Consert for Greenland


Review by Jon Refsdal Moe,, 12. mar. 2004

I called Verdensteatret to ask for pictures from the performance "Concert for Greenland". Instead they sent me a drawing. The drawing is approximately 80 years old and is made by the artist from Greenland, K‰rale Andreassen. It represents a "tupilak" who tranforms himself into a seal. The drawing neither documents nor illustrates the work we saw at Black Box Theather last week-end. Still, they did send it to me, and I therefore suppose that it has something to do with the perfomance. I am just unsure about how.

This is approximately how I feel about writing about the performance. Rarely have I experienced that my words have been as inadequate as they are now. It is long past the deadline, I have sorted through my CDs, drunk coffee and condemned spring. I have postponed writing for as long as possible, because I didn't know what to write about "Concert for Greenland". However, I think it is among the best things I have ever seen.

When literary people wish to legitimize the surplus of their own medium on the few pages we like to call the critical public life, they usually refer to the clich≥ that audiovisual art forms are less suited than literature to be mentioned by the literary genre cultural journalism. Art is too difficult to write about, according to the dogma, because art is not already writing. We who already write about art have already esposed this argument as nonsensical, a poor strategy to cover up the lack of competence as well as interest. We use to say "just write" and by doing that we have contributed towards developing a discourse that may be marginal, but nonetheless intelligible. In Norway you will find contributions to this discourse on these pages.

There are moments, however, when this discourse is inadequate. At times we face an experience that does not deal with the parameters with which we usually categorize contemporary art. Concert for Greenl

and produces such moments, when art ceases to be a catalyst for further critical reflection, and instead turns into an esthetic experience in its own right. Conceptualization may only follow such an experience. Much of the critical discourse during the last few years has been about deconstructing the idea of such an experience. If we blindly trust this idea it could well be that we let ourselves be seduced by the sophisticated emotional kitch rather than having had an experience that transgresses words. But, most likely it will not matter. And independently of whether it can be called a legitimate esthetic experience or not, the performance made my hair stand on edge for two ours.

The manufacturing/production The main exhibition at the Finnish Kiasma of the summer of 2003 was called Future cinema. The top floor of the Art Museum was dedicated to the "cinematic imagery after film" , as it was presented through a selection of invited artists of the new media. As is customary whenever we celebrate the future, the exhibition already seemed outdated: the new media already didn't seem very new, and the revolution their art work was expected to present was put on hold due to overworked servers and sweaty VR-helmets. Rather than being filled with fascination about the possibilities of the future, we faced the art room more with wistfulness about the many stories about it. And we were irritated by the many stupid things that didn't work. Maybe the curators had foreseen this, because in the entrance lounge they had placed two art works by the German Werner Nekes: Film before film and Media Magica. They consisted of a total of 8 hours showing time on six videoscreens in which the artist showed his collection of live pictures from the last 500 years. Somewhat remote, yet not totally without pride, like a drawing teacher who tears apart a model torso, Nekes showed various devices that once had been cutting edge technology. Camera Obscura, shadow theater and magical lanterns meeting the somewhat outdated "futuristic" masturbation on the top floor and created a beautiful metaphor about the fascination with anything new. More than a traditional display of new and hip esthetics, Future Cinema was above all a tribute to the artistic activity: to the practice that somehow persists and that transcends all contemporary discourses. By contrasting many presents and future , the performance paid a tribute to what remains in art, independently of which narratives with which we choose to confront it: namely the production/ manufacturing itself.

I do mention this because of course a similar effect comes into being in Verdensteatret's "Concert for Greenland". It is precisely when I' am confronted with this production that I as an observer loose my language, that I literally become speechless, because the production doesn't ask for a commentary from me. It doesn't need an observer in order to gain importance. It simply shows me something and my job is only to see.

The machinery

On an enclosed stencil the performance presents itself as an installationconcertperformance. It is an appropriate term, but not a good word. I think I shall rather call it a machine. And the people on stage are operators more than performers: their presence as humans is completely subordinate to their contribution to making the theater machine work. Thus the aspect of the "showing" is duplicated in the theater-situation. The operators are not on stage to display themselves, but to show something else: namely the theater machine, and how it functions. Through an insanely complicated, yet naively simple system of rails, electro-acoustics, sound samples, video projections and shadow pictures they put in motion the machine. Every picture and every movement is duplicated and cast around in the machine. The shadow of the hand that starts the mechanical process falls on the videoprojection next to it and together this creates a totally new picture. Rusty mechanics meet new technology, and once again manufacturing in this art work comes into sight . This manufacturing does not claim anything back from the observer and it transcends all the stories the observer may be capable of telling.(the devil should be a metaphysician).

The machine works for around one and a half hour. I don't think I can tell how it works. I wish I were able to say that this work has to be experienced without having it sound like a cliche. However, I end up with a clich≥; I believe this is a work of art that has to be experience.

A totally peculiar theatre experience

Review by Jan H. Landro. Bergens Tidende 05. nov 2004

Fascinating and kind of beautiful, but don't ask what it means!
It's barely possible to reconstruct or to exclude any pure meaning in the performance.  However, "Concert For Greenland" contains some interesting and unusual elements which simultaneously are theatrical and resist theatricality and which in an unique way unite traditional theatre with modern painting, video, shadow theatre, music and "driftwood" art.

It's just so God damn hard to sum up!  But those who are open minded, don't need any recapitulation.

It says in the program that the performance is produced after a journey Verdensteatret made to Greenland last summer.  The experiences and impressions from the journey have been tossed and thrown about, put through the dream-machine, made the unconscious work freely – for subsequently to let the material loose in front of the audience in the form of a concert-installation-performance.  Scary and praiseworthy!

Freely spoken, the references to Greenland are both vague and few.  The videocuts from Greenland could just as well been recorded in the north of Norway, and the strange, fable-animal-like figures and installations which play a key-role, reminds us only modestly about the magical figures which the inuits for years have carved out of whaleross-bone and other materials.

Neither that is important.  What counts is the imagination, the associations which are put into play and which the audience is invited to play along with.  You might not leave the theatre as a wiser person, but lots of questions will definitely hover around in your dimmed brain.  Dimmed by deafening sound-attacs, video-projections, speech which can't be caught (even less be understood) and other sensuous assaults.

It's "driftwood" art Verdensteatret expose us for.  And we are invited into the artists' process.  Similarities and differences come drifting, some elements may be used, others must be rejected.  Finally we are confronted with something I can't put into word.

General parts of the performance are concentrated around the figures or installation which dominates the center of the stage and which is ritualistic, a quality the constant rotation of some of the figures amplifies – while others are manipulated by the performers, back and forth like in a hockey boardgame, simultaneously our fragile ear-drums are menaced by the cacophony of sound/music.

The room is filled by sound images, which more or less transform into visual images and subsequently turn back to their original form.  Everything interferes, new constellations of sound, image and movement arises constantly.

Intelligible connections don't exist, we are meeting changing tableaux.  By quite simple projections against the white back wall something which reminds us of good old shadow theatre are created in a unique landscape of light and sound.

A colourful, rotating, kind of garlandy installation is projected against the wall accompanied by a melancholic, lingering music, almost a piece of elegy, while the figure on the wall constantly changes in shape and its size is blown up until it so to speak faces it's own deconstruction.

Beautiful, perilous, peculiar.  Most likely you have never seen anything like it.  It would be a pity if you missed it.

The Other Theatre

Review by Andreas Wiese. Dagbladet, 04. nov. 2004 

Today and tomorrow Verdensteatret visit Bergen with their performance "Concert For Greenland".  The performance is based upon journeys the ensemble made to Greenland, The Faroe Islands and Iceland during autumn 2003.

Verdensteatret was founded in (has existed since) the mid 1980s.  Asle Nilsen and Lisbeth J. Bodd are both key-members of the ensemble.

Their productions may be characterised as performance, installation and theatre simultaneously, and the artistically expression is much closer to visual art than traditional theatre. This is also the case when it comes to "Concert For Greenland".  On stage they have built a machinery, simultaneously ambitious and primitive, a kind of hi-tech driftwood technology which creates a theatre-machine, a machine the performers operate, as they simultaneously become a part of the installation. The sound-images floats or thunder synchronously with the visual images, while fragments of dialogues can be heard, but nothing like a dominant linguistics rhetoric.  Images are projected at the back wall, all intertwined with the stage-machinery which are constantly moving, where shadows, projections and visual echoes create a room the audience can contemplate, meditate upon. The final result is impressing.  It's like a Japanese butoh-performance where the performance creates its own room, its own time – and its own distinctive stage-expression. Boats force themselves through the ice, conquering the endless ocean, while  the people, calmly and concentrated, keep the machinery going.  Images, such as video-sequences of people against waving ocean, open for parallel associations to powerlessness, and exploration, inferiority and simultaneously conquer.  Until the images at last ends up in a beautiful projection of a sculpture filmed at the back wall: the three-dimensional artwork re-created on a two-dimensional surface. It's hard to describe the effects of a performance like "Concert For Greenland", but it leaves behind a feeling of obstinate hope in the frost. "Concert For Greenland" is thoroughly thought out and successful, and there's no doubt that Verdensteatret is an important contribution to the theatre, an expansion of what can be communicated from a stage, and how to do it.

Strangely beautiful

Review by Hilde Østby. Dagsavisen 06. mar. 2004

Black Box Theater "Concert for Greenland" is a beautiful performance,  a concert in which sound and image melt together into a higher entity.

The productions by Verdensteatret are characterized by fragmentary images and texts that nevertheless in a strange way have an inexplicable connection and a strange beauty.
There is no narrative that binds the tableaus together. On the contrary, it is more like a broken/interrupted journey. This time Verdensteatret has been inspired by all corners of the world: Beograd and The Faeroe Islands, ice cold Greenland and Tibetan monk songs.

Lisbeth J Bodd and Asle Nilsen, the artistic direction, organizing an anarchy of various artists in all kinds of genres, explored in TSALAL from 2002, "the sound art" which resulted in an invitation to the new music festival Magma in Berlin.

In "Concert for Greenland" they explore this further. On stage there are weird figures, made of bones, feathers, nails and glass that may remind us of shamanistic ritual artifacts. When the contributors on stage move the figures, they give off sounds and thus an ice cold and beautiful soundscape emerges which consists of violin music, dog barks, technorythms, fragments of insects and voices far away.

At the same time projected film-fragments shows ships ploughing through icy waters while the sound figures on stage also cast shadows on the wall behind them and thus create a kind of shadow theater.

Verdenstreatrest intensely mystical and beautiful production are like bits of a very old film in a langugae pieced togheter so that the plot disappears.
The result is strange images, fragmentary dialogues and a very elaborate and interesting soundscape. "Concert for Greenland" is a very beautiful performance, a concert where sound and image melt together in a higher entity.

This is an esthetic experience one only understand if one experience it.

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