Perceptions and audio

Last week’s research in and around Lincoln Cathedral inspired us to delve deeper into the layers of perception that are attached to ‘well known’ buildings such as the Cathedral. But how would you describe the phrase ‘well known’? Is there just one way of knowing something, does everyone know the same thing? There is so much to know about one site, there is always going to be something you didn’t know, be that a fact or fiction. We went away after last week’s session and asked our housemates to tell us about a picture, (the headless statues on the cathedral). We then compared our findings and had a handful of interpretations on one single site. This abundance of layers from one stimulus is similar to Sophie Calle’s work Take Care of Yourself (2007). She created ‘a survey of interpretation’ (Fisher, 2009) by asking 107 women to share their opinion on a single email. These opinions that both Sophie Calle and our group received were ‘translations of reality’ (ibid, 2009), not necessarily fact, but translations of real thought and imagination. Several participants of our research told elaborate stories, obviously untrue, about the headless statues. One person stated that two people stole from the king and as punishment they were beheaded; their bodies were turned into stone and placed on the cathedral as a warning, whilst their heads were left to haunt the steps of steep hill. Although obviously a fictional story, this has now personally made me understand the cathedral in a different light. Forced Entertainment’s Nights in this City (1995) sort to write over Sheffield’s conventional history and tell their own. I found that this related a lot to our idea of portraying a different side to something people believe they know so well. They explored ‘the different histories written in urban space – the official history, the personal, the mythical and the imaginary’ (Etchells, 1999, 80) and ‘avoided facts in search of a different truth’ (ibid, 1999, 80). Personal truths are just as valid as fact. Children have the most elaborate imagination and don’t possess the social filter that strikes us down as we grow up. Their minds are much more open to interpretation and can see places and objects with a more imaginative outlook. How a child would perceive the cathedral might be very different to how an adult would. This childish truth was something we also wanted to explore. Tim Echells’ That Night Follows Day (2007) explored relationship between adults and children and how what adults say can influence a child. (Click here for video)  This made me think of the natural hierarchy of adults and children, making me wonder what would happen if we reversed the roles. Through the use of audio, a child could take a group of adults for a tour around the cathedral grounds telling them their ‘truth’, putting them in control of what the adults hear.

Also within our research we discovered the advantages of audio recordings. Hearing first-hand opinions allowed a sense of honesty to come across. We then came up with the idea of a possible audio tour to make it more of a personal experience. Linked (2003) by Greame Miller was something that caught my eye regarding the way the audience were in control of the performance through audio. They were given an mp3 player and left to follow the map at their own speed, and their own time. This independence of the audience really interested me. I thought about how using the audio could enhance the audience’s experience during the performance, and also before/after. I thought about the possibility of making mp3 downloads of the recordings for the audience to download prior to the performance on their own devices, and using their own headphones to listen to it during the performance. This would make the performance more casual, and puts them in control of their experience, engaging them with the site before they even get there. Moreover, through downloading the files on their own devices they are able to keep them. Maybe one day they’ll stumble across it on their iPod and it will make them think about the performance again. Leaving them with a token of their experience, similar to the books from Proto-type Theatre’s performances.

Etchells, T. (1999) Certain Fragments: Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment. London: Routledge.

Fisher, C. (2009) Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself. [online] Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Rail. Available from http://www.brooklynrail.org/2009/06/artseen/take-care-of-yourself [Accessed 28 February 2015].

5. Perspectives

After the horrible rain we experienced this morning, we decided to venture into the Cathedral. Whilst we were walking around we saw not only the beauty of the Cathedral from the inside, but also many different people, from the elderly to young families. Tim Etchells talks about “the strange fragments and endless possibilities of people passing each other in the street” (Etchells, 1999, 79), a phrase I kept thinking about during the lesson. Each one of us will see the Cathedral in a different light (from a different perspective), from the people who first built the Cathedral to those who grew up around the site to visitors and tourists seeing it for the first time. We then spent time thinking about the type of performance we as a group would like to do, and all of us liked the idea of perspectives. Whether this be through the mind of a child, perhaps in the form of telling stories about the Cathedral, or through the means of photographs, to literally and historically look at viewpoints of the Cathedral. Whilst bad weather can be a challenge for any site specific performer outside, for us it was a welcomed help.

Etchells, T. (1999) Certain Fragments. London: Routledge.

The power of speech and sight

After reading Tim Etchells’ Certain Fragments the importance of sight was one aspect that stood out for me. We all see things in different ways, that’s the wonders of perception. However, there is a clear difference between seeing something and acknowledging its existence, and seeing something and appreciating its existence. This lack of appreciation for things was always apparent in not only myself but for a lot of people in our class. Within our walk around the city common phrases cropped up such as ‘I never knew this was here’, or ‘I’ve never really looked at this before’. It is common today for the speed of modern life to impact upon how we view our surroundings. Do we really understand and appreciate what’s standing right in front of us? Tim Etchells stated that ‘site is nine-tenths of ownership’ (Etchells, 1999, 78). This phrase really made me think about what it means to own something. To own something literally is to have a connection to it, physically or emotionally. Therefore, to really see something and appreciate it allows for a sense of personal ownership. Thus appreciation of a site is born. Etchells continues to speak about his time in Sheffield, however it immediately made me think of the views from steep hill. ‘To see the city from one’s bed, from one’s bath, from one’s rooftop – how perfect to live in a city, like this one, with hills.’ (ibid, 1999) Etchells may have been talking literally about seeing the city from your house that’s places idyllically on a hill, however it made me think of a way of combining housing and ownership with an appreciation of Lincolnshire sights. Below is a spontaneous drawing of a performance idea that stemmed from both Etchells quotes (my forte is clearly not in art). Recreating living rooms, bathrooms within a small confined cornered off area to create a sense of personal ownership, where photo frames are hung around views and objects that people may have know are there, but never really stopped and appreciated. For example, the view from the roof terrace in the secret garden. I had seen the view before from walking up the hill, but never stopped to appreciate it, this site allowed me to do so. Same with the gargoyles we found, people had seen the cathedral before but never appreciated the smaller detail of it.

site as ownership

Speech can also be a powerful tool in performance. Our group is interested recreating myths and stories about the cathedral through verbatim from local residents. Potentially placing verbatim performances at different areas around the site, creating a misguide. A group I briefly looked into is Look Left Look Right and their site specific performance of The Caravan. It is ‘a half-hour verbatim show edited together from hours of transcribed conversations with people who [...] were victims of the floods in 2007.’ (Moran, 2009) I feel that verbatim works well within site specific performances as it allows the audience to experience the surroundings as well as the real emotions of an event or site.

Etchells, T. (1999) Certain Fragments: Contempoary Performance and Forced Entertainment. London: Routledge.

Moran, C. (2009) The Royal Court’s Caravan: a flood victim writes. [blog entry] 19 February. The Guardian. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2009/feb/19/royal-court-caravan-flood-victim [Accessed 15 February 2015].

Oil City by Platform & The Situationists

Whilst researching Site Specific performances I stumbled across a London based group called Platform who use theatre to explore the arts, activism, education and research. They create all types of theatre (site specific, auditorium based etc) that educate the public of current global concerns. Such as foreign energy policies, globalisation’s effect on contemporary corporate behaviour and the current British government oil controversy. I particularly enjoyed their performance ‘Oil City’ (Platform, 2014), which takes the audience ‘deep into the underbelly of London’s oil economy’ (Platform, 2013). They take a small audience of paying guests and immerse them within the scandal by informally guiding them around London’s business quarters. Where ‘by eavesdropping on business people and seeking out secret documents hidden in dead-drops [...] [they] will help piece together a puzzle that interweaves government files with financial deals’ (ibid, 2013). Below is a link to their website and the video of their performance:

http://platformlondon.org/p-eventnew/oil-city-site-specific-theatre-by-platform-10th-21st-june-2013/ 

I feel that this type of promenade theatre and site specific performances go hand in hand, and compliment each other very well. Depending upon the site I choose, promenade theatre would be something I would like to explore more of for the performance. Moreover, the way Platform take the audience on a journey and force them to become involved, not only exposes important economic issues, but also exposes the audience to the idea of general government manipulation. After doing some further digging into site specific performances being used as a tool for public awareness, I stumbled upon The Situationists, who simularly used site specific performances in this way. This Parisian agent-garde group sought to create situations by means of criticising or undermine the capitalist hegemony. For the 1950/60’s their site specific performances raised a lot of public controversy, however they did also raise awareness of British capitalism.

At this moment I am not aware of any site that I believe holds any need for such political dictation in Lincoln (however this may change further on in the process). Although the physical process and the throughout process behind these performances inspire me. Tim Etchelles stated that ‘thats the thing you have to do with a voice after all – make it speak of the things that it cannot deal with – make it speak of the illegal’ (Etchells, 1999, 107). This refers to both voice as a verbal communication and also voice transferred into art. Voice is a very powerful tool, it can entertain, enlighten or educate.

Etchells, T. (1999) Certain Fragments: Contempoary Performance and Forced Entertainment. London: Routledge.

Platform (2013) Oil City – Site Specific theatre by Platform 10th-21st June 2013. [online advertisement] Available from http://platformlondon.org/p-eventnew/oil-city-site-specific-theatre-by-platform-10th-21st-june-2013/ [Accessed 8th February 2015].

Platform (2014) Oil City by Platform. [online video] Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwwpaHSg3fw&spfreload=10 [Accessed 8 February 2015].