'Revolutionary Spaces - interdisciplinary scenography after post modern theatre'.
PhD project proposal for Columbia University, Theater Arts Faculty.
By Birgitte Moos January 4, 2011
Description of the principal problem areas
This PhD project proposal ’Revolutionary Spaces’ focuses on interdisciplinary scenography, constructed after 2000, and therefore the attempt to answer the question: What is contemporary interdisciplinary scenography?
Scenography has in recent years moved in many directions, and ’Revolutionary Spaces’ is based on the thesis that a new generation of scenographies has grown forward, which have challenged previous genre descriptions and are co-creators of the future performance landscape. The assumption is, that we stand in a transition phase where scenography now as never before in history, is characterized by a shift in change or transformation.
The topic is new territory, receiving substantial international academic interest but is at present difficult to navigate through and develope empirical theories. The challenge during the PhD project is to gather, analyze and categorize the literature on new scenography. These reflections on all the accumulated knowledge and its results will generate application-oriented empirical material in groundbreaking new scenography.
Works, which together represent generating movements, and in which this project assumes to challenge the former genre descriptions, will for this purpose be the set designs to be selected by the criteria of being visionary catalysts in the profession.
The PhD project will put to task the question whether these selected new set designs create a fertile ground for groundbreaking new scenographic avant-garde and if they have already created a "trend".
Overall ’Revolutionary Spaces’ assumes that new scenography consists of consciousness sociological reflections, cultural commentary, collective work across disciplines, applied interdisciplinary art forms and transformations of words and action into spatial solutions - if there is text and actors - for a three dimensional, or simulated, often for temporary space. Scenography can include anything from stage, active audience, architecture, art, performance, design, new technology to inspiration from the humanities such as anthropology, philosophy, art history and linguistics to social and natural sciences.
The PhD project will deal with spatial solutions and scenographic design processes: The complex moments of inspiration where the designer, often in collaboration with other professionals 'invents' something which in itself reveals references to the context - the power of the image forcing itself into a larger space to create a reality which exceeds itself, leaving impressions of deeper insights and sensory imprints.
Scenography is at best revolutionary for both space and consciousness. A revolutionary space can both inspire to and be inspired by intercultural communication. Conversely the PhD project’s aim is to precisely also expose how scenographies can mirror the audience's consciousness, and thereby in some cases be user-driven and simultaneously expressing an ’authentic’ global language.
One of the ’Revolutionary Spaces’ theses is that as a resonance level we live in an image-generating and multicultural era where Classical Arts are relayed on the one hand increasingly into performances, and scenography on the other hand are received outside of their traditional spaces in conjunction with other forms of expression. Simultaneously this creates a new cultural landscape where the audiences increased image consciousness stimulates the scenographers expression. A mutually synergistic interaction communicating between the surrounding community, scenography and audience.
Subsequently I will present exisiting and up-to-date theoretical information, the methods, the relationship to existing research, the choice of material and the reflections on the project's prospects, with consideration to the formulation problem in question.
’Revolutionary Spaces’ deals with selected scenography, built from the terminology post-dramatic theater’ which in 1999 was established as a theoretical concept by the German theatre theorist Hans-Thies Lehmann. To come to a decision and to consider new works and give the reader an overall picture of the field of scenography, I will draw from, describe and compare relevant experimental theater, performance works, theories and manifesto’s from the 20 century, with a selection of new works. By reflecting the past, new works will be perceived with clarity and perhaps even outline the guidelines for the future.
This PhD project will focuse on and analyze and discuss the following:
A) a number of the newest and most remarkable scenographic works.
With the assumption that they all cultivate new visual forms and techniques.
B) a number of American and European scenographies, which from their starting point, both influences and is a new generation of scenographies.
C) a process where the outcome is the development of new stagings that through the use of experimental methods push formal boundaries for existing scenographic genre descriptions.
The PhD project proposal should be taken as a basis for discussion rather than as a road-map. Increased knowledge about ’the new’ from systematic theoretical angles will be obtained through the project’s on-going process, and the attempt to develop new methods as the lack of empirical research is obvious within the context of this thesis. For scenography the methodical illustration of the scenographies belonging to the generation of creators of a new scenography vocabulary, and can be specifically defined and categorized as ;new;, scenographers are to be interviewed about their working methods, inspirations, intentions and works. To help us answer the question of "what kind of language is it?"
The outlined PhD project in scenography also proposes a dialogue with the various research fields of architecture, new technology, cognitive linguistics and theater history. The sketches are expected to culminate in a scenographic solution for a performance project.
Common to scenographies as illustrated, is that everyone is conducted through either inside or outside the traditional or unconventional theatre where different artistic disciplines are often merged into the works.
The PhD project relates to, that components for staging are no longer necessarily subject to a foundation or base of space and text. These strategies go beyond conventional theatrical realism and symbolic expression, and challenge the tailored genre separation between disciplines such as opera, dance and classical theater. New technologies and forms of communication with the body in relation to space, site-specific events and performances can hereby be integrated as visualizing elements. A combination of expression which creates surprising, disruptive and sometimes cultural commentary with boundary crossing and over-the-line performances.
Methodologically it is interesting to develop new methods of resource for the development of new contributions to existing debates. Although not currently in practice, whatever the methods that are applied to this project ,it seems quite likely that the PhD project, interdisciplinary advanced study methods will provide a considerable potential to answer the project's objectives.
It is thus an essential goal that through the application of theories from different scientific disciplines and from a doctorate project's own empirical studies, that the analytical tools will develope. These tools will form the foundation to identify and define the premises on which it stands, so that a scenography can be categorized as contemporary, experimental and creative of a new visual scenographic language
Relationship to existing research
Different cultural paradigm shifts in the last century were visually elicited by a number of rebellious scenographers, and then analyzed in the works of writers and researchers. By contrast, at present and to our knowledge, very few published theoretical book works deal exclusively with the 21st
century experimental scenography.
Therefore the PhD project relates to a slightly older empiricism and catalogue material. This means that the project here in the early stage lacks documentation that supports that the content is of current scientific relevance. This observation is one of the PhD Project's capacity to indulge in contemplation of the new experimental scenography. The interim solution to the dilemma is that the project proposal in paragraph form could set a rough sketch for a new method.
It is also the PhD projects earliest task, to visit the area of research that may be under development and on track for future publication. There are continuously published relevant articles dealing with the very latest trends. Such sources will become pieces in the new puzzle that is, to date, not yet completed. The foundation of the puzzle first has to be constructed and this will occurr during the course of the project.
As mentioned there has existed a long tradition of describing and analyzing a subject's scenography, style and historical phenomena.
Below are some noteworthy fundamental shifts in theatrical practices and theories in a more than 2000-year old western tradition that emerged since the late 1960s:
In 1968, happenings and events concepts introduced by Richard Kostelanetz as "The Theatre of Mixed Means." Richard Schechner used the term "post-dramatic theatre" in 1970, after which the art historian RoseLee Goldberg in 1979 introduced the term ’performance art’.  From 1980, it was post dramatic theatre activities that led into institutionalized traditional theaters like Volksbühne in Berlin, where the director Schlingensief in 1993 broke down the boundaries between audience, stage
objects, performers and the egde of the stage.
But it was not until the 1999 publication ’Postdramatisches Theater’ which established the German theatre researcher Hans Thies-Lehmann's in-depth studies into the concept of post-dramatic theater in a comprehensive theory that the concept was defined. The concept was a turning point for the understanding of theater practices, leading to an international discussion updating the theater terminologies of the time. The post-dramatic theater indicates a historical shift from a text-based theater culture to a new media age, where performances can include the breaking up of literary works. The remaining components of the staging is no longer subject to the text. For example, seen in "Les Liaisons dangereuses" by Heiner Muller, 1981.
These strategies go beyond conventional theatrical realism and symbolic expression, and challenge tailored generic boundaries between disciplines such as text-based classical theater, drama, opera, dance, site-specific events, architecture and performance. New technologies, video projections, cameras, music, images, art and action were often integrated as visualizing and spatially crucial elements, as mentioned before, to create surprising, disruptive and sometimes cultural commentary and boundary crossing and over-the-line performances. Avant-garde movements have for centuries been diligent testers of technological theatrical experiments.
A consequence of the post-dramatic theatre as defined theoretically, resulted in that visibly and conspicuously the performance was moving towards new exploration and methods which resulted at times into an almost seamless integration of digital and physical spaces.
This PhD project will contain critical reviews of performance art, theatrical theories and history of the twentieth century and forward upto now. To determine and theoretically define which scenography belongs to the "new" is an important selection parameter that these set designs are from the year 1999 and after. Ie, produced after the terminology of post-dramatic theater was established as a theoretical concept.
A number of notable older scenographies, persons, ensembles and performances are included to form the basis for the PhD project studies of recent works. These that are earlier than 2000, cultivated the construction methods and techniques that affect quite new scenography. Some of these for the sake of comparison are introduced briefly below:
- Futurists from the early 20 century, which influenced the Girl Machine performance at Columbia University, NYC 2009.
- The Bauhaus Stage, established in Germany in 1919, consciously rejected history and looked at architecture as a fusion of art, craft and technology.
- Bertolt Brecht's desire to reduce the distance between audience and stage activity.
- The Achim Freyer Ensemble in Berlin, where the ensemble's absurd, surreal action and visual compositions since 1992 eliminated all genre descriptions.
- The Wooster Group which was established in New York in 1980, played a crucial role in the placement of technologically sophisticated media such as motion capture, in modern theater.
- Robert Wilson as an innovator in the field of visual theatre, staged universes of previously unseen characters.
- The Danish theatre company Hotel Pro Forma explores existing space opportunities where audiences atypically can wander from room to room.
Characteristic of the above persons and groups is that everyone is trained in either art, architecture, textile design, computer programming, dance, theatre or movies.
Relevant new set designs done after 2000, which are presumed for possible examples of the PhD project problem solution statement are amongst others are:
- The Theatre Complicite's systematized total art works and the Norwegian Verk production scene, created chaos.
- Danish Holland House "Face to the Wall" construction at Café Teatret in Copenhagen in 2008, was noted as "Shocking is his own psychedelic set designer,".
- 3LD Art & Technology Center, located at Ground Zero in New York, simulates through the 3D system "Eyeliner" pure virtual set designs.
- Signa, a Danish-Austrian artistic partnership which creates large scale projects such as ’The Apparitions of Martha Rubin’. A project consisting of a complete town of 22 houses, inhabiting more than 40 actors, to which the audience is invited take part in the village life.
- Last but not least, Big Art Group. A New York-based performance ensemble. Culturebot wrote "This is the theater of the future," 2010
Common to the above examples is that everyone has actively participated in the performances, produced inside or outside the traditional space and partly with or without integration of the audience, as well as integration of various artistic disciplines. Activities that make them possible exponents of the PhD project target fields and problem formulation.
Reflection on the project's prospects
The PhD project’s expectation is essential. To define a new and yet theoretically conceptualized scenographic form. Implicit is obviously a built-in contradiction between the defined and the not conceptualized, but this contradiction is in itself a prerequisite for even being able to deal with the paradox.
The ’Revolutionary Spaces’ will navigate between knowledge accumulation, development and practice in the expectation of generating a systematized model, suitable for dissemination. It is thus an essential goal that through the application of academic theories and the PhD projects empirical studies created foundation, to identify and determine what premises are present to a scenography that can be categorized as contemporary, experimental and creative of a new scenographic language.
The PhD project "Revolutionary Spaces" will also be an ideal application-oriented thesis especially among professional performers in several relevant disciplines. As a learning tool, it would be to the educational environments to benefit from the project and the results of the dissertation. The project is aimed at people who are preoccupied with developments in performative contexts. It could be used as a resource which could be downloaded and discussed as key information about scenography’s latest dimensions.
To contribute to the fruitful collaboration during the project: Developmentand support of the potentials for production of innovative and relevant scenographic works will be the PhD project's prime objective where, at the centre is man!
Raw sketch in point form for new research methology
Parameters of categorization:
Location or site specific staging
Multiple and simultaneously occuring spaces
Placement in spaces
the audience in space
Multiple simultaneous angles of perspectives
Optional viewing angles
Interaction between audience and scenography
Transitions and boundaries between stage and audience
Audience experience in relation to space
Placing of objects on the scene and /or amongst audience
Scenographic design tradition
Visual hints without the content becoming unclear
Without the use of realistic props and architecture / nature references Visual Metaphors
Universal visual language
Intuitive understanding of content
Linguistics and image understanding
Systemization – ’direct’ analysis
Review of productions
Set design from idea to result
Compilation of charts and diagrams
Surrounding cultural field - Seen in the context of art
Correlations between experiment and ideology
Historical and sociological conscious reflections
Humanities Research Units
Set design for Hamletmachine by Heiner Muller
Semiotics and icons.
I became aware in Berlin, during my studies from 1995-97. I became aware and also inspired by the ‘post-modern theater,’ its theatrical theories and works. Consequently, as a thesis project in 1998 I chose “The Hamletmachine,” which in context seemed to be the obvious challenge in scenography for The Danish Design School.
“The Hamletmachine” is an early post-modern text, written before the Hans-Thies Lehmann, Post Dramatic Theater theories were published. Early in my research for “The Hamletmachine” I realized that especially the works and theories by Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Jaques Derrida, C.G. Jung, Stanislav Grof, Gertrude Stein and the structuralist Charles S. Peirce would be relevant as interpretative tools for my own staging of the Hamletmachine.
Post-modern theater use linguistics and visual shifts and the breaking up of signs and signifiers, to allow for multiple interpretations. To apply deconstructivism in post modern theater, it is important to understand Peirce's Sign Theory which is a system with three categories; symbol, index and icon. Deconstruction, developed by Derrida, is an essential element of post-modern theater. Deconstruction is basically, to reject what we know conventionally and define as beautiful and true, and through the deconstruction of recognizable content, flipping the contents around and make stability unstable, so that a predefined meaning no longer exists. Derrida warns against just opposed meanings but also implies to juxtapose meanings or reinstate the opposite sign. By inserting the opposite sign one simply creates a new meaning. Deconstructivism is about how to open up new angles of interpretation. Antonin Artaud and Bertolt Brecht were actively engaged in these kind of productions.
Applied works and theories of the above, gave my interpretation of “Hamletmachine” the possibility of freeing myself from the temptation to generate harmonious scene images. Deconstructivism allows an open interpretation, where there is no longer one single meaning. “The Hamlet machine” is characterized by the absence of a plot. The text consists of sequences of aggregated fragmentation events, bouncing in time which breaks up the stability of continuous time and textual signifiers. With references to numerous literary works and the intense use of allusions, for example to Shakespeare's Richard III, Third Reich, Hamlets place of study - Wittenberg University, revolutions and Karl Marx, the characters and events in the text are turned into fragments of world history.
This text contained the prerequisites to be looked at from the fundamental tenets of post-modern theater and deconstructivism. “The Hamletmachine” is built of complex contradictions, where the messages are entangled in a net which has no linear pattern, but with probably more threads that can be viewed from different directions.
Description of the Text
Written in 1977 by East German play wright Heiner Muller, “Hamlet machine” is a reduction to just eight pages of text, and condensed down to a list of Western civilization's evolution from the glacial epoch to contemporary time and to a dystopian future of a climate disaster. Events are relocated to a world history in relative chronological order, yet still distorted and even recreated.
The Hamlet here, is in an identity crisis that develops into psychosis. The condition mainly due to his despair and disillusionment of witnessing various ages of failed revolutions, where a growing consumer culture betrays the past and carries with it a cycle of violence. He recognizes similar historical patterns repeating themselves in different eras.
Hamlet's schism builds up since he, in Jungian terminology, does not acknowledge his own subconscious and fails to integrate intellect with emotion. He realizes that his beloved classical philosophy is not sufficient to create social change. This realization that human intelligence is limited results in doubts of both his own identity and the survival of culture, and perhaps even in the justification of his own claim. He circles down in a growing frenzy which is split between the masculine and the feminine, anima and animus, mixed with memory flashes and the breaking up of his own linearity.
Hamlet's split nature is a response to the Western Canon's representation of the intellectual faced with misfired revolutionary changes, and becomes the central theme of the text. His debacle ends with a wish for a fusion between man and machine. The text points also to the notion of the age of technological opportunities, where concepts such as post-humanism, cyborg bodies, virtual reality and robots can become a reality.
The “Hamletmachine” is a critique on society and of the self ironic opposite facing mankinds intellect in the Western world. Hamlet is presented as an identity seeker in his struggle to make sense of Doomsday-like events, but ends as a tragic figure who capitulates and denies love as well as the human species.
In my staging I let everything take place in a site-specific 80 meter tall gas silo in Copenhagen.
Found architectural performance space and transgressing border were my focal points; fostering new ways of testing the barrier between the audience and performers in order to break down the line between ’art and reality’ inspired by ideas from Brecht, Artaud and a few other theatre practitioners and theorists.
My intent was to explore the art of theatrical scenography. From challenging gravity to creating a language through non-realistic imagery and to explore the interaction of the audience and the stage.
This staging questioned how and where the viewer experienced recognition and intuitive understanding of the content of the performance and scenography, as it relates to the environment of the action on the stage.
The play leaps in and out of different cultural eras and time zones. The main concept was to create a three dimensional collage of a degenerating culture through defragmentation and the assembling of the past into present and future.
This scenography lets everyting take place on a circular stage constructed inside the silo, inspired by the shape of an ancient amphitheatre. In a theatrical context, Greek theatre is the root of the Western world’s theatre tradition. The circle concept was developed to present a cyclical model of time as a container for the text content. The audience is seated in the center of the silo on an illuminated transparent circular floor encircled by the entire stage.
The circular stage, encircling the audience, is constructed on five different annular levels. The varied scenography spans over more layers in order to create the experience of fragments of events and the jumping in time. This enabled me to construct different stages on all the levels around the audience, giving them an heightened experience of the different time zones. Each time frame attached with different historical events.
Time is illustrated circularly from the rear and above to the front and down towards the audience. The past is the furthest away from the audience and present right in front of them. The audience sits, in a figurative sense, in the future.
Behind the first annular rear ring and out into space there is ‘nothing", a great room of darkness depicting time before ancient philosophical and Western European self-understanding. The actual first rear upper annular stage represents ancient and old values. The second annular ring forms the foundation for the Age of Enlightenment, where philosophy was again in resurgence after antiquity. The third and middle ring carries revolutionary events like the 1913 October Revolution and the division of Budapest. The fourth and lower ring provides space for literature, and personalities from the previous century up to the Baader Meinhof group's activities in Germany. The fifth and last annular ring at the bottom and closest to the audience includes the present.
The setting allows the performers to move from any point in time and space, backwards and forwards, around the audience, moving up and down from ring to ring. Thus, involving the entirety of the audience to visualize also the entirety of the performers as they move in and out of the different time frames.
The atmosphere and the dimensions inside the silo hints to the relation in Hamlet's dilemma, that personalized intelligence can be overestimated when compared to a bigger ‘something’ which we do not know as of yet and which is not a ‘comme il faux’ to surrender to as a member, of the Western European intelligentsia. With this interpretation I deconstruct a deconstructed text and relate myself utterly and politically incorrect to Heiner Muller's academic ‘agenda.’
In this context a gas containing silo also refers to the 20th century’s consumerism, and to galaxies created light-years away in the universe. Natural gas now supplies energy for numerous industrial processes in excessive consumption levels. And our galaxy, the Milky Way is a gigantic collection of stars, gas and dust as well as a significant proportion of invisible dark matter. Immediately after the Big Bang everything was totally dark. Since the primordial universe expanded, light could then begin to emerge as cosmic microwave radiation. It is this radiation which some believe creates climate change. The gas silo thus becomes a representation of something, which can be decoded in multiple directions, and not a reality.
Stanislav Grof is cited as a reference because he is one of the most important pioneers in the scientific understanding of consciousness. His concept has many features in common with CG Jung's concept of the world. While CG Jung's scientific works dealing with the self's individualisation, the collective unconscious and archetypes added Groff’s approaches a new dimension to psychology. Groff’s Transpersonal psychology, which was developed in the 1970s, dealing with existential and spiritual issues and human development opportunities through integration of body, mind, soul and society. His theories on the individual's transcendence, opens up a radical angle of how Hamlet could escape his intellectual prison; through a transcending awareness of the interconnection of all things. This solution would at best in the post-dramatic manner break with ”Hamletmachine’s” intertextual references, as it pointed in a completely new direction without contrasting meanings and signs.
One of Artauds ideas was to place the audience in the middle of what he called a spectacle. Interestingly enough a spectacle indicates familiarity with the words spectacular and spectator: Viewer and striking. In my mother language, Danish, the word ”spektakel” means disturbing noise. So in Artauds interpretation, it can be assumed that a spectacle includes the spectators whose view from the middle and overwhelmed by almost deafening sounds from from all sides, become aware of themselves. Artaud wanted the audience to be completely absorbed by a performance. He compaired this construction to what it would be like to be in a vortex.
I took a sequence of Artauds idea and placed the audience in the middle of the scenario, where they had no chance to escape, and became an example of how a contemporary ’Theatre of Cruelty’ could be experienced.
The audience position, ‘in the future’ is simulant for the fact that they are seated on a ‘living organism’. The transparent circle being a simulacrum for the globe or world is a scenographic attempt to break down the psychological barriers between audience and stage and to have the audience experience the show with physical sensations. I wanted the audience to experience themselves taking part in this performance. To work with light in the audience area of various colors and intensities, shining up through the glass circle, my intent was to affect the audience emotionally and physically. The audience sat on the swivel chairs and had an unobstructed view of the whole scenography throughout the performance. This kind of multi-perspective staging supported the concept of the post-modern theater.
The surface of the whole set scenography’s foundation, the five circlelayers is covered with asphalt-coated cardboard. as a reference to Germany's siege of Europe during the Second World War, when they brought freeways through much of Europe. A part of world history that can neither be separated from political events from before the second world war, or from the traumatic after-effects of the war inflicted populations.
I developed a staging concept that implemented deconstruction as a design method. As in a semiotic system, where one can begin to unravel the components. I excised elements out of the foundation and base of scenography and replaced them in other places on the stage. As long as it paid in other contexts rather than a text based form. Deconstruction, as a scenographic concept of a post-modern text.
I consequently cut many elements out of the scenography’s layers and placed the elements elsewhere on the stage. In this way parts of scenographic content was shifted. For example in Act IV. "Pest in Buda / Battle for Greenland" where parts of the scene's foundation at the location where the scene unfolds, was cut in rectangular pieces and placed upright elsewhere on the stage. The parts then became included in a new context, which opened for a hybrid interpretation. My hope was to create an experience of a coincidence principle. A principle of perfection through "de-form 'where the known and the aesthetic material was broken up.
I was inspired by the title of Deleuze and Guattaris’ “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.”
Philosophical Reflection on the notion of time
The content of the silo, the container, is temporal. Its content visualizes what time is, in itself, when it is designed as a physical and abstract object, the scenography. The object itself is a container containing time. The silo is incomprehensible from the inside, giving the audience an experience beyond time and space. The scenography has transformed time into an object, where the object is subject to the spectator attendance.
When a spectator enters the container and places himself in the center, the person is inside time. Inside the container many time periods are reflected. Regarding the time reflections, I took a starting point from Jaques Lacan’s theories of ’Mirror Stages’. A human is in violence of time, and perceives time as a pressure. The experience inside the container becomes thus claustrophobic and self-referential. The sequences of events that are inside in time (present, space, sound) are variant.
Act I. "Family Scrapbook. Funeral and rape of his mother"
I designed and installed two golden columns from ancient Greek architecture but made of plastic! The columns indicated that we were inside as well as outside a castle as both were to be understood as Richard lll and Hamlet's castle. At the same time the pillars pointed against the Greek tragedy ”Oedipus” because of the scenographic deconstructed element’s choice of materials, the plastic surface, the colour gold, the shape and the time-specific signaled simultaneously at least three different interpretations.
Act II. ”The Europe of Women.” Ophelia: ”I set fire to my prison”
Four identical upright rectangular panels with spaces in between depicted the framework for the marital home’s four walls. A rigorous formal composition as an image of conformity and gender roles. The gaps in between the panels dismantled the content of Ophelia's claustrophobic statement.
Act III. Scherzo. ”The university of the dead. Whispering and muttering from their gravestones - The dead philosophers Museum”
I placed glass showcases with seemingly lifeless, naked actors inside. Above and around the showcases was a minimalistic, unornamented golden portal, which implied a classical theatrical framing and reminding one of an oversized gilded guillotine; a meta-reference to the French scholars academic stand on philosophy. From the Napoleonic Wars to 1949 guillotines were in use in Germany and France. France’s last execution carried out by the guillotine was in 1977. The same year ”The Hamletmachine” was written...
Act IV. "Pest in Buda / Battle for Greenland. (... Three TV channels without sound.) "Assigns "Hamletmachine" at the set is a monument”
The scenographic elements are constructed of two monumental cement walls with cast iron bars. An opening between the walls enabled the actors to perform at the higher lying anullar discs. An example of how time jumping was integrated into the same scene.
In Hamlet's 'descent into hell' in Act IV, I let Hamlet go down between the archaic monolithic pillars, placed in pairs on each of the foundation circles, from top to bottom and towards the future. One idea was that the audience in Act IV, where Hamlet concludes "I want to be a Machine," should have been able to control his movements with a remote contol or a joy stick.
The result would be that Hamlet was imposed involuntary movement and driven around hither and tither throughout the whole room, by a surrounding cultural system, in this case the audience's norms and subjectivity: A homeless hero’s fight against himself ended in an unresolved recognition that stories of the past repeat themselves in the present and obviously again in the future. Unfortunately, it was not technically feasible. The consequences of an attempt to integrate interactive audience in the show would have ended in senseless violence.
My idea led me to the studies of the Australian artist Stellarc’s works and thoughts. He develops what he calls ’virtual’ bodies that can interactively connected with each other. Stellarc states that their new modes of high-tech interaction could break cultural memory and the old ways of Western thinking. This scenario would have been a relevant solution to Hamlets schism, a Hamlet still functioning on memory.
I am not on a mission to neglect humanistic traditions and values, on the contrary, the thought experiment was only an attempt to find new performative forms.
Act IV. Ophelia: "I am Electra speaking. In The Heart of Darkness. Under the sun of torture. To the capitals of the world ... I take back the world you gave birth two"
Ophelia sinking into the river. The Glass Circle is lit with a cold blue light from below to generate the feeling of sitting on ice. A scarey picture of how things can go wrong. The river Ophelia sinks in is Chronos’ time and the stream of life, frozen. Ophelia drowned in the flow of events.
In the last scene of Act IV, the lighting was a strong white light projected from the jet-black space of the darkened space above the audience and onto the audience, creating the atmosphere of a universe absent of light. The rest of the silo shrouded in the dark.
The final image dealt with Muller’s multi-referential writing form and could therefore be decoded in several directions.
At the end there was just the light, the whiteness at the audience. One idea was to turn this mysterious light to poetic use, involving a cosmos so far away that it is beyond the experience of man and therefore almost impossible to grasp. The beam could pave the way towards the light at the end of the tunnel, it could be perceived as the white light people describe in a near death experience or rebirth experiences which was one of Groff’s research fields, and thus become a ray of hope and consciousness quantum leap. Another idea was to suggest the humanity moves in an information society, where all things are registered and the individual is under constant surveilance. The audience could also choose a version were they stared into a gaping black hole, darkness outside the light that engulfed everything, including the hope for humanity's ability to positively influence the future. ”The Hamletmachine’s” final scene was at the dawn of a new ice age. The ice age in ”The Hamletmachine” was the consequence of a global climate warming, caused by Western civilization.
The final image ends as statement on an evolutionary step backwards, that progress or the circle cycle is complete. Where the circles of time, with its historical events running in loops and keeps returning to the same set of events. The acknowledgement remains disturbed and perhaps unfulfilled, depending on the audience's own historical and multicultural reference layer. This interpretation of ”Hamletmachine” does not paint a clear picture of either a disaster or catharsis.
Spacing Out - Historical development of scenography
”As a scenographer, upon every style and artistic concept from the caveman and uptill now. I am heir to an esthetic legacy which allows me, to the best of my ability, to express myself to others.” - Beeb Salzer
The history of scenography is long and exciting. In "Revolutionary Spaces" however it make sense to focus on history from around 1910 and the last 100 years, to the present. One hundred years of creation of new technological discoveries and forms of communication so powerful as never before happened in world history. Innovations that characterize the new millennium have almost just begun.
Professor Arnold Aronson wrote that, "In recent years, scenographic and performative expression has changed so dramatically that question how theatre and performance has been understood for over 2500 years. The old designation of the theatre has been enhanced by digital technologies."
To identify where interdisciplinary scenography derives from, it is necessary to get feedback in history by two exceptions of the concept by focusing on the past 100 years of history. Richard Wagner defined, with his concept of a total work of art in 1849, theatre as the optimal medium for combining separate artforms into one art. Wagner had an affinity for the Greeks and Aristotelian theory of tragedy.
Scenography has taken many exciting forms since Greek theatre and since Wagner established a theatre terminology that specifically dealt with the interdiscipline. A theory, which resonates in contemporary theater practices and which influenced the last centurys traditional theatrical standards enormously. In the beginning of the 20th century, the experiments with the avant-garde ideas on how to nullify the separation between audience, actors and the stage and how to involve spectators into the performances, one has to get into perspective, Malevichs "Victory over the Sun" performed in 1909, as the first performance ever to disintegrate words and concepts. In order to understand how the avant-garde experiments were a precursor of the performance concept and formed the roots of the post-modern theatre, it is also relevant to highlight a particular part of the avant-garde.
Futurism, which originated in Italy, broke the boundaries with the publication of the 1924 Futurist Manifesto in Paris. The Futurists admired technology and the new perception of time and space and staged performances that included almost every medium of art. They were also outside the traditional stages and normal theatrical frames. The futuristic stages were abstract and multidimensional spaces. The Bauhaus movement was closely knitted together with the Futurists and in 1921-23 held the world's first ever performance workshop. During the same period Oskar Schlemmers Sturm Group in Berlin tested complicated geometric operations, and simple everyday actions with spatial theories about the contradictions between the visual plane and spatial depth. ”The results of these art movements were often multi-disciplinary.”
The German theatre researcher Erika Fisher Lichter concludes ”At the beginning of this century the structure of theatrical communication in Europe experienced fundamental change ... The focus of interest now shifted to the relations between the stage and the spectator; the external communication between stage and audience.” ”This century,” refers in context to the last century, since her quote is from 1997.
Scenographic expression itself moved from the early 20th century towards a tendency where integration of a wide range of art forms brought a platform that formed the foundation to summarize what the end of the last century theater forms are characterized by: Fusion of audience and stage where the action is moving towards a common goal. A common goal that was difficult to define because the postmodern theater simultaneously worked parts from the multiple cultural systems of society. Society is, according to Stefan Beyst an array of complex interconnected systems shaped by "... the combination of cognitive processes and practical necessities...."
In the early 60’s a turn arose towards western performance art that were presented in what Roselee Goldberg defines as, ’Alternative Spaces’. The dimension of the space itself became essential for the performance. It was not about just placing a set design, but about finding suitable performance spaces and transgressing borders by the breaking down of barriers between spectator and performer. Site-specific suggests that the place speaks for itself and where the disturbance of found sites will be put into a new connotation.
Groups of theatre practitioners and the work of performance artists such as Joseph Beuys and Hermann Nitsch "sought a new form of theatre that utilized undefined theatre spaces and either encouraged or manipulated audience participation for the purposes of the production." The Vienna Actionists from 1962, with Hermann Nitsch in the foreground, performed theatrical projects that carried out 'ritualistic acts'. In their six- day performnace the ”Orgien Mysterien Theater” from 1972, art was considered as therapy through the ’Action’ where things happen really and are no longer played.” The actions were precisely prepared and controlled, so in this perspective Nitsch’s utterings seem to have been constructed.
Theatre researcher Iryna Kuksa claims that live art in the late twentieth century was the key mediator of a switchover to hybrid new performance practices that expanded spatial environment and started to support interaction between stage and audience.  Avant-garde art, however, had experimented with the expansion of spatial environment and the audience's perception since the early twentieth century.
At the end of the late Twentieth Century a shift towards multicultural theatre and the use of new technology on stage seems to be inextricably linked. Experimental scenography were created by a new generation of media that frequently tested integrating new technologies on the scenes in order to reshape space. The use of multi-media applications in scenography enabled theatre to interact with the world in a way, where the theatre maintained its position as a medium to communicate and shape trends in popular culture. Theatre has for centuries played a key-role as a generator of new forms of entertainment and cultural commentary.
A vital part of this shift included Jan Fabre and the Flamish New Movement from the early 1980’s. A performance movement that began to relate itsef to space and technology and was on the look out for new formal expressions, widely referencing to multicultural sources on account of the absence of "temporal reference points’” such as mythological references.
New forms of scenography – A holographic and kaleidoscopic universe
Since ”Hamletmachine” was written, concepts such as trans-humanism and post-humanism have been formulated. Trans-humanists declared in 1998, the same year I interpreted ”Hamletmachine”, that ”Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology.”
Trans-humanism understands human evolution as an unfinished process. Thereby the human form becomes unacceptable. Trans-humanism seeks to promote the use of technology, through improvements in the human, to eliminate suffering and prolong life.
Trans-humanism deals with the transition from human to post-human. But the word robot were already popularized by R.U.R. written in 1920 and premiered in Prague in 1921 and Antonin Artaud was interested in the idea of man-machine. In the 1990’s the Australian artist Stelarc talked about “living in the last day of the human, in which the boundary between humans and machines are already blurred.  Focault stated in 1994 that ”man is an invention of a recent date … one perhaps nearing its end.” Stellarc speaks for a new attitude that might support Focaults thesis, an attitude which he believes will dissolve many of humanity’s philosophical problems.
During my research for ”Revolutionary Spaces.” I encountered Michelle M. Smith 's ”Hamletmachine” interpretation from 2004, where she introduces the concept of ’The Post-human Theatre’ and states "I believe that current and future Developments in theater technology give rise to the development of a future genre of performance: The Post-human Theatre.” And some scientists believe that we are now on the threshold of new forms of existence and interaction. Changes that which no doubt will transform basic human living conditions. These changes will provoke very deep ideas in the Humanistic sciences: the past inventories of cultural material that has taught us about the humanistic values.
Audience may even according to John R. Hall be so international that they cannot identify with visual stereotypes recognized by a homogeneous group. These are some of the challenges which scenography is facing. One way to gain insight into the paradox is to be updated and aware of visual communication is that set designers study linguistics. In that field, cognitive linguistics is highly relevant to explain how the scenography through physical metaphors can make the complex understandable.
Therefore, I believe that interdisciplinary scenography should concern itself with communication through signs and with how humans form images of themselves through identification with signs.
Ideas and identification is something the audience is still projecting into the theater, and the projection surface may therefore reflect its underlying layers and comment on the surface of the reality we live in.
Theatre has always been at the forefront of society and the question is whether a Posthuman Theatre has adequate social relevance so that it may even take over a theater landscape that has been characterized by the presence of people of flesh and blood.
One could argue that virtual scenography and theater is a logical consequence of several of the previously mentioned factors. Kuksa examines the relationship between ”The dissolving of the borders of theatre and the corresponding theatricalization of reality...”
Theatre responds to a recent reality in which scenography takes into consideration telecommunication, computer games and interactivity in Expanding boundaries of theater stages.
Revolutionary Spaces in Scenography
What is it that can still get the theatre to act as a link between mans busy schedules and the search for truth? One of the components is scenography. Scenography has the opportunity to revolutionize through the generation of revolutionary space. Spaces that can create revolution and attempted by Brecht, was inspired by Wagner's idea of a ’total work of art’. His epic theater wanted to undermine stage illusion and reduce the distance between audience and stage activity in the service of a political enlightenment of the audience.
If revolutionary spaces are seen in a broader perspective than the meaning of policy, they can be interpreted with far more complexity through an angle which shows that we live in an era where global cultural signs and codes are constantly available in a universial software supermarket inside the computer.
Scenographer and director Achim Freyer belongs to the generation of humanists that relate to characters that are related by the cultural material. Freyer was trained as a Painter and was a student of Brecht. Freyer’s scenographies are very apolitical and Wagnerian. Achim Freyer uses myths to tell us about timeless, universal feeling and creates visions for the beginning and the end of the world.
Spaces that are formally revolutionary break with traditional forms of representation and show the genres changeability. They move such concepts as gravity such as seen in Scenographer of the year 2009 in Germany, Andreas Kriegenburg’s, ”Kafka Process.” Kriegenburg created and designed a sloping scenography that symbolized an eye, where the audience got the experience of looking into the eye from above. A look into Kafka's universe, that was not decorative and was not restricted by laws for the placement of spaces on a conventional stage.
Overall it is concluded that through exemplification, revolutionary scenography allows you to move people's awareness, support the development of global networks, transcend age, experience, social, religious and cultural backgrounds.
Prague Quadrennial (2011) of Performance Design and Space
My starting point is from the examples listed above and with current knowledge, that scenography is a fundamental category in itself in interdisciplinary art forms and already posesses a canonical history.
My assumption is supported by the fact that The Prague Quadrennial, the largest scenography event in the world and takes place every four years has just changed its name to the Prague Quadrennial (2011) of Performance Design and Space. This years Quadrennial focuses on scenography as an interdisciplinary field.
Proposal for workshop at the architechture section at PQ11. Quite to the edge or over the edge
The research area lies within a discipline that uses architectural repertoire. Scenograpic space is just as functional as architecture, but with a difference. scenography supports a setup and communicative atmosphere and architecture's mental space is underexposed. Yet, what other discipline can contribute to the architectural syntax, as precisely as scenography?
This idea deals with space solutions, complex moments of inspiration, where spaces in themselves reveal references to the context of where they are established. Through this the power of the image can mediate into the larger space where the physical reality is transcended, leaving deeper insights and sensory impressions. Scenography is at best revolutionary for both the space and consciousness. A revolutionary space can both inspire and be inspired by intercultural communication. Simultaneously a new cultural landscape emerges: a mutually synergistic interaction communicating between the surrounding society, architecture and audience.
Architecture in Prague, are the living examples of remaining humanistic values. I would create a system that adapts post-human qualities onto the very architecture. New technologies and forms of communication with the body in relation to site-specific architecture would be integrated as visualizing and spatially generating elements. Prague’s buildings become the actors in an assemblage, where architecture connects, interacts and affects each other. Expressing how buildings function, not autonomously but interrelated. Architecture becomes living organisms affected by the surrounding landscape. The dynamic performance location associated with urban space, creates a variety of new real-time performances integrating events with other performances also taking place simultaneously in Prague during PQ11.
This combination of expression rearranges cultural references, creates a disruptive and outrageous performance; generating a theater-of-the-future.
Opera review: ”Siegfried” at Los Angeles Opera for The Citizen LA
LA Opera staged the Richard Wagner tetralogy ”Ring Cycle” through 2008/10. The third opera in the cycle, ”Siegfried”, had its premiere at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the autumn of 2009.
The LA Opera ”Ring Cycle” is directed and designed by the Berlin based Artist, Achim Freyer.
”The Ring Cycle” is based on Norse mythology, Icelandic Sagas and the Germanic pre-Christian legend of ”The Song of the Niebelungs”, an heroic and epic poem written in German in the 12th century.
The first act opens with light tubes across the stage floor, reminiscent of a swimming pool. Siegfried sees reflections in the stream, and the mirror effect is executed by the twin figures of the main characters. The story was visualized by a moving and sometimes tilted revolving stage, a record player where the story was grooved into, and reflected out in a divine light space. This created the three-dimensional effects through projections on fore -and background.
The scenography evolves through a story where values and morals are defined by the fact that survival is everything. The final act consisted of integrating multilayered visual expressions, ranging from under and oversized objects to sophisticated retro 80’s neon art shows. A multimedia performance where variation in speed of movements, comic book elements, fairytale symbolic references amplified into a precise abstract interpretation, staying however, true to the text.
”The Ring Cycle” are ancestral legends, and Achim Freyer hit the tone of the story instinctively, academically and stunningly!! I advise Quentin Tarrantino, Peter Jackson and David Lynch to get familiar with this version, as the story contains many of the same classic elements of the Hero Myth used by ”Tolkien” and makes use of mythic storytelling. This performance is the penultimate proof that the silver screen has not taken over!
Opera review: ”Parsifal” at Los Angeles Opera for The Citizen LA
”Parsifal” was directed and designed by Robert Wilson at The Los Angeles Opera in 2006.
Robert Wilson is an American theatre director and scenographer, known for being experimental in the cutting edge theatre scene, using a theatrical language where theatre becomes performance, while still being rooted in classical theatre and opera.
He is the founder of The Watermill Center in Long Island NY. A cross disciplinary art school, where artists come from all over the world, to become inspired in the spirit of this leading avant-garde theatre voice.
He has staged numerous productions over the last three decades throughout the world, including works such as ”Salome”, ”Madame Butterfly”, ”Parsifal”, ”Deaf Man Glance”, ”The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin”, ”The Ciwil wars” and ”Einstein on the Beach”. Wilson has worked with outstanding artists such as Philip Glass, the German director Heiner Muller, the legendary David Byrne, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, Jessie Norman, Susan Sontag and Tom Waits.
His theatrical interpretations consist of almost empty stages and stunningly beautiful lighting designs. Nonlinearity defined through combining different art forms into total art works, where movement, music, visual art and design are fused together into a new formula for stage works. Rather than words, movements and visual effects become more descriptive and central in shaping the meaning.
Wilson directs actors into mechanistic movement patterns that usually do not represent their engagement in emotional content. It seems as if the mere fact of the actors having to move from point to point as if counting numbers internally, while exercising the movements as practical transportation in order to create or deconstruct the story. This could be viewed as a comment, that deconstruction could be applied as an analytical method of seeing literature, architecture and that language and trends are unstable.
The works of Robert Wilson stand out in this time, with the tendency for confusion. He masters the walk of the double-edged sword, assembling the blade so that it cuts clear through centuries of scenic art forms. His imaginary visual compositions lends reason toward consciousness about philosophical and defragmented cultural expressions. He connects them in soulful footprints which slide through time and space as clearly as any intuitive and abstract intuition about life and communication. A communication collaborating through music, song, light and body language.
Wilson’s directing is atypical in the sense that nothing typical appears. He connects so called traditional dramatic expressions in new images, that move slow-motoric through almost clinical yet painted spaces, converting instructions in a written play into a bodily language and executed one direction at a time.
Wilson is popular in Europe. This is possibly a reaction to his nonverbal visual communication. Speakers of different languages understand the content as the audience extracts the same information. A content of universal questions and ethical interactions and with outstanding ability he transfers settings and emotional content into abstract, suggestive landscapes and motions.
Wagner’s opera ”Parsifal”, performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was transformed into a zen-buddhistic meditational stage version. ”Parsifal” is a four and a half hour joyous meditation on physical focus with the presence of dreamlike, stunning, scenic settings, created through set and lighting design and geometric black and white costumes.
Wilson’s rendering of Wagner’s religious opera ”Parsifal” was a contemporary and yet a timeless and sensuously illustrated work. Theatre traditions such as Japanese Noh theatre intertwined with Bertolt Brecht’s human tableau vivants: People posing silently. The figures moved incredibly silent now and then jerking a posed hand mechanically back and forth to comment on something. Or, as nervous tics coming out of powerlessness against seemingly insoluble dramas and with the awareness of how hard it is to communicate verbally.
Intrinsically a slow operatic work that projects religious systems into stylized patterns, where body collages slide across the stage. Illuminated occurred crisis, where seemingly minimalist movements capture gestures almost before they happen, resulting in uncontrolled subconscious mania. Downtempoed by, either as a result of emotional deep freeze, or existentialistic cultural confusion. Automatic reactions and forms repeated, hypnotically looped in complex cycles, like a mantra looking for universal harmony.
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STATEMENT OF ACADEMIC PURPOSE
by Birgitte Moos, January 4, 2011
This PhD application is based on my prior theoretical and practical knowledge in this field. The PhD project proposal stems from my longstanding research in experimental scenography and visual theater. I regard it as an evident extension of the above.
To give readers the opportunity to examine my academic qualifications, its appropriate presenting you with the road that led me here.
I studied Humanities for a year at Roskilde University in Denmark. It gave me a literary and philosophically theoretical foundation and the feeling that I was on track. I then, discovered the potential of scenography. The choice to study scenography was based on the following: Set Design includes a perfect synthesis of all my interests in Art; installation art, performances, opera, theater, language, literature, psychology, philosophy and art science.
After studying in Berlin at The Berlin University Arts Faculty for Performing Arts as a student of scenographer and director Professor Achim Freyer, I received my post graduate degree from the Danish Design School in Heiner Muller's ”Hamletmachine”. This thesis project influenced the direction that my profession has taken as a scenographer and artist. Already, whilst studying, I began to specialize in interdisciplinary scenographic forms and wrote an undergraduate dissertation on visual theater. Our studies were a combination of theory and practice. We participated in wide ranges of courses in dramaturgy, theater and performance history. My academic foundation is based in theatre and performance science.
Studying with Freyer is an expression of where my academic career choices has taken, a direction where the trail backtracks to a distinct tendency. I have actively explored alternative performance environments, where artistic methods intersected with a broad range of academic investigation works, multidisciplinary and experimental, both with space solutions, new technology, text and direction.
I have developed several self-produced performances, I am an exhibiting artist and have taught scenography and art. Concurrent with and after my academic training, as a scenographer, I have experienced a series of projects in theatre and performances.
My specific interest in scenography, visual arts and literature led to an internship at Deutsches Theater in Berlin and recently, as scenographer for Danish performance group Cantabile 2, for ”Beggars Opera” in 2009. A review by John and Nick Bruun in Arbejderen, recognized that "the scenery in Beggar Opera is simple and yet filled with symbols. As in Brecht, the few props have major roles in the play."
Cantabile 2 is a Danish based, internationally recognized, performance ensemble, that uses site-specific space for their performances.
A teaching enterprise included, production design lectures in symbolic and surreal images for Station Next a sub-division of Zentropa Productions in Copenhagen. Susanne Wad from Station Next, wrote in 2007, "Birgitte has a high vocational base that places her in that certain category reserved for outstanding Danish mediators in the creation of film. She possesses an astute and innate understanding of disseminating knowledge to a wider public …” “Birgitte Moos is enormously qualified to work with the education of design … .”
Another avenue I began to explore scenography and theatrical theories was through writing reviews, of the Robert Wilson and Achim Freyer performances at Los Angeles Opera, published in Citizen LA.
In 2001, I received a grant for a research stay in Los Angeles. A personal art project examining the city's potential as a large, multicultural and urban site-specific performative space. The project highlighted the relationship between architecture, human ways of interaction and the city's grid of depopulated sidewalks.
At that time I was the lead designer for Tristone/Sjuzet. The company now called, Congin. This allowed me to work with dramatic narration models, studies of different cultures, time epochs, structural patterns and myths of all men. I developed visual universes in which new forms of interactive entertainment for video games and television took place and developed new forms of interaction. The post included participation in conferences on computer game theories at the Copenhagen Information Technology (IT) University.
During my research in Los Angeles, Vibeke Sorensen, Chair and Professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts was very interested in my ideas and proposed an Artist in Residency in digital arts and animation at USC. The offer gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in digital design forms and use of new technology. I attended courses in stereoscopic animanition, 3D modeling, and lectures in performance art and American avantgarde artists.
I graduated back in 1998 therfore it has been hard to contact my professors from the study. Therefore, this application is attached with two new recommendations. The Watermill Center, where I was Artist in Residence in 2009. My previous employer Ron Sossi. He was the theatre director of the show "The Arsonists" staged at The Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles in the spring of 2010. I designed the scenography.
In autumn 2009, selected for an Artist in Residency at Robert Wilson's Watermill Center, I submerged in Wilson's works for the research in "Revolutionary Spaces" and gave a lecture. I still have affiliation to the Center and the use of office resources, staff and contacts for future research.
I hope to have the opportunity to immerse myself in the field of interdisciplinary scenography and its applied disciplines. I am convinced that a PhD study in interdisciplinary scenography and the doctorate program at Columbia University, Theatre Arts Division would be supportive to my development in research, dissemination and publication.
I am familiar with the faculty's theoretical orientations and fields of study which are ideal with the direction my research should take and New York, the optimal location for research in the field. The city is an intercultural magnet for theatre and live performances.
I am also convinced, increased knowledge and methodology are necessary requisites, to create the foundation for relevant contribution in communication with current debates and trends. It is enormously important to understand the comprehensive and fundamental elements to artists’ methodological approach and what their work processes consist of.
Copyright ® Birgitte Moos 2014
© Birgitte Moos Chalcraft 2020