When Paul Goodman says "I'd rather have the watchers moved by what they are doing -- watching", it's difficult to know exactly which point he's making: is he saying that the value resides in watching per se -- however devalued that may be in leading-edge theatre; or is he saying that what's important is the audience's sense that they themselves are doing something that's important, and that this is true whether they're ('simply') watching or whether they participate much more substantively in the generation of the material and the pursuit of its argument. But either way, some reflection of my point can be made out there. We say who we are, not who we might be; we make a commitment that begins in an account of what is, in all the turbulence and obliquity of that matter. Until we can see who, and what, we are, in relation to each other and the objects and materials we use and the resources we share (or don't), the question of what else there could be and what the various things we call "this" or "here" might be like under other circumstances is nearly incomprehensible, except in a subjunctive, speculative fantasy that does nothing more than take us away from ourselves for a while: a pleasure, but one entirely propelled by privilege -- whether that's the privilege of leisure time, or the privilege of being a child.