This post is unlike my earlier ones because this time it’s about the first time I ever directed and performed a piece of my own.
Existential is an immersive installation that explores what it means to be from two different places and how perceptions of the ‘self’ are influenced by the ‘other’. It is an exploration into how identity is anything but static. The performance used projection mapping techniques, where I projected primarily text on my body and in the space.
Peter Brook in The Empty Space says that “A man walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged” (Brook 11). Existential was based around the sense of being interrogated with questions pertaining to one’s identity; questions that are simple and common by nature, but can have complicated answers attached to them. The set up involved a small blackbox space with no lights except a spotlight that focussed on a chair that was on one end of the room. An audience member would have to sit in the chair in order for me to respond physically in some way and for something to happen in the space. I knew I wanted to incorporate Boal’s notion of a ‘spect actor’, where the audience is both a spectator and a performer. The result was a piece that was intimate and became a shared experience between me, the performer, and the audience member(s).
To create this piece, I drew inspiration from the work of Ignas Krunglevičius, Tsang Kin-Wah, and Adrian Piper. Ignas Krunglevičius is a Lithuanian artist who works primarily with video and sound. I specifically looked at his video installations which only involve text and play with font size and screen colour. Of particular interest to me were his Interrogation and NWUO text based video installations. Chinese artist Tsang Kin-Wah has video installations where he plays with the movement of text in a room, The Infinite Nothing (2015). And finally, I investigated Adrian Piper’s performance art work. Her work prompted me to think about:
- What is my socially constructed identity?
- What are the implications of our public identity?
- How can the body be seen as an art object?
It was interesting to hold the performance on two nights because though it was the same content being shown, both nights felt very different. At 7pm, I entered a completely different zone mentally. I was not always aware of how many people were in the space or who. The performance relied on me as the performer following my own impulses. There was no script to the progression of the night, and so I never knew what was going to be projected in the space and when and for how long. It was improvised based. It also relied on the audience and how they moved in the space and interacted with me. I realized at one point that I was essentially creating a space for play. It really depended on who was in the space and when. An audience member could enter and leave the space whenever they wanted. On a few occasions, an audience member would choose to sit on the floor opposite to me and make physical contact by holding my hand. Another chose to lie having a barcode projected on him, and another – before she left the space – took off her ring and placed it on the chair. There were times when I would engage in eye contact with someone for quite some time, yet not being fully aware of the passing of time. This lack of awareness would also be when I would stare at the chair, waiting – and not sure for how long – for someone in the room to sit on the chair. The first night was about feeling vulnerable in the face of the roles of the interrogator and a responder. Yet the second night became about the reversal of these roles. Again, this has to do with how the audience interacts in the space. On the first night there were people who would approach me, sit very close to me and grab a hold of my hand, to which my body responded with a release of tears that I could not control. But on the second night, it felt as though the audience was making promises – that they had impulses they would not follow perhaps because of the idea of a distinction between audience and performer, or a sense of fragility. I had tears in my eyes that would not fall, my eyes becoming very watery until I would lie down in a space where the words “Where are you from?” would be projected on my body.
There were interesting moments of being observed as the audience would approach me to read the text, which further emphasized the notions of identity and gender that I wanted to convey. The piece was really about what it means to be a girl who comes from two distinct cultures, and the emotional response to being alienated from a culture one was born into because of she does not fit the stereotype of what a local sounds or looks like (whatever that means). The idea of projecting text on my skin was to convey the sense of being marked, yet having a choice to identify or defy the text by staying or leaving it behind.
I think I want to experiment with language for a future project or version of Existential. I projected primarily text which was in English, but I do want to experiment with Spanish where the words carry so much weight in meaning.
Before closing this post, I would like to express my tremendous gratitude to Attilio Rigotti who acted almost like a mentor in the process of developing the work, and also helped me learn Isadora; Garreth Chan for his amazing work in sound designing the performance; Grace Huang for her support and time committed in helping me set up and technically directing the performance nights; Walter Ryon for all the technical knowledge and support provided; Simon Wilkes for the continued support along the process; and Mateo Molina for all his time and knowledge shared. Special thank you also to Tomi Tsunoda, Debra Levine, Abda Kazemi, Gaar Adams for the photographs and everyone else who supported me along the way. This project would not have been possible without the NYUAD Theater Program.
Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. London: Penguin, 2008. Print.