Monday, June 29, 2015

Prospero's fancy

Protection from the bureaucratic rain
In the last blog, I introduced the Prague Quadrennial and the main Georgian exhibit. The Quadrennial is the Olympics of theatre set design, a showcase held everyone four years for performing artists and designers across the world to celebrate their love and dreams and to show off the hard work that they’ve done. Yesterday I went to Kafka’s House, where most companies that were presenting were associated with schools or governmental grants, since those were the only groups that could afford to come and make such presentations. Some governments and companies cared more about the production, others didn’t, and that could be seen in what they displayed. Some presentations were simply pictures or videos of what they’ve done, others were transformations of the room and the space, yet others made the viewer part of the performance. Indeed, the best displays were the ones that provided the viewer with a unique artistic experience, that, whether through interaction or emergence, provided a link between the viewer, the artist and the art.

The name of the exhibition hall isn't a chance name or a touristic trap, it was actually the house where Kafka was born. It was first built as an administration hall for Benedictine monks, though when the author was born, it was being used as a theatre and for apartments at the time. Kafka's family soon moved to a place on nearby Wenceslas Square. The building suffered extensive damage in a fire, the interiors were renovated in the Socialist block style and now it's used as an exhibition hall. 

Two types of exhibits were my favorite. One type was unanimously presented by universities, where the designer-professor gave their students an idea - “Empty life” - or a play title - “No Exit”, “Romeo & Juliet”, etc - and told them to design a set or figure or something based off the title. My favorite among this theme was Hungary’s display, called “The Collector’s Room.” The aim of the project for the students was to work on the basic skills required of set design - to understand a character’s background and thematic interaction. “Each student imagines a Collector with a different passion in collecting,” then the student must make a diorama of where the Collector lives. This is even meta-interesting, since art itself is the perfection of obsession. What makes me think of myself as an artist, for example, isn’t simply that I write. Anyone would write if you dangled some dollar bills on a string and hook in front of them. But I - like other artists - am compelled to do so. For reasons that don’t make any real economic sense.

Brazilian labyrinths
Another favorite was Brazil’s showcase. Each student designed a book showcasing the concept of a play, presenting also pictures of the set. These books had to mimic that concept though. If the play were an adaptation of Borges’ “Labyrinths”, for example, then the book had to be a puzzle to open.

The successful concept for me was when there was an attempt to engage the viewer, to make them part of the show. Serbia had people sit down and then tied strings across the room, making them willing flies in a giant web. Lithuania had a projector with a scrolling skyline displayed on the wall and invited their guests to draw. Most people attempted to draw parts of the skyline, others just wrote tag graffiti like “Anichka was here,” the creative spectrum was all over the wall. Estonia was perhaps one of the best here, presenting Kafka's "A Report to the Academy", where there was a diorama in the exact middle of the room. Inside the diorama was the figure of a man watching television. On the television was a weird sort of stop-motion animation. Along the walls of the actual room were three people in costumes. One as death, one as a bronze-statue street performer and the last was someone lying face down. The first two were constantly staring at you, in the same way you tried to stare at the figure in the box, which was staring at the television screen. 

My last mention before I leave off with some random pictures of various projects is Austria’s presentation, called BAR III/IV, which was an exhibit not really marked in the main corridor. I just entered a door that didn’t say not to enter - which I have a habit of doing - and I found myself in a very small bar with room for four people - there was my wife and two others. Also an Austrian student who was sitting behind the bar smoking cigarettes and telling people to help themselves to some wine. Naturally, everyone stared uncomfortably until - never being one to pause about free booze - I poured the wine out into everyone’s glasses, we toasted, we drank, the student took some pictures and carried on smoking. The bar was, of course, a set, built inside another room, and through this bad cover or that, you could see the room beyond the room, and you could see that you are merely Prospero’s fancy.   

Uruguay, "Relationship"

Slovakia, Ice on books

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