Week 5: Influencing and inspiring a generation.

This week a lecture demonstrating a variety of practitioners and their previous site specific performances have left us with an air of excitement, inspiration and prosperous thoughts. The examples offered to us have motivated our group into using current practitioners as a base foundation, from which we can develop our performance further. One of the most striking pieces we saw was Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena in a piece called ‘Couple in a Cage’. They experimented by being in Amerindian dress and effectively living in a cage touring round the US as a live art piece. They were only allowed to leave the cage if escorted by one of the team members, fed by them and watered by them they were treated like animals. The shocking thing was that some of the public believed them to be “savages” with no voice or civilised mannerisms. While the artists’ intent was to create a satirical commentary on the notion of discovery (in relation to Columbus) it raised real issues of cultural misunderstandings that are even evident in society today.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLX2Lk2tdcw

This was especially useful for our group, with initial ideas of restraint, being caged and mixed moral judgements of what the audience was being presented with. In week 2 we explored the works of Foucault and how he questions who defines the audience and how active they are. The concept of witnessing is explored; “you can see from a moral viewpoint for example following the holocaust we will never see the world in the same way. Experience has changed the world in which we see it.” This is relative to the idea of site specific and how after we, as practitioners, saw the Lawn and found out its’ history, we were not able to look at the site in the same way again. We hope that after the audience witness us in action exploring the Lawn through performative experiment they will never view us, our venue (Studio 2) and the Lawn in the same way again; their image will be tainted.

 

We will apply this concept to our working production with relation to the Lawn and the history surrounding it. The Lawn represented ground breaking methods of humane ways of treating the mentally ill in early 20th century. With socially fixed images of restraint and harming patients to cure them of lunacy, we would like to use Breakwell, Geesin and Foucault’s interests of audience participation and test how a modern day audience would treat; by healing or harming. By sitting completely neutrally with a table of instruments relevant to methods of treatment; belts, ropes, scissors, ways to engage the brain (arithmetic or labour instruments) the audience would have to make a moral judgement on how they’d “treat us”.

 

Yoko Ono did a similar performance experiment in 1965 where she sat very still and audience members were given a pair of scissors to leave a mark, cut clothing and basically create and intervention.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zfe2qhI5Ix4

This method is extremely dangerous what with the possibility of flesh being cut so this taught us that establishing clear guidelines to an audience is crucial so that both audience and “patient” know what they’re entering into. An additional example of audience decision making with regards to healing or harming, is practitioner Keira O’Reilly. She invited a select group to choose to either cut her naked body with a knife or put a plaster on cuts from previous audience members. The audience are responsible for making the performance and this ethical social experiment offers so much to our site of The Lawn. It was Dr Willis who made the ethical decision to break conventions and attempt to heal the mentally ill with humane ways.

 

Foucault, M (1984) Of Other Spaces: Utopia’s and Heterotopias.

Ono, Y (1965) Cut Piece.

O’Reilly, K (2007) The Touch and The Cut.

Week 4: Defining the Restraint

Following on from my previous blog, we visited the archives this week and documented every name, age, reason for admittance to the asylum and what their eventual outcome was. We wanted to document and archive these names and details in our own special way and are planning on using them as a foundation for our installation. The only dialogue or noise we plan to have in our final piece will be the sound of Lauren reading the names, ages, reasons and outcomes of each patient in turn, documenting them through voice and consequently in the memories of the actors and audience. It is simple, it is effective, it is actually quite beautiful and could not be more appropriate for the site we have chosen. Whilst also reading the log books in the archives, we came across two large log books of purely restraint methods, even titled ‘Restraint’. This is the key word to identify the Lawn with, and consequently we will begin exploring this concept of restraint, how to restrain, how far to take it and more importantly how can use it in our installation. Restraint methods at the Lawn included:

 

  • Belt
  • Hobbles (complex material cuffs)
  • Muff (putting hands in a big leather pocket)
  • Roller Towel – mastering violent
  • Waistcoat and lock with chain
  • Straight Jacket
  • Fastened to chair
  • Held down by hands in bed
  • Fastened by chain hand-links in bed
  • Fastened to bedstead – one hand
  • Fastened to bedstead – both hands
  • Fastened to bedstead – both hands and legs
  • Fastened to bedstead – both hands and head
  • Placed in the “Noisy Cell”

 

We wanted to experiment with the simple act of restraining each other in these ways but rather than pretending to be restrained or in some form of discomfort I want it to be real. The two actors who I will be restraining need to be truly restrained, pushed to the edge of what they are capable of handling so that they are actually having these feelings and sensations that the Lawn patients would have had therefore making our piece more sincere and real. However, we have to be careful not to make this an S&M piece of me tying up two girls. This is a physical exercise and to relate it firmly back to the site specific, the Lawn and the themes which it encompasses the only objects I will use will be from the site itself. Thus reinforcing the definition I provided in my opening blog that in site specific the “performance could not exist without the site”.

Week 3: Routes and Roots

Govan’s study into routes and roots acknowledges the rethinking of how people respond to landscape and place, how “community participants and the audience will engage with particular locations, sites and settings. It is concerned with the ways in which physical places and sites are framed and re-imagined and how forms of performance that reference the popular have the potential to disrupt the discipline of conventional theatre spaces.” (Govan, 2007, p. 139). I found this particular study very engaging, relating directly to site specific and being very appropriate to our prospective site, The Lawn. The Lawn, currently home to the county council, a popular venue for weddings and with extensive grounds for the public it is not the immediate culprit for having a history of being an asylum for the mentally ill. Carlson explores the idea that conventional theatre buildings and other public performance spaces are tainted and occupied with histories and other purposes; “the ghosts of those who have used them in the past.” (Govan, 2007, p. 140). Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks further this performative concept, describing it as “a balance between the host and the ghost”, the mediation between the contemporary and the past, in which “no single story is being told.” (Pearson and Shanks, 2001, p. 96). By combining these two notions of the ghosts of the past and the balance between those histories and it’s now negotiation with contemporary performance, one begins to understand further the weight of site specific and how our performance art will not just be a show put on in the LPAC to represent the happenings at the Lawn; but the history will drive the piece and frame it into a narrative or even just serving as a rough shape upon which to experiment within. Routes on roots, therefore, offers a stable academic and research base from which we will work off. Upon uncovering the past stories of the Lawn, we will create our own contemporary revisionings, relating everything back to the site. Our next step, therefore, is to go to the city archives, and reveal what exactly happened all those years ago, how and why it happened, and potentially to whom.

 

Govan , (2007). ‘Between Routes and Roots’. In: Routledge (ed), Making a performance. 1st ed. England: Non.

Week 2: First steps into our own invisible cities

Our second session involved the telling of memories and stories, particularly of cities in our case, and why that particular memory has such meaning with us. We did this by passing a ball of wool around from person to person as they shared their particular memory of a place. We created a web of memories and it showed that it is very easy to make emotional attachments to places; however, these sites have multiple meanings to different people.

 

Meaning is the key point here as it encouraged us to think what a place means and why. We explored Carl Lavery’s ‘25 Instructions for performance in cities’ and chose a few exercises he suggested to give to students as a preparation before attempting said ’25 instructions’ to perform around Lincoln. Tasks like “ask a friend to guide you through the city via instructions given on a mobile phone, alternatively; sketch out smell maps, taste maps, audio maps, affective maps and geological maps of the city, or return to the same spot every day for a week and witness what happens there.” (Lavery, 2005, p. 233)

 

Following this study we began to walk around Lincoln, attempting these tasks and modifying a couple for our own experiment. We began by nominating one of our group to give a blindfolded person a set of instructions to guide them through the city so that they could get a feel for the city on a different level; through sound, smell, touch, taste rather than seeing a place which they would already be very familiar with. This allowed us to then document the city on a whole new level and start to acknowledge new layers and fragments to a place that we thought we knew. Lavery expressed that these instructions allowed students “reflect on and share their insights and experiences through performative lectures [or even create] monologues about the place” (Lavery, 2005, p. 233). The information gathered is then used as a source and allows students to see performance as “something that resists categorization, something that is not theatre, not art, not dance, not film. Something, in other words, that allows you to do what you want.” (Lavery, 2005, pp. 233-4).

 

We then investigated the concept of “place” in more detail; documenting what Lincoln Guildhall and Stonebow  meant to the public with results such as; shelter for the homeless, a meeting point, a beautiful piece of architecture, a piece of history and locals commenting that they hadn’t ever really noticed them in detail before as it was just another part of Lincoln. When asking questions about the arches it became clear that sometimes you have to look beyond what is at surface value, every site will have some hidden truths and by exposing these secrets it allows us to see the city or site in a way that we would never have considered before. This links to Italo Calvino’s concept of Invisible cities and might be worth deeper consideration when beginning our search for a site.

 

Lavery, C. (2005), ‘Teaching Performance Studies: 25 instructions for performance in cities’, Studies in Theatre and Performance 25: 3

Week 1: Invisible Cities; scratching beneath the surface.

Site specific. “this term refers to a staging and performance conceived on the basis of a place in the real world (ergo, outside the established theatre). A large part of the work has to do with researching a place, often an unusual one that is imbued with history or permeated with atmosphere” (Pavis, 1998, pp. 337-8). Our introductory session to site specific has enlightened us to a new form of theatre. A style in which the heart of the performance is a particular place and the point being that performance could not exist without the site. Italo Calvino introduces us to the idea of invisible cities and ways of describing places not just by what they look like, but how they feel, sound, smell, who is there, what is there, textures etc. He also encourages us to see what is not there, “In Maurilia, the traveller is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old postcards that show it as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of the munitions factory.” (Calvino, 1974, p. 9).

Our Site Specific aims to involve this theme and by detecting a site with a hidden identity we will eventually recreate the experience of being in our chosen location for an audience in the LPAC. Pavis suggests that “the insertion of a classical or modern text in this ‘found space’ throws new light on it” (Pavis, 1998, pp. 337-8) by this I believe he means to suggest that the inclusion of a modern vision upon a site with a history and old stories offers an array of new relationships to the place and our role within it. However, it is important to note that this is not a linear performance of bringing a site into space; our project must come full cycle and whatever installation we create in the LPAC must link back to the site. This can be done by the materials we use to create our performance, the way in which we adapt the space to be relative to the site and how we give something back to the original site as a result of our performance. This leads us to question what sites offer certain performance opportunities and how we find them. Leading on from this we will begin to search the city for our own site with a hidden identity.

PEARSON, M. 2010. Site-specific performance. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Calvino, Italo (1974) Invisible Cities Vintage Classics.