The Guardian Thursday February 6, 2003
New Territories - Arches, Glasgow
Glasgow's New Territories live art festival is Europe's longest-running showcase for leftfield performance - a remarkable fact, considering British audiences' general resistance to such experimental work. This year it opened with Morphia Series, a beautifully conceived piece by Australian artists Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham, which set a high standard in uncompromisingly abstract, yet accessible work...
Where Herbertson and Cobham defy expectations of scale in performance, British artists Alistair MacDonald and Sarah Rubidge
puncture the barrier between artwork and audience. Their Sensuous Geographies is a fascinating concoction of sound, light, colour
and costume, which is altered by our very presence. An installation-cum-performance, the piece invites us to be viewers and players.
A black, multi-textured ground cloth is the stage for up to nine performers (including cast and audience members) dressed in muslin
blindfolds and coloured garments that look like a cross between medieval gowns and burkas. A video camera above the performance area
is hooked up to composer MacDonald's computers, which generate intriguing, disquieting and humorous sounds as they respond to the
combinations of colours. Watching, you feel like an uninitiated participant in an intricate mythological role-playing game. But the
piece is so inventive and original that you surrender easily to its infinite possibilities.
Thursday February 6, 2003
MORPHIA SERIES/ SENSUOUS GEOGRAPHIES, THE ARCHES, GLASGOW
This opening double-bill in New Territories 2003 is like an oasis for senses chilled by wintry times. Even before the darkness gives way to light in Molphia Series -created by Australians Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham - an invitation to abandon regular expectations has been offered: each of the 12 audience members is given a morsel of flavoursome food and a tot of sunny, honeyed dessert wine.
It's a gesture of hospitality that initiates a series of visual haikus - vignettes of sound, light, and movement that catch Herbertson in moments of experience and reflection. We have felt that sensation of hot sun, water splashing, reverie, and we can relate to spasms of robotic agitation spiked by whiplash and bullet-ricochet.
Herbertson is seen throughout within a small wooden box frame, distant at first until suddenly we find ourselves trucking forward, thrust into close proximity with her final image, a primal nakedness fretting and digging for past truths in invisible sand. Thereafter darkness, and bird-song, a calming coda to a work that is exquisite and full of resonance.
Which leads us nicely on to Sensuous Geographies, an interactive installation by Sarah Rubidge and Alistair MacDonald
in which colour (the costumes) and movement (from participants) trigger an ad hoc soundscape of chimes, gongings, boomings. You can either
watch, or join in. Either way, what emerges is a personal/group signature tune that constantly shifts and cannot be repeated. On one level
it is happy play, on another it taps into notions of wordless communication and issues of identity. Very David Attenborough.
Sensual healing that's a real audience turn-on
For a festival that prides itself on peeling away the labels usually applied to art-forms (dance, theatre, visual art: you know the kind of thing), this year's New Territories has already managed to invent some new ones of its own.
Normally when the press are led into a darkened room and blindfolded you suspect foul play. But Sensuous Geographies, we were told, was an 'immersive' interactive installation; a perfectly innocent 'performative' piece where we, the audience would 'explore and control rich sensual worlds of sound and colour' courtesy of Scottish composer Alistair MacDonald and choreographer Sarah Rubidge.
In real words (according to my dictionary you can have performable, but not performative; immersed, but not immersive) this is an event where the audience become the show, donning jewel-coloured cloaks and hats and milling about in a marked-off inner circle where the various colours trigger off a range of sounds and images controlled by a bloke in the corner with two iMacs and a sound-desk.
Once you get past the language, and the fear over entering the inner circle (especially when you are handed a 'green novice cloak') this is a funfair ride that dispenses with all the usual rules of theatre and gives a powerful sense of what this increasingly genre-melting festival is all about.
My only regret is I have to dash back through the looking-glass to another show before I can really explore my sound (a merry chinking noise), and -- just as interestingly -- the way this game with its elaborate rituals causes spectator/performers to behave in the space.
Wed 12 Feb 2003
Performance laid bare
If Morphia Series concluded with an emotive use of nakedness, British artists Alistair MacDonald and Sarah Rubidge relied heavily on a fascinating use of costume in their interactive work Sensuous Geographies. A work for up to nine players (including as many as four members of the audience at any one time), the piece placed people in brightly coloured gowns, matching caps and muslin blindfolds on a black performance space. Above them hung a video camera which relayed colour-coded messages back to MacDonald's computers, which, in turn, created a cacophony of sound related to the movements of the players.
At one level, Sensuous Geographies appeared like a live art version of a Dungeons and Dragons-style role-playing game; potentially interesting, but a little impenetrable for the uninitiated. However, it was both humorous and intriguing enough to keep one's interest.