Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Going Immersive at LIFT

Richard and I are in the UK, and our London visit overlaps with the opening of the 2014 LIFT Festival, newly resurrected after a long hiatus by genius Artistic Director Mark Ball. Most of the shows open after we leave town, but we did manage to catch two intriguing immersive shows yesterday.

The first, in the afternoon, took place at the Royal Academy of Arts, off Piccadilly Street. Christer Lundahl and Martina Seitl are a trans-disciplinary collective based between the UK and Sweden who focus on site-specific perceptual experiences; they have adapted their show Symphony of a Missing Room: archive of the forgotten and remembered (first conceived in 2009) for the Royal Academy's annual Summer Exhibition, the world's longest running open submission art show (it debuted in 1769 and has been held every summer since). Ahead of the show's public opening next week, but with the 1,262 artworks selected for viewing already hung and installed, a band of eight LIFT patrons is invited into the main galleries, where we are initially given a chance to contemplate the canvases and photographs and video works and sculptures filling nearly every available inch of wall and floor space. However, the artwork on display is not really at the core of this piece, which mainly eschews the visual sense in favour of the acoustic and the haptic. To this end, we are provided with headphones and fitted with a pair of opaque goggles; as a guide takes us gently by the hand, the lilting voice in our ears asks us to imagine all that we cannot see--to in effect build with our mind's eye our own salon des refuses. And it is hardly a coincidence that our tour ends in a back room stacked with artworks that did not make it into the Summer Exhibition. A kind of interior version of Projet In Situ's Do You See What I Mean? (which played the 2013 PuSh Festival), this unique work offers a whole new perspective (quite literally) on a landmark London building I only thought I knew.

In the evening, our friend Cathy joined us in an abandoned parking lot on the Southbank to take in Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg's dance-theatre piece The Roof. Once again audience members are each given a pair of headphones before being ushered into a built structure resembling a pen or Roman arena. Around the perimeter a 360 degree replica skyline has been built, one that just happens to incorporate a mini proscenium stage and a radio broadcast booth. From the latter a Penelope-like figure spins discs and introduces us to our hero, Player 611, who emerges in a red jumpsuit from a hatch on the opposite side of the rooftop and invites us into his body just as he is about to make the first of several perilous circuits around the perimeter. Along the way, he battles several monsters, a series of baton-twirling sirens, successive couriers, and his mother. At several points he is also rescued from imminent danger by another player who may be his doppelganger or his romantic rival, depending on one's view of each's relationship to the mysterious female disc jockey. At several points in the hour-long performance--usually at the end of one of our hero's circuits--we are invited to direct our attention to a sequence of choreographed tableaux that unfold on the tiny proscenium stage, and that together offer a comic gloss on what we have just seen, complete with disco-dancing bunnies. A surreal and thoroughly entertaining work, The Roof combines the physical vocabulary of parkour with the symbology of video games, Homeric myth, and Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle to create a performance one is unlikley to forget--or see in the West End--anytime soon.


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