The Void

Review by Elin Høyland.  Klassekampen, Sep. 11, 2017
Venue: Henie-Onstad Art Center, Oslo 2017

‘HANNAH’, the new piece from Verdensteatret, is a ceremony over bygone time and voids with feedback from its own flight recorders.

This time without Lisbeth Bodd, who died after the premiere of the piece ‘Bridge Over Mud’ in 2014 and whose death left a large, but luminous void behind her in the Norwegian and the international performing arts field, and undoubtedly also in the framework for her life's work: Verdensteatret.

The scenography that greets us at Henie Onstad Art Center in Bærum is more stripped down than usual this time. An elongated white canvas on the back wall (an almost elementary part of Verdensteatret’s scenography where different visual occurrences arise), four steel constructions that could resemble low and long ‘tent-skeletons’; near the canvas are three smaller felt-sculptures in mustard yellow, two of which resemble reversed umbrellas, and one ‘Mad hatter’ - top hat. Right in the front, on the entirely aluminium foil covered floor are two grey clay figures whispering Vietnam and Mekong Delta. This is where the show has found its material, partly from a new journey made in 2016 and partly in dialogue with the first trip to this area, which was the foundation for the show ‘Louder’ in 2007. Maybe that is why four flight recorders are placed at the centre of the room. A symbol of both journey, memory and the possibility of repetition?

The art collective Verdensteatret has since its beginning in Bergen in 1986 developed a significant signature characterized by a visual dramaturgy, where the ritual and the natural take part in different constellations within cultural and technological conditions. The process of creation involves geographical journeys where material is collected on many levels and a basic trust in the ‘knowledge’ within that material and the technology that catches them. A show by Verdensteatret can be experienced from countless angles and art genres such as music and noise, visual art and installation, performance and theatre, controlled by humans and machines in wavy, jarring contact with both prehistoric and present time, chaos and peace. The human actors on stage become helpers of the real actors; different ‘scrap-yard’ objects, electronic and mechanical tools and projections. As an audience you are invited on an audio-visual object controlled journey and into a kind of a meditative state.

Verdensteatret describe ‘HANNAH’ by saying that they are exploring ideas about geological time and attention fatigue and summarize with: ‘There has never been so much past as there is right now’ and that they will create a series of elaborate audio-visual compositions generated via an electronic feedback system. It is when this electronic feedback system appears on the white canvas that the heart of the piece opens up. Circles in sand, beige, brown, a hint of orange and black; audio noise meets visual granulated pixels in a kaleidoscopic formation. Circles appear like wooden plates partly covering each other in different sizes and creating harmonic figures. Through the centre of these plates a small wheel is growing, moving inwards, crossing, drilling. It makes a path, a canal, a spine. It causes me to think of nervous systems and Buddha-figures, sawmills and a thousand year old trees. I feel the heart of the world pulsating, warmly and without purpose or meaning. A heart that can withstand penetration.

More down to earth elements characterize the rest of the scenography; an empty high-rise building, slum-like. Construction sites and harbours. Unpopulated. Two robot speakers with soft drum sticks beat softly, beat harder, it crackles in the flight recorders, jarring speakers covered in felt are being turned. Felt. The yellow felt creates warmth, there is hope. Even if there are no words to describe where we are right now. The six human performers on stage are turning the speakers in a compassionate choreography; in line with soft, listening movements that hear the waves of an ocean in a dysfunctional radio. A man is standing in flight position. Two full length rolls of aluminium foil cross the stage vertically, worthy of a Hedda Prize for best actor. Steel constructions fall apart and new ones are brought in, now with glass in all kinds of colours. Crackling and emptiness, seaweed and plastic. The associations are many and as the situation encourages us to observe; it is individual for everybody in the audience.

Verdensteatret is undoubtedly still alive. With Lisbeth Bodd in the heart of the flight recorders and with her partner Asle Nilsen at the front of what looks from the outside like an almost self-driven organism. There is something about the void in this piece and it quivers in line with the title ‘HANNAH’. At first I was searching for meaning in the word

(it can be grace, mercy and flower) but it is of course not what the title means but what it is which is the essence here; HANNAH is a palindrome, a word, expression or number that gives the same result whether you read from right or left (...) from the Greek words palin, ‘back’ or ‘again’ and dromos, ‘lane’ or ‘road’, and so there we were, inside something both noisy and quiet, in contact with the infinite, palindromic

Journey into discomfort

Review by Ilene Sørbøe.  Morgenbladet, Sep. 15, 2017
Venue: Henie-Onstad Art Center, Oslo 2017

In Verdensteatret humans are subordinate to the technology they themselves have created.

(Caption Associations with climate crisis: gradually all of the white canvas is covered by a pulsating, orange and black sun in Verdensteatret's complex multimedia work.)

The floor is covered with aluminium foil. Around in the room there are various mechanical installations, metal bars leaning against each other, small loudspeakers covered with yellow fabric and five big white canvases. I've stepped into an alien landscape.

A small yellow loudspeaker mutters like the low drone of a motor from one spot, thereafter another one from another position. Quietly, it could have been a car that was speeding past outside. I'm immediately becoming aware of my own presence in the space. At the same time the small loudspeaker is surprisingly alive. It doesn't only communicate, it is shivering enthusiastically when it does it.

“There has never been so much past as there is right now”, write Verdensteatret about HANNAH. This is a sentence that can always be repeated. The now is a volatile reference point; we are constantly moving forward in time and with it our past is growing. Repetition has also formed the background of the performance, whereby the artist collective wanted to examine if repetition is at all possible. The title HANNAH can be read both forward and backward and can thus been interpreted as a linguistic repetitive pendulum.

The insatiable sun. A little bullet is slowly milling itself across the big elongated white wall from left to right. It leaves an earth - coloured cavern behind it. The action repeats itself and gradually all of the white canvas is covered by a pulsating orange and black sun. While the circular darkness errodes itself a path, the room is being filled with a constantly more insistent buzz. We saw it coming: From the little bullet to the heavy insatiable sun. The white canvas never had a chance.

This expression is experienced as repetitive but the repetitions are in development. Like a spiral that grows with each circle. The aluminium foil is reflecting an intense white light and the sound from different percussion instruments reaches a crescendo, while the scene's many metal constructions are falling apart.

The Mekong Delta. HANNAH is based upon a research trip Verdensteatret had to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The delta is called a biological treasure chest because of its multitude of animal species but is at the same time, extremely vulnerable because of rising sea levels, a result of climate change. The animal-like loudspeaker that fell silent and the white canvas that became dark can be interpreted as gloomy future prospects for the delta.

Maybe I'm reading too much of the organic into the synthetic but Verdensteatret have been known for creating open associative rooms since they started in 1986. As spectator one can sense what they want to convey but never know for sure. The works are complex multimedia orchestral creations where the artists themselves are perceived as subordinates to these works.

The performers enter the stage at regular intervals to move these mechanical installations about. The pace is precise, the facial expressions are focused. They are just technicians subordinate to the technology they have created themselves. The real artists are the mechanical installations that produce the audio visual whole.

Early on in the performance a man enters the stage with a chair, sits down and holds his breath. How long will he hold out? One minute? Weak human beings, so dependent on oxygen... Later in the piece a woman is standing in the center of the room and talks in a loud voice. It is impossible to interpret the words because an intense, massive bass is hammering in my chest and in my ears. It is uncomfortable but not necessarily physically. The discomfort lies in the atmosphere and what the stage is showing: The mechanical sounds drown out the vocals.

The performance's many impressions stimulate me intellectually but also manage to touch me emotionally. The continuous mechanical expression is perceived as a journey into a post human future. On the canvas a gigantic pink apartment block is portrayed, floor after floor. The building is dilapidated and the thought of having to live behind one of those windows could make anyone feel claustrophobic. The block is being swallowed by the sea, one floor at a time. The sound stops, the lights go out and the space appears as a ruined, aluminium covered landscape with no survivors.