Sunday, May 27, 2018

Faki Kronik Day 5 - Lift and Carry

It's that point of the festival, where meetings, meals, parties, art, and discussions have accumulated to the point of a blissful overload. The barrage of interesting encounters snowballs over the course of Faki - from smelling flowers in the botanical garden to meeting a human resources manager who hates her life in the courtyard of Medika - collecting into a feeling that's at once overwhelming and blissful. It's like you reach the stratosphere of conception and then slingshot straight out into outer space (with accompanying feelings of freedom).

Day 5 is the last real day of the festival, with only a special 'Critic's Forum' to come today on Day 6. In this event, we will try to put the theme of Physical Theatre into a critical context, bringing together some threads that are lying around into a tightly-woven towel of critical conception. But as I try to get my head around the pronunciation of Croatian surnames and cases (in the program I am amusingly referred to as Richarda Pettifera, which apparently creates all kinds of headaches for the Google algorithm), I am thinking again about the role of criticism in such situations.

Criticism feels like a lost cause at the moment. Cultural norms have shifted in favour of the artist or author - the bearer of first-person voice - and away from the critic, traditionally a guardian of the 4th Estate. Defending this territory is actually more an act of perpetual revival, akin to bailing water after the floodgates have broken. Even understanding a little bit the problems of maintaining a sense of common public discourse (its whiteness, its patriarchy, its capacity for body-shaming, its erasure of certain histories, the list goes on) I openly and somewhat nostalgically advocate for critical discussion on (flawed) neutral platforms, without the personal and with a shared attempt to create empathy, cross boundaries, promote social advancement and so on. No platform is neutral, but some are more neutral than others.

The biggest attack on criticism comes from those who propose to support it. The protection of 'Free Speech' rarely refers to a public domain, and much more to instances where what is discussed is not convenient to their (visible or invisible) cause. That is never the point of criticism. If I write on work, I always do it with an explicit agenda of furthering public discourse and discussion, of introducing new ideas, conflicts, and challenges. It is much easier that we do not attempt to conceive artwork, because this may, heaven forbid, result in some shifts in cultural perceptions. The attack on critical thinking is motivated by a desire for are nothing to change.

My work today is to address the organised chaos of last night's Lift and Carry from NeverEndingCompany. The promised interview with Puzzle Pie(s)ces will have to wait for the train ride home tomorrow morning - among the accumulation, I have simply run out of time here.

Lift and Carry

Apocalypse is a dangerous idea. It's not that its false - the end of the world is undoubtedly a very real possibility in various ways. It's just that the concept holds massive fears for many, concerned with preserving the illusion of immortality in one way or another. This makes it open to manipulation and abuse by powerful interests and ideologies. Beginning with its conception in Christianity, apocalypse is evoked to ignore the more immediate and material suffering of others. Lately, this manifests as a difficult point of climate science - how to communicate the real and present dangers without sparking a slide into ecofascism or dystopian realities of white supremacy.

The end of the world is, of course, a reality. All things come to an end, like a good novel, or a festival. The way we conceive it is powerful, and various symbols have been created to attempt to illustrate and communicate  it - the subject of much religious art, for example. Lately, the media has picked it up as a recurring motif for human self-hate, that our capacity to destroy ourselves and our subsequent feelings of guilt make the best possible clickbait, a kind of obsessive existential doubt about human activity in general.

Lift and Carry's apocalypse event results in a short sweep and vacuum of the stage to the tune of one of Mahler's Chorus Mysticus. That's a comforting conception by any measure. There's a certain accountability to it - if you make mess, clean it up. And if you find that mundane, then please put on some music you like - something emotive. And at the end you can fire a glitter bomb as a special reward for your work.

What precedes this deliberately anti-climactic plot device is essentially 3 separate performances, staggered in their timing over the course of four hours, and with each adding 5 minutes to a single performance (so 5' at 18.00, 10' at 19.00, 15' at 20.00 and so on). New renditions or 'openings' repeat the previous material, adding new perspectives to the pre-existing performance. The 'final' piece is displayed in its full 20 minutes in the final rendition.

I say 'final' because, really, the piece functions as a complete whole over the course of 4 hours, and audience arriving for only the last opening will have a totally different experience to one who was there from the beginning (I believe the same was true in a previous, slightly different version developed in Stuttgart's Akadamie Schloss Solitude). This is, in a sense, a privileging of viewing positions, and creates some nice divisions between neighbours - some of whom may be seeing a moment for the first time, some for the fourth. It also broadens out the festival theme of 'physical theatre' into something like 'metaphysical theatre', relating to the arrangement or assemblage of objects in time and space.