Research Area E
Fragments, research material, documentations and responses from the process with the performance DIY – manuals for a potential future
Before the start
It’s June 2015
The large studio at the actors centre in Oslo is filled with light
My colleague Jon stands in front of me. He is a large, expressive man in his 50’s. He is telling us about Brekkelia, the place where he grew up. How he lived in a tightknit community outside Oslo and how he fooled around as a boy, roaming the streets and the woods with his friends. Pretending to be a girl half the time, his alter ego Anne Lise, wearing wigs that his mother kept in a box and that came all the way from America.
We are here to start a project.
For the next five years we are going to be a collective, producing performances together. Now we are sharing. Who we are, what we think about art, what brought us where we are.
Jon is an experienced theatre director. He has created strong performances for decades.
When I became a teenager, he says – I realized I wanted to be a performer, and then he shows us his moves. He twirls, and jumps and dances in front of us, and I am struck by the sight. I did not know there were this other Jon inside him. I did not even know he used to perform, but this playful side of him must have been there all the time. I see it and I am moved by it. By this other Jon’s expressiveness.
When it is Lawrence’s turn, he shows us samples of his art-production: a chamber of glass and smoke, enormous spinning wooden tops and dancing chairs. He also show us a clip from a Russian film. I’ve seen it once and almost forgotten it. There is horse in it, painfully stumbling down a set of stairs, and then he tells us about his father. How he wasn’t a believer, but how he always used to take them to see churches whenever they visited a new place.
We are on the floor.
I try to be nimble. We are moving around, improvising. – Close your eyes, says Liv Hanne, and I close my eyes. Trying to be inside and outside my body at the same time.
It was not enough for me to be a percussionist, says Amund. I wanted to express things. I wanted to express my thoughts and meanings. That’s why I started doing theatre. I wanted to express how I felt about the world.
The day after, we leave town. We are going to spend four days at Jon’s cottage just talking.
It’s sunny. He serves fresh shrimps, and white wine, and we talk and talk. About the state, and freedom, and art, and the role of the audience in the theatre and different forms of utopias.
The more we talk, the quieter Lawrence gets. He is building a model from small plastic tubes. It is a network of triangles, and when he moves and manipulates it, it morphs into different shapes and forms. Something about it reminds me of murmeration. Starlings flocking in early autumn.
Liv Hanne is picking flowers.
Some of us goes swimming in the sea, but not me. I do not want to take my clothes off in front of them.
At the start
Although we have decided to be a collective. That we are going to try to leave our comfort-zones and be on stage together, doing things we do not normally do – I find myself writing.
We have been talking about the state. How it’s seen in such a negative light, and where we would be without it. The state takes away freedom, but it gives freedom too. Without the state, Amund says, the weak would be without protection. Without the state, the market would go bananas, so how come we look down upon it? How could we start to look at it differently?
And in this globalized world, in those stateless states, where there are no laws and regulations. God help those at the bottom of society.
In my dreams, I place myself in the innards of a Sweatshop. Deep inside a cotton hell. Swamped in the eternal racket of the industrial machines. Lost in a place where my civil rights does not reach. Where my human rights cannot help me. Where I am the other. Not Norwegian. Not HERE. But THERE. Without papers maybe. Or born in a country with so few economical regulations that I am completely at the mercy of the marked. My hands, my body, my future – all that is me turned into a commodity. Bought and sold. Here there is no protection. Here I am, completely exposed.
IN THE SPACE
A year later we find ourselves in Harstad, at the Arctic Arts Festival. The space we have been allocated is an old derelict foundry, by the harbour.
Its five days till the opening night, so what needs to be done, needs to be done now.
We have some material ready and at hand: a song, my monologue, Jon’s dance-moves, and Amund’s speech about the state. Still – the atmosphere is relaxed. The agenda not strenuous, – and the first work-session goes well. It is as if all of the work we had done comes together naturally.
Maybe it is the space.
Maye it is just us, being in the right frame of mind there and then. There was even joy. We have called the project State and Extacy.
Some people from the festival came to film us. They told us that the performance was already almost sold out (see the promo video for the event here).
It is all about transformation, I think now. The space, the material, even we were being transformed. By each other, by the themes and the topics. By the things we had been reading, by whoever visited us. Saw what we did. Discussed with us, heard about our themes, and during the 62 hours that pass, small things happened gradually. A poem became a song. Bits were being added, and bits were taken out, and now, Lawrence little assemblage of plastic tubes had transformed into a gigantic installation.
During the year that has gone by, we have all written texts, but now there are hardly any left. And the script, which in reality was just a series of post-it notes on a board, kept being moved around.
These notes soon became the real working-script. Symbols and figures replaced the texts, and the monologues ands songs that we had, we had to take care of ourselves.
A final dance routine came by through improvisation, and then the post it notes moved no more.
In these first of our projects I took on the job of making an actual script as we went along, but later on the script disappeared all together. Instead we had a pool of text, events, songs, markers for sequences where we manipulated the installation, interacted with the audience, and these building blocks were noted down on post it notes and put up on the wall I'm the right order. This was all we needed.
And all the way the work felt effortless. In three days, we had the main sketch for the performance ready and we could invite the public to join us for an open rehearsal. After this rehearsal, we could do the final adjustments based on the response.
We felt optimistic, and the optimism was reflected in the program:
“THE STATE & ECSTASY” is a performance with dance, installation, music and poetry. Five committed denizens of the theatre join together in a collective with existential and political themes.
The result is a subjective and exquisite look at individualization and freedom, and the inner desire – through arts and politics – to reach collective ecstasy.
Embrace the collective. Embrace the state. Yes to the state! Yes to the collective!
On the general rehearsal, late Friday night, the bar is open and the atmosphere electric.
The audience are standing, sitting on benches and on swings hanging from the ceiling.
We have done our opening dance routine, and I’m sitting on a swing, in the back of the room by the drum-set waiting to do my monologue. I have tried to learned the words by heart. I am looking for a face, someone to talk too. I want to present this as sincerely and as thoughtful as possible. From me to you. To say: Lately I have been feeling this ethical tension. It’s in my mouth and I can not swallow - as if I mean it, and I do. I have had that sensation from time to time lately.
Then the lights are dimmed
I make myself ready. I am trying to find a face, someone to talk to, but it’s too dark. We agreed that it wouldn’t be that dark, but it is, and I want to talk to them, make them be in the same room as me, but now I cannot see them – it’s all just a faceless crowd, and I try to feel the atmosphere, to connect, but there is no reciprocity. This should be my moment, but the room is not there. It feels like I am all alone.
– Does it have to be that dark?
– What do you mean?
– I want to see their faces.
– You do not need to see their faces.
– But if I am going to address them, as me – directly – I need to see their faces.
– They see you.
– Yes, but I don’t see them
– You look great there on the swing.
– That’s not the issue.
– You do not need to see them to be close to them.
– I want to be close to them.
– You don’t need to be close to them to have an impact.
– I don’t necessarily want to have an impact. I just want us to be in the same room as they are. I want us to share the same space.
In my notes I state:
The audience was lost in it for me. I did not feel like we shared anything.
And when Liv Hanne used the microphone in the song, that made it all feel cold and at a distance.Tonight we did not manage, as we did at the rehearsal earlier in the day – to open the room for a joint experience. It became to “willed”, too contrived.
Peter Mancher, a Danish programmer that where there, said that he felt that we did not want him there. That we were just doing our thing, not really being interested in either each other or the audience. That we were, five performers, self-occupied and in isolation. In other words the opposite of what we have wanted to achieve.
I have to tell the group, but how – and I know they will not necessarily agree.
I think we need to lift the light. I think we really need to empty the space of theatricality when we empty it. To take away the microphones – and we need to see the audience, not just when we move them across the room from swing to swing but ever so often. Acknowledge them.
This is what we discussed, over and over again: is participatory theatre even possible? How to relate to the audience? In what way and why?
From day one, we asked: What is it to do something together?
What is it to be together?
How can the audience be together with us when the performance is already made and we are there to perform it for them?
We may have decided to be a collective, and we may have decided to include the audience in what we were making, but how were we going to do it? We wanted it to be a communal room, but what is a communal room?
When the project started in 2015, – Jon Tombre, director and performer was the one that took the initiative, but we made the contract together. In a presentation for my fellows in 2017, half a year after our first performance, I talked about it like this:
In this collective project we, – five artists, all working in the performative arts, came together to make a collective. The topic we chose was community. We wanted to work with the audience in large spaces, and we decided to work in three stages, giving ourselves time to reflect between each one of them. The goal was to make three performances together. In these performances, or interactions, – everybody had to contribute, and everybody had to be on stage. In the first round, we wanted to look at two very different, but communal, phenomenon: The State as an institution, and ecstasy as an experienced shared phenomenons. We wanted to see the state as something positive, something that offers us freedom – and collective ecstasy as something reachable that connects us in a profound way. Both themes were interlinked, and worked into a performance that we played three times at the Arctic Arts Festival in Harstad in June last year (2016).
I myself brought with me the questions from my artistic research and started developing texts dealing with my acute feeling of living in an ethical tension. The question was – was this feeling something I experienced due to a lack of community?
We started talking. I wrote texts, several of the others of the members also wrote, but we did not write a play. We contributed parts to a whole, consisting of different types of texts – one piece ended up being a dance, one became a song – one was performed as a speech, one in interaction with the audience etc.
We worked in a series of collaboratory and exploratory workshops, making material as we went along. Physical material like movement and dance. Texts, both poetic and personal. We planed the over-all dramaturgy together, as well as the seating of the audience and the lighting of the space.
The finalizing of the work happened in the space itself, an old foundry in Harstad. The foundry was to function as a symbolic bridge between the town and the new main quarter for the national Norwegian oil-company, between the past and present, between fishing (trawlers in the harbour) and oil.
Our wish was to be able work on a big scale, but to have the audience close. The solution was to bring them into the performance on swings all along the walls. To have a bar in the room, and to let the performance – as it drew to a close, simmer out into something resembling a social gathering at an exhibition, or a party. We wanted to strengthen the ability and possibility not just to watch what was going on, rather to weave them into the events that took place. While we were discussing this, and finding ways of doing this – the place where we were working, started to influence my texts. In the beginning I had been concerned with the cotton industry, but being in an old foundry, it was no longer just about cotton. It was about metal as well. Metals beings shaped and formed by kilns in places like this, and as I wrote, and we rehearsed – I became more and more aware of my own placement in the text. Maybe, I thought – for the audience to feel close to us, – we have to open up to them. And then I wrote this text:
I’m on my back
I am naked
I put my hand on my sex
I feel no shame
I am thinking about Bauxite
dug out from the mines of Pahang
dense like clay
beaten into powder
carried across the sea
sucked into giant straws in a form resembling sugar
filtered until its light and white
A silvery-white, soft, nonmagnetic, ductile material
I lay here
I am – electric
public like an eye
blinking in a governmental building
(see documentation here)
Things and processes do not exist in isolation.
I knew the team members in STATEX long before we got it together. Jon as a director, I had worked with him both as a playwright and as his dramaturge. Liv Hanne as a dancer, and a friend – but also as a writer. Lawrence as a scenographer on productions I had worked on, and Amund Sjølie Sveen as a musician for teams I had been a part of, and as a performer and theatre-maker in his own right.
They were all people I respected, and that I had wanted to work with for a long time, and I had the notion that this as a side-project in my PhD, could offer a possibility to take my research-questions into a forum of experienced colleagues from variety of fields.
Having performed my own texts for years, I was not so worried about the performative part of it. Although I have complicated relation to my own body, choreography is way out of my repertoire – I wanted to push myself. To get reacquainted with my body, and I was sure that I would not have to dance or do choreography in a traditional sense.
My expectations where on the whole met, and now we had done our first performance that seemed to be well received and we were ready for the next one.
During this festival week in June, the four of us met to start planning the way ahead. Since we knew that we wanted to make three performances, it was necessary to prepare for the next and start to apply for funding.
Since we were all busy doing other projects, living in different cities – it was always vital for us to cram as much as we could into the time we could actually be physically together.
We knew there were strategies that we had developed, and that we wanted to stick too, words or terms that we wanted to use as guidelines. Now we needed to look at them once more. Taking notes, I wrote: Radical, ruthlessness, sobriety. And emotional erection.
We wanted to continue exploring the performative potential of informative texts (even the once that were poetical) – and we were pondering on titles and slogans. Titles like: from fragmentation to utopia. And: for a PRE-volution, as instead of re-volution.
The theme that were on the agenda was visions of potential futures, and we thought that a task we could give ourselves was for everyone to present their own solution or manual for a potential future.
We wanted to keep on working individually, then meet up and show each other the work. Through commenting and discussing we could add more material to the mix and then continue to develope new work based on the work that already existed. We wanted to create a kind of circulatory system. A feedbackloop where the material continuously was fed back to what was already generated, and through that generated new material. Some based on individual solos, some more collaborative – but all constantly exposed to and in dialogue with the collective. It was all about recycling and continuation. The goal was to build on, not look back at. And to never stop. Just keep on progressing.
We also noted down some potential tools for future work. We had become interested in manifestations, manifests and manuals. In my notes I write: Today all our utopias are fragmented. The world will change. It has too. It can not stay the same. Something “else” will come – there is no alternative, – and if this is the way it is, we need to leave the post and find a pre.
Log in/Log out
One of the tools and methods we have been using all through the project is what Liv Hanne Haugen calls a log in.
Before we start a work-session, each member of the collective gets a slot, 2 – 5 minutes, to talk uninterruptedly about whatever is on his or her mind. It could be anecdotes, comments on the work we have doing, events in once life that feels important right now, what happened on the bus on the way here or things one has heard, read, or seen that feels relevant.
This clears the air for that banter that usually goes on at the beginning of a day, it makes us focus on the people in the room, and it often brings thoughts that can be important for the work and form a foundation for conversations and discussions in the working process.
When we have time, we often do a log out, to sum up and think about what could be next.
I have since I started my work with the collective, taken this method into my other work. Especially in collective writing projects and workshops. There it can also function as a way to generate material: topics, stories, one-liners, gests and themes. (See: Collective writing a communal endeavour). These log-ins could also be used to thinking aloud, or sharing something one had read.
When we started working on her second performance, the word utopia was swirling around. Many of my logins was about that, and about a need I had for getting away from criticism. I did not believe in it as a tactic for change anymore (for more see future–PRE–positions).
Where to go from here
As we started working in the second performance, time was limited, but ambitions were high. This time we wanted to move away from criticism. We wanted to propel our minds into the future, and we wanted to do it together with the audience. We wanted to invite the audience in to make the performance with us, even to take part in building the scenography – yes to let the scenography evolve as the performance developed.
Four months into the project, we keep at it, making progress in leaps and jumps. We meet for workshops and gatherings – but this time around there is not much joy in it. They are complex these questions we are dealing with, and as we talk about politics, ethics and world-views some new aspects of the relations in our collective become evident. There is a tug of power here, and conflicting ideas, even conflicting aesthetics. We go about getting our points across differently: Some put everything on the table, others have more hidden or un-uttered agendas, and others are used to the pragmatics of the theatre institutions – reaching for solutions there and then.
I try to write, and to present what I write – but sometimes it feels like throwing my words into an empty void. It’s there, its uttered – but nothing happens. It is registered, put in the pool and then we move on. Was my writing not good enough? Not to the point? And I think that there are more than me feeling like that. I write: I feel resistance in the room sometimes, but nothings ever said. Today it dawned on me – that the problem with my texts for instance, could be they are too complex. That I need to be more direct to get my point across, for them to find their place in the theatre space, but why does not anybody say anything?
What is the work and what is not the work
There seemed to be some confusion about what kind of things that were valid for the work. It seemed like we ended up producing isolated pieces. That we worked beside each other instead of together, and I longed for dialogue.
In other projects, like Darkness - the Enemy Inside, I had included notations from dialogue and included it in the final script. I believed that this could be a way forward here too, but as the performance took shape, there was less and less text left, and so far the texts were monologues, not dialogues.
I also had this idea, that I wanted to do live-writing during the performance, preferably in collaboration with the audience, but as soon as it was mentioned, it seemed to disappear from the agenda. I don’t know why or how. Often the choices seemed to be made there and there. Some material entered the process, and some disappeared out. I write: I am surprised by our work-method. We talk a lot, but not really about the actual texts or what happens on the floor, and when we do, it’s all about building the piece. We just seem to be going at it. Sometimes I feel that people are not even paying attention to what the others are doing, being busy with their own parts, own texts, or technical challenges they are faced with, and we end up working side by side and not together.
The hope was that things would sort themselves out as we went along – like last time.
I remembered how the final sequence in Harstad came about, that week we worked on State and Ecstasy. The solo dance at the end, Liv Hanne inside Lawrence sculpture. How we improvised there and then. Hoe well we communicated. It was something about the atmosphere, and the light in the room, and we knew that this was it. Now it was finished. Maybe it was the costume too, the dress Liv Hanne tried for the first time. It was as we had arrived at a new place, and now we could reach over to the other side. From the critique to something that at least visually gave an impression of something young and new. A new beginning maybe.
It was the lightness of it. A tentativeness and openness. Another kind of listening. And all though it was Liv Hanne dancing, Lawrence sculpture and Amund’s music, I immediately knew that it was the result of months work together. Months of talking, trying, writing apart and together. And that there, inside Liv Hannes movements, inside that space, that atmosphere it rose from – was also me, it was a “we”.
We were already at the beginning at something. Not reacting, but producing by listening. Maybe it was then I got all hooked on this idea of a pre. Time and events as something that approaches us, and that at the same time is already here. Something that we do not yet know, but that we can tune into. And I knew I needed to develop tools for this. (See: future–PRE–positions). I write:
You put your hands one the horizonyou stretch yourselves to see. To see if you can see what’s there on the other sideYou stretch yourself to see what's thereon the other side
In working sessions that followed notes and fragments like these appeared:
Notes from the collective:
Topia means place.Utopia is a no-place.
Nai is Greek for yes. What about a Nai-topia. A yes– place. Or an Esto-pia. Esto meaning maybe. A maybe place, or a might be place.
I believe in trial and error as a method. By that I mean something else than cause and effect. Cause and effect is like the law of nature, but in trail and error, you are the one to put things in motion.
Words I find interesting for this project is: acute, grave, pressing, dire, desperate, critical, crucial, sore, serious, intense, crying, burning, compelling, drastic, extreme.
Life-and-death.Great. Very great. Terrible. Parlous (touch-and-go/risky (dangerous – the parlous state of society))
– Rituals too are a kind of manuals for transformation.
– Stillstand (Norwegian for stagnation, standstill) is what happens when you stop trying.
And then I wrote:
It’s something about being blind or going blind.
Something about being inside a cave.To stand in the dark, to see nothing for as long as you can bear it.
And then some imagery associated that came with it:
A hummingbird in a stream of light.
A small boy making signs with his hands. A kind of language, maybe. Maybe he is making it up as he goes along?
A large open square where a big crowd has recently assembled.
A forest on the move.
A yellow kite – wind and the hand that holds it – the hand as it lets it go.
Odysseys as he is about to encounter the dead, carrying with him a map and a list of instructions. Digging a pit. Drizzling wheat along the edge of it. The dark of the earth and the white of the wheat … And then to leave the cave, and enter the open landscape outside it. All exposed again. No thoughts. Just light, forms and shapes. Not knowing their names.
Open workshop in Tromsø April 2017
This time, we wanted to involve the audience earlier on in the process.
The first opportunity to share our work came at a work-presentation during the festival Vårscenefest in Tromsø in the spring of 2017.
Here we invited people into our studio-space as a part of the festival program. In the program we wrote :… investigation into new working methods, a search for common ground, crossing different skills and expressions, a me and an us, were some of our starting-points for this ambitious performance project. The premiere, in a closed down industrial-hall during the festivities of Festspillene I Nord Norge 2016, was critically acclaimed. Now the project is getting ready for new landings, this time at Peripheral Centre at the top of Tromsøya, with closeness to both nature and people. Again we ask; how is the state of the state? And who owns ecstasy today? After three days of work, there will be very few answers, but you are still welcome to share the process.
See full program for the festival here.
the workshop presentation, April 2017
Lawrence wanted to introduce the machine into the mix. Could we include the NCN machine? One of his ambitions has been, and still is – to tear a rift in the divide between man and matter, man and the machine. To introduce the machine as a partner. As a part of us, and as a part of our community. Not as a threat, something cold and merciless, or other than us, a slumbering danger that soon will run out of control and take our jobs, our streets. Become smarter than us and then rule the world.
We did not want to hide the machines. We wanted it to continue producing while we were performing. Involving and including the noise, the mess, the presence of mechanics into the soft chore of a humanly shared performance. Churning, spitting, slinging out surplus plastic shavings as Lawrence worked it, as Liv Hanne rode it as if surfing a wave.
There were about 30 people at the presentation. The whole event included both material from the performance and new material, as well as this machine improvisation. In an e-mail shortly after, Liv Hanne Haugen wrote:
The most potent was what happened with and around the machine. It felt as if we released stagnated energy, letting something new take place, maybe even take over… All this was also about danger. Exposing one selves to danger. What danger does it entail to function as these releasers – on our own and together? What possibilities can arise from it?
Man versus Machine
In an article I write for a catalogue for Lawrence exhibitions in FIVE in in São Paulo 2018, I give myself time to reflect on this relationship between man and his objects. Between the human and the machine. What separates Man, I wonder, from the things that surrounds him?
A chair from a lap? A cupped hand from a vessel?
When the dead object moves, what is it? And what’s at stake when the duality between man and machine dissolves, disappears as if no more viable. As if the relationship between man and his tools have transformed into a dialogue, not consisting of opposite parts, but a whole.
Art has often been seen as synonymous with production. A production of objects and images. Man is at the chore of this production, and the artwork is the results.
In such a perspective, art is the way man portraits himself. Sees himself. And gives himself to “the other”.
But works of art like the ones produced by Lawrence Malstafs work makes me question this. This is not necessarily due to the ephemeral or conceptual qualities in Malstaf’s project. They always puts production at its forefront, and as an artist, he has no need to hide this fact. It is as if the artworks relishes in being a result of a vivid production process. At the same time, it implodes the sense of his art being an object or an image.
I think it is that his work is action. It is an undertaking.
When he animates the thing, – a wooden tops, a floor, a rope, a sheet of plastic; – he makes what’s dead breathe and enact. His role resembles that of the magician, but the main difference between him and an animator – is that he himself is being moved by what he animates. So the focus is not on the result, it is on the interflow between man and matter, subject and object, space and that which inhabits it.
R. Buckminster Fuller, the American architect, system theorist, author, designer, and inventor said: Don’t fight the forces.
His work bridged the gap between science and poetics, invention and art for arts sake.
For Fuller, to do was a way of thinking, and to think, – you had to accept the unknown. The unknown in you and around you. All through his life, he held on to an environmental focus. He believed in sustainability – and his influence on the art scene has been fundamental. He saw the artist as an inventor, and the inventor as an artist. At the chore of this relationship Fuller placed neither beauty or knowledge, but praxis. He was not looking for a goal outside the deed, but inside the deed itself. In this respect, the artist was just as much as an objective economist or an evolutionary strategist, as an image-maker or a poet.
There is a soft spot for the system. The Matrix. The grid.
And like Fuller, Malstafs’ interests shifts towards processes, constructions and chain reactions. Malstaf takes Fuller’s gaze one step further, not focusing on things to come, but on how things “become”. Or on the becoming of things. Of objects, spaces, situations. His poetics of space, of movements – boarders on events. Events that are there for the event itself. Not to change or influence something outside them. …
For me Malstafs work is an act of reassembling. It puts together what’s torn asunder, and that re-assemblage often happens through movement.
In his work, he glues together that which we perceive as mechanical or artificial – and “the natural”. In his work, man is no longer opposed to the machine. Through the natural flow of movement, he breaks up the dualistic juxtaposition between the dead and the living. Things are no longer just things. It mends the tear in the fabric that ties together “the manmade” and “the world”. The synthetic and the real. And when that hierarchy is broken another potential order appears.
In his own way, Malstaf takes away the shame of being “Man”. He shows us our vulnerability. That we, the industrious species, the killer ape, – the destroyers of ecosystems, could be the toolmakers for the world.
And in this state of movement – Malstaf makes matter matter.
As I watch Lawrence work, as I see his relationship to his machine (See essay: Man Versus Machine). As he even builds his own. As I try to change the way I see things. As I try to start to think positively about our potential future, just as an experiment I write a song (See the lyrics here). And as I do that, an image of my biological father comes to my mind. The last 12 years of his life he had ALS. He spent his time attached to a machine. It was breathing for him. His lungs could no longer do the job. His nerve-system was failing. It started with a tingling sensation in his hands and feet, and ended up with his whole body collapsing. Without the machines he would be dead. He was a cyborg. A mutant. A bastardized creature somewhere between man and matter, mechanics and nature. He was powered by electricity, by mans ingenuity. He was chained down to something created by a long chain of inventive men and women, paid by society. The welfare system. The strive for freedom and individuality now turned into survival paid for through our taxes.I wrote:
My father could not breath
His lungs failed him – his nervous system was no longer able to do its jobinside his body, all communication had broken down – soa machine did it for him
I did not see it then – that meeting between man and matter
The need and the compromise
The metal so hard in his softening flesh – he used to be such a devilish handsome man…
but the machine kept him here
it continued who he was– that's what we do for each other – we make things for survival
by them – we survive
in his breathing was centuries of knowledge
generations of knowhow
and it is as if it was there – his breath
steaming out of him in a column of grey and white
and inside that cloudlike, elongated stream beaming out from his mouth – all things take shape
cities – celebrations – caves and skyscrapers
fake lungs – forests – ferrymen and farmers
engines – and enterprice and endeavour – children running, farmers farming – the corn already sprouting there in the foundations of his mind
with our thoughts we can construct – impossibilities
build society that no longer separates between man and that
which man creates
My father is dead
His breath is a shadow inside my own
And somewhere in time he stands erected, electrified
somewhere inside me he opens his mouth
and all things possible and impossible pours out of it – objects, laws, jokes, amphibiums, freight-trains, phantasms, fables and lies and I know that some scientists say
that we know now
that the structures in our cells resembles the structures in the structures we find in cells of stars in faraway galaxies
Parts of this text, becomes a monologue on the premiere version of DIY - Manuals for a potential future in Harstad in June 2018 (See the whole text here).
After the meeting with the audience during Vårscenefest, we realised we had a long way to go. It was time to put down some guidelines for the project. Some dogmas.
I made a mental note during this work and went home to google the prefix “pre”:a prefix occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, where it meant “before” (preclude; prevent); applied freely as a prefix, with the meanings “prior to,” “in advance of,” “early,” “beforehand,” “before,” “in front of,” and with other figurative meanings (preschool; prewar; prepay; preoral; prefrontal).
On Monday on the 24. of April I wrote a text that never became a part of our performance, but that became of vital importance to me in in my further work (See the text for the live version of future–PRE–positions PRE, and documentation here).
Is the –
(post-industrial, postmodern, post-dance, post-industry, post-irony)
– it announces itself
a radically unpredictable beginning already
already presenting things to come
After the workshop, we also had to find a title for this new performance we were making:In June 2016 we had had the title: Atomized utopias.In August 2016: a Norwegian Utopia (DIYtopia) by the Collective.In November 2016: DIYtopia.And finally in December 2016: D I Y – Manuals for a potential future.
In our application to the Norwegian Cultural Council the autumn of 2017 we wrote:
In DIY we will strive to combine individual and collective strategies. We will strive for collectiveness, but for this stage collective, it’s all about combining our own individuality with an ambition to make the stage an arena for utopian trials and exercises… Our goal is to open ourselves up for an unknown future, that due to it being just that – open, also has a potential for hope. To dream is to open up for potential possibilities. By striving to recover our faith in the collective, we have to fill our communal efforts with a feeling of freedom.
Finding a form
When we meet up again in Harstad, February 2018, – it is all about looking for a content and a form. That and generating new material goes hand in hand. Starting up where we finished last time, we were working towards what I call a «stor-form» – a large over-all form, consisting of the major aesthetic and dramaturgical elements for a potential finished piece.
It felt as if we are situating a praxis. A praxis that entailed just as much exercises in time and space as narration. Verging on the performance becoming more of an event, without losing its performative or theatrical qualities.
We spent time exploring the manual both as a political tool, a tool for creating a potential better future, and as an aesthetic and performative praxis. Could these manuals become the chore of our performance?
Manuals as stemming from the word hands, and as such connected to the concept of DIY, doing it yourself. Both a tool, and blueprint/instruction, an actual exercise when being performed, and something that leads from one state, or situation – to another. This could also involve the audience. We could give them a manual, and then work it out together, or even create a manual together with them, by asking questions, and then be given instruction, and as such – tipping the table. The understanding of who’s in control.
This would also ad up with Lawrence thoughts on the scenography as being interactive.
The challenge was to connect content and form, the ideas to what actually took place in the space. Maybe by building something together. Maybe by establishing some shared parameters, and then let them go.
The question then was – what should be the focus point: making manuals for constructing concrete alternatives for the societies we live in, or manuals or exercises to strengthen and develop our ability to visual and construct potential, even fictional future scenarios. The first would function like a tool for political and social change, maybe even for organisation of collective action outside the theatrical space. The other would be a kind of an exercise. An exercise that would result in changing the way we think about the future. Taking part in the performance would be like exercising a musclegroup through flexing and working a bodypart etc. I really liked the latter idea.
We also follow up on the idea of working with terms or definitions as bases for text-production and production of theatrical metaphors. I myself had this idea of looking for the positive alternative to negative terms. I brought to the table the term, SOLASTALGIA (a term that describes a form of mental or existential distress caused by environmental change), and we play the game of what the juxtaposition could be. Lawrence came up with the term topo-foria. Could one even imagine a place or a space as an erogenous zone? And although we did not walk down that road, this is for me the roadmap to our third performance that we will make in 2019-20.
For Amund the goal was to end up with a strong rhetorical text, as concrete text as possible. I myself saw it different. For me the exercise had a value in itself. The value being the mental unveiling for us, and the audience, on how we in our culture seem to levitate towards negative when describing a phenomenon. And show how this is a way of reacting to the world. The exercise would be to together strive to do the opposite, either to re-discover the positive sides to an already existing world, or to strengthen our ability to imagine one. For me, the quality in the texts would also be about where it came from. That it did not belong to an abstract entity, but that it was produced there and then. That it stemmed from us. A place that belongs to us as makers and performers. I wanted the texts to have a quality of a here and now. Of being in dialogue with the room and the people in it inside the event. Of being attempts at formulating something. Find a form that opens up to the influence and keep alive a direct contact between us and the audience. That it was not all pre-concluded, but an exchange, formulated collectively there and then.
The term SERENDIPIDY (The occurrence and developments by chance in a happy or beneficial way) pops up, and becomes central to the future process, even an ideal for how we want our collaboration to work. Through a shared experience of doing something together we might find, what we in Norwegian call – "komme over noe", or stumble upon something one did not know that one was looking for, and that benefits the project and the collaboration in ways one did not expect.
Empowerment and empowering
One of the main focus points for the project has been its potential for empowerment. The wish for audience involvement. The fact that we wanted to transform the theatrical space together with them, to create a feeling of togetherness, even of empowerment. To produce gently this idea that change is possible, and that we can produce this change together. And maybe it was in the sure nativity of that idea most of our problems arouse, but as I see it now, it is also there the potential lies.
For me, the goal, is not straight out political, as such. I want change at the chore of how we think. Even to produce a knowledge that new thought is possible. That thinking something new is good in itself. Just producing a thought that wasn’t there before, can be the first step towards change. The first step towards a willingness or a need to change things.
And while Amund, and Jon – even Liv Hanne, often use words like should, or we are obliged to – I started to shy away from those words. I did not want to use them. To give a feeling that the audience, or we, were obliged in any way. I did not want to educate or arrest the audience. To impose on them a kind of moral imperative, I wanted us to educated each other. But there was a need in me to ignite a desire. A lust, maybe even a will for change. At the same time the thought scares me, because it entails a responsibility. Actions have consequences. Consequences it could be hard to foresee.
In this process we start talking about our own wishes and desires, and Liv Hanne forces us to go in front of the camera, to record them. It surprised me how hard it was. To dream. To acknowledge my dreams and to formulate them In this video, I do not even know if what I say is true.
What about the audience?
One thing is to philosophise and plan. Another is to turn these thoughts and plans into art. What about the audience? How to positioning it? How to empower it? How to be together? Where and in what space?
We did not just want to include them for aesthetic reasons. It was not just due to political motives, – it was also because we knew that what we wanted to achieve was difficult, and that we could end up manipulating the audience under the pretence of setting them free.
There is a real danger, we knew that from experience – that our wish for audience participation could get so intence, that we ended up dressing ourselves up in it. That it could easily become a mask, that hid what was really going on.
In a gallery space, the viewer is free to come and go, to stay or leave. To focus on what pleases one. Nobody controls time. The theatrical space works differently. Lawrence being from the visual arts, often advocates this attitude when we work and talk. Jon, being a theatre director lives to control space, time and the visuals. He loves «theatre» and does not shy away from it. So we decided – the potential lies in the mix, but how?
Should we move towards an attitude where the audience could come and go as they liked? What to focus on? Should we place them in chairs, turn off the lights and let the theatrics begin?
What we all agreed on was the ideal of the interchange. Of theatre as “play”, that the gallery-space could not offer, and we wanted them to play with us
Us and the audience – a trial
For our next meeting in Oslo, Lawrence had made a new machine. A machine that could shape rings and spirals of aluminium pipes. You had to cranck it, and the idea was that the scenography should consist of these rings, crancked out by Lawrence and assembled by the audience in collaboration with us.
The rings were large and could be hung from the ceiling. Later one could take them apart again and turn them into spirals and then another reassembling could take place. It was all about transformation. Turning one thing into another and yet another with the potential of bringing it all back its original form as pipes again. A from one to a hundred kind of game.
Ideally, Lawrence stated – we should use the same pipes in every performance.
Again we wanted to include the audience early, and this basic scenographical idea was the fundament for trials we had with the audience at the Academy in Oslo in April 2018.
Testing, testing, testing
It all took place at stage 6 where we were going to perform the performance in the autumn.
There were about 35 people there. Some where colleagues, some were personal friends and family, and I had made sure that there were people there from outside the theatre field. Even people who did not usually go and see performances with dance and installation like this one. I wanted to see how an audience that did not automatically like to participate reacted to the different ideas we had and that we wanted to test.
Liv Hanne wanted to see if she could engage the audience in exercises like breathing together, making movements together. She had written a text for this series of event. A text with for me, a commanding and authoritarian tone, where she stated that to be able to have a good future – this was what you had to do (See video here).
Everything starts with you, and I can show you have to do it.
At a point, the audience had to breath together. At a point they had to throw themselves against a wall, and howl. Combined with humour and virtuosity it sometimes worked and sometimes didn`t.
We also had the trial of taking down the rings, making half circles of them, and then assembling them (See here), and there was one exercise that I was very keen on, where parts of the audience held the ring, while Jon, and later Liv Hanne danced inside the ring. The audience both functioning as a kind of arena, and a part of the dance. Leading and being lead in a kind of communal communication with each other.
Later several pointed to the gentle pressure from all the bodies and hand holding the circle, and from the performer him or her selves as a positive experience. As if “we” became one.
Jon wanted to see what happened when the audience experienced each other as a part of a scenic picture. He wanted to work with small torches in the dark, splitting the audience in two and making them watch each others activities. We were all interested in this idea of the audience as a living, breathing instrument. We wanted to create patterns of interaction, where movement and collective activities triggered new choreographies, peculiar soundscapes and a collective scenic visualisations.
I myself, had put up a writing station, where people could answer some simple questions on how they imagined different futures scenarios. About their fears and dreams.
At the end, Amund wanted us to produces sound together. He charged a metal pole with week electric signals, and connected it with a soundfile. The sound was triggered, when the two was connected, and the idea was to make a line of people that the sound could travel through. A long note, decreasing and increasing in intensity according to the amount and intensity of the contac of hands or other bodyparts.
As expected, people reacted very differently.
Some through themselves into it. Others left annoyed and frustrated. Not understanding the point of the exercise.
One said: Coming from everything, family, work the lot – and ending up in a dark room where people do strange things. I just could not deal with it.
Another said: I loved creating the sound together. It felt like winning a price after having gone through all that other stuff. But did it have the potential to do anything artistic? It was fun though.
Another said: Bending and assembling the pipes was a fine thing to do together. Practical and with a purpose. Real, in a way. I liked how we seamlessly went from making a thing together, to making art together, and all of a sudden having the experience of being a collective. The rest was nonsense to me.
My supervisor wrote from Copenhagen: It was interesting to look at the different exercises. Those who created a kind of teambuilding, that even could have worked as a kind of teambuilding exercises – and those that made us become a part of creating a aesthetically charged moment. Especially the exercises with the big circles, and the performer in the middle. I think you got something there.
The word trust, was used by some: when Liv Hanne danced with us inside the ring. It was something with the trust she showed us.
In this documentation from the general rehearsal for our performance of DIY – Manuals for a potential future at Hålogaland Teater September 2019, one can see how the findings in this workshop influenced the end-result. See here.
Choosing the space
It was soon May. The opening night was in June, and we had to choose a place to perform. Time was running out.
Amund is in Harstad, talking to the festival about where things were going to happen. He writes: We can’t be in the foundry like last time. There is a chapel we might use, but choosing that really colours our performance. There can also be limitation upon what we can allow us to express there, from the congregation.
There is an empty hotel, that we can have access to. There are no real large rooms there, but there is a dining area, an empty pool (!).
We knew that now it was all about the space. In the end, what we ended up in was an empty office-block.
The basement offered the only room big enough for Lawrence installation. He pulled down walls and tried to clean it up, but it was what it was. A damp, not very appealing place. A place that it would prove hard to turn into an imagined utopia.
The room was not the only thing that challenged us. We were all pretty over-worked, and not really prepared for the obstacles we were facing. Last time we had been through this process, the space had almost solved things for us. We had entered the room, re-visited our material, and things had fallen into place. Not so this time.
The scenography was not elevated by the room. On the contrary. The strict modernist feel of the place made Lawrence’s aluminium poles and perfect circle almost disappear. One aesthetic confirmed another. No tension, and no play came out of it.
The ceiling was so low, that most of the movements, pulling things up or down was very limited, and the room made people feel small, and kind of lost. The windows high on the walls, the smell of it – the whole atmosphere only said one thing – you have to get out of here. Break on through to the other side.
How could we, in this space – care for the spiritual aspect of the piece, and create a feeling of holiness, aspiration and hope? And how could we transform a room, that seemed to be untransformable?
Lawrence had formulated:
In DIY … we work with translating or transforming design, installation and scenography to action. This or these actions are undertaken collectively in the performative space itself. Ideally this should involve everybody in the room. The focus is on the concrete material at hand, collaboration that entails challenging and exposing physical laws.
The process includes a collective effort, physical work and the goal is to give a feeling of achievement. That an idea has been materialised, of success.
But when it came down to it, when we were there, working in the space, we understood that this was not enough. We had to rethink the whole thing once more. The room had overpowered us – and we needed to find a way to go both with and against it. This was mainly Lawrence’s headache, but it influenced us all. We were filled with a kind of inertia, a sorrow, – and all the tensions, all our differences, politically, personally and politically came to the surface.
A few months later I wrote this in a paper that I presented at a conference in Sweden, September 2018 :
This June I made a performance for the Arctic Arts Festival in Harstad together with a collective of five artists. The dancer Liv Hanne Haugen, the percussionist and performer Amund Sjølie Sveen, the director Jon Tombre and the visual artist/scenographer Lawrence Malstaf.
The performance was called D I Y – manuals for a proposed future.
Our goal was to make a performance that looked at a potential of a future that was better than the present. And – on our potential to reflect collectively on the subject, hopefully also involving the audience in the process.
Two years earlier we had made the performance State and Ecstasy, that tried to look at concepts like freedom in light of concepts like the state, and collective phenomenon’s like ecstasy.
This performance was great success, it was critical in its nature, and was made without friction and difficulties.
This project however proved to be the opposite.
We wanted to leave criticism behind.
While discussing, brainstorming and trying to come up with artistic suggestions and an overall structure, great tension arose. It was hard imagining a potential future and the possible actions that would help create it. Our political differences became obvious. And with it our aesthetic choices. Our relationship to rhetoric, and for once – it was hard both to write texts AND for Lawrence to solve the visuals.
In the end – action had to replace the words, and the initial visual idea had to be scrapped.
The visual idea – Lawrence later stated – had been conceived in a modernist frame of mind. With an idea of structure, stability and control at its core.
To find a visual that worked – the installation had to find another mode of creation. The solution was for it to be formed during the performance. The chore of the performance in the end was transformation, collaboration and flux. The installation was made as the performance took place and the audience as well as all the artists took part, physically, in that transformation.
From beautifully balanced aluminium rings and straight poles, the room became transformed into a maze of aluminium curves and doodles interconnected into a landscape of lines. An organic web to inhabit and walk through.
The future-fiction we created in the end was not a narrative, not a description, not a manifest and not an answer – it was an action. And that action was transformative.
But why was this process so hard, at times impossible – and also painful for us? There was tears, feeling of loss and loneliness, of being let down, not being heard, of being misunderstood. Of sleeplessness, loss of inspiration, motivation and loss of faith in ones own material. There – in this utopia of togetherness – we felt uncomfortable. Only when we in fleeting moments gave up on our vision and returned to criticism, did we yet feel safe. When we returned to react on our current state of affairs, then we gained speed. Language returned, we could write, dance, create, laugh, feel good about ourselves. But as soon as we discovered: – But this is criticism. Not construction of that which not yet is – we had to face our troubles again. And left to the world of experimental fiction, the openness of utopia – we felt loss.
Because we could not see it?
And when we did – it felt private?
Hard to share? Hard to put into word? To give it form?
Maybe because we had not done it before. We had no experience.
It was as if we had made our art engulfed by the post, as if we so far had produced our works with our back to the future and our eyes set on the tradition we came from. We needed new tools.
See a short, edited video from a audience rehearsal in Harstad here.
a future without language
We had to realise that the room was king. Here no hard lines was nesecarry. The future had to be soft, intertwined – a mess of lines in an interconnected soft shape.
We made it together with the audience, and at the end – by pulling wiers and adjusting, tuning it as if it was a fine instrument – we made it elevate.
And we removed the words.
While the first half, the part of building and trying out manuals was verbal, the potential of a future pre was performed visually, musically and physically. We tried to turn it into real experience before language could return.
Something also happened when we introduced Hera, the dog, into the mix. A beautiful husky. Se had already started to “dance” with Liv Hanne during the rehearsals in Harstad, and now this interaction was introduced inside the elevated installation at the end of the piece.
In a way the dance with the dog echo’s the final dance in the State and Ecstasy performance in 2016. Adding an extra touch. Something that has to do with nature. With an equilibrium. With chance and serendipity – because you never know what she wants, what she is up to. If she wants to bite, bark, lay down, leave or just stand there, be there, majestically in her own zone – but in the same space as us..
And then we had to get out of there.
We had blocked the narrow window with foam madrasses. After the elevation of the installation, the dance with the dog, and a final, very simple monologue performed by me, Jon breaks the atmosphere, puts up a ladder, climbs up and starts taking away the matrasses as he pushes the window open.
Lawrence and Isak, our light designer also starts pulling the madrasses out. Light pours into the room. Jon helps people up the ladder, and out into the world we climb. Simple, banal – rewarding – as the party that continued on street-level afterwards.
So, what else?
So what else?What more is there to say. About the project, about the process?That it continues?That we keep nudging at it, at the audience – as the audience nudges at us?That comments like these keeps going back and forth:– I am not sure that having these discussions, trying to sort out solutions for the best potential future is the way to go.Or – Content arise in the embodiment of the communalOr– Maybe it is more about finding a method than achieving a goal. Not really knowing where one is headed, but at least finding a way to cooperate. Start from zero. Just the job of freeing oneself from the big corporations and ideologies. Pure DIY. To find a method for that, that would be something.OrI think if we just got everybody to get engaged, to engage …OrI think this idea of the performance as a chain reaction is the thingOr – the real solution to the problem is to understand that what we call «realities» are never cut in stone.Or – the point is to open oneself up. To stay hopefull.
So what else?Maybe these words written down on a napkin under a rehearsal sometime in the spring 2018:
light – lust – laughter
Or an e-mail from Lawrence where he states:the machine is a soft thing, it needs us
We are not the centre
We are a part of thermodynamic processes
We are the producers of technology – of hot words, and cold matter
Maybe we have the potential to deal with it all …
In October, we performed a revised version of the performance at KHiO. The atmosphere was lighter. The energy higher, and the room more accommodating, being a large black box made for theatre. This was a room that asked to be transformed. That needed us to make illusion, and there were no windows to escape through.
We had to start working on the utopia there and then. If not as a reality, then at least as potentials for our minds.
We had a full house. Almost too many to control the situation. And there is always a safety issue when people move freely among swinging aluminium pipes and spinning metal rings. But we did it. And the audience took part: made the rings, assembled them, lifted them. Did the exercises with Liv Hanne. Threw themselves against the wall screaming. Danced even.
As at both times in Harstad, people spilled onto the floor when the performance was over. Not wanting to leave. Wanting to talk, drink stay. This being an Academy there was no alcohol and no party, but some wrote to me afterwards, wanting to share their experience. This time the feedback was all positive. If there were negative voices there, they were not voiced.
Why is so surprisingly few talking about this? The collective. Potential utopias, when there are dystopias everywhere.
The interchange between involving the audience, and letting us take a step back to just watch, and then introduce us to new elements worked very well. The performance seamed solid, complete – and playfull at the same time. And that all though there were these constant changes and shifts. The one taking over for the other, breaking free from one thing without it ever seeming irrelevant. It is not commenting the lives we are living, but in a way I experienced it as mimicking those principles our lives follows, structurally. First this happens, and then this, and then this. And then yet another. It is up to us to connect the dots. To make sense of it all. And all though you might not all together understand why this comes after this, it is as if it has to happen that way. It feels natural and not really understanding why, makes the experience even more beautiful. It makes you wonder in a positive way. It makes you inquisitive, because you are. And it makes you want to be a part of it.
It is such a long time since I have been moved in this way. I left the room so happy, and with a feeling of real joy.
This performance med me think: To move together. To let go of those inbuilt barriers. To realise that one is investing something together with people one does not know. To watch people doing things you are not a part of, and still feel as though you are a part of it. … to see an experimental form of theatre that seems wide open. To explore something artistically, to not be afraid of showing all your cards, to keep the associations flowing – that that is actually possible. This was reflection and poetry combined through communal praxis.
In September 2019 we moved the performance to Hålogaland Theatre and played eight performances for a full house there.
Here we invite guest performers.
Lawrence has the first embryonic installation piece for our next piece - Tro, Håp og Thermodynamikk mounted in the foyer. And after each performance we invite the audience and some "experts" into what we called utopian talks: On faith, on physics, on how our minds work, visualize and remember. On the future of our oceans and arts potential for change.
Summing up, I write on my blog:
This time, to get to the future, we had to let go of language, of narration, of logic. We had to stay in an intense and communal listening. We had to let the room speak, we had to let the animal in, but we also had to prepare that space, to fill it with need, longing, anticipation – with the project it was to build it together.
Working with this stage collective, making State and Ecstasy, and DIY … together was testing. Being a performer on stage was testing. Being so exposed and vulnerable in the collaboration was testing. Trying to think new thoughts was testing, and maybe most of all, - trying REALLY to put my ideals out there on the floor. Insisting and insisting and insisting over and over again, even long after everybody was dead tired of hearing it; we have to connect. We have to listen, to continue to take everything in – the space, the objects, the audience, each other. To register, react and respond. Not because the others always disagreed with me, but because I saw the power of reciprocity. To address, and then to actually take in the answer, even when their response was rejection and silence.
To insist, in discussions, in in-logs and out-logs, on pushing and pushing at this.
The process of taking, arguing, succeeding, failing, laughing, reading, discussing with my collective, has given me fruitful perspectives on the body of the “we” in the theatre. Between the performance itself and the spectator, even the machinery. How everything present there in the room, even our expectation starts addressing each other, and how when one starts to tap into that, powerful things can happen. It had changed my attitudes towards the community of the theatre-space.
But all this did not take me where I expected. It took me somewhere else. At the time I called that place a third space, not knowing that this term was allerady in frequent use. It took me to a place not beyond politics but beyond the dualism. Beyond the I and the we, the us and the them.
This train of thought took me to an exploration that questioned how the text and an audience can interact. To questions like – when does it do just that? What is sharing in a performative setting, and how is that sharing made possible? I even started to look at the sharing-processes within the text itself, and this had become vital too me in so many ways.
I had discovered the quality and the power of events that were there, not to impress, narrate or produce meaning, but that insisted for itself. Not to change or influence something outside them. One could say that they were meaning per se.
Through Lawrence’s work, I had recognized that at the chore of it was an attention to the productive qualities of the work itself. In his work there is a feeling of something “at play” more than on display. A staging of the room that is in dialogue with the room itself. It was not the first time I had felt this, I would rather say that it was a matter of re-discovery, but it was important.
To control matter, – Lawrence said to me once – To control matter you cannot use force. You have to listen. You have to go with it.
promovideo State and Extacy, Harstad:https://www.facebook.com/556990670/videos/10153602644725671/
link program http://festspillnn.no/nb/program/2018/diy-manual-en-mulig-fremtid-no
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