Changing Perspectives

maart 31st, 2008

(geschreven als afsluiting van de cursus Theatre Research in Practice (Master theaterwetenschap i.s.m. HKU, maart 2008)

Changing perspectives: An art based research on restructuring the viewer’s perspective

This post is based upon the research I have been doing in the lost couple of months. A theoretical research on the idea of doing art based research and an art based research on the question in what way we can restructure a viewer’s perspective. In this post I would like to evaluate and reflect on my research and share some results that came out of it. It will be quite a long post so click on “Continue reading ‘Changing Perspectives’” if you have the time.

The first part of the research focuses on the possibilities of doing artistic research. After I attended the conference “The third cycle: Artistic research after Bologna” I was surprised how little communication there seems to be between universities and art schools. For an introduction on this subject: see the website, the report on scienceguide.nl, and the introduction given by Henk Borgdorff in this video. It is the introduction on the program. Due to technical problems the first minute has a poor sound quality.

Essay on (Theatre) Research in Practice

In the essay “Art scientist: Take a break, and make art!” (.pdf) I argue that art scientists can learn a lot of making art.

“By learning how to work as an artist the scientist opens his perspective. In stead of always trying to be objective and doing research from a third person perspective, the subjective first person perspective could serve the (art) scientist just great. Including and substantiating his opinion or view and comparing it with that of others can offer the researcher a new range of methods and results. Furthermore the intuitive approach on doing research opens up the research as a process. The scientist is no longer attached to his, on beforehand chosen method, but will learn to switch between methods during the research and found these switches with arguments” (Naafs 2007: 6).

In this essay the main point is to give a new perspective on what research is and what research could be. Trying to explore the benefits of making art as a scientist I did an art based research on the question

In what way can a viewer’s perspective be restructured?

Although I did not take a real break, I tried to do research in a different way then I am used to. I have been working with four others on the playful performance Pauze. And, together with three fellow master students and seven bachelor students of the Utrecht School of the Arts, I have been working on a seminar. In this seminar, The City as Theatre, the viewer (from my question) was the inhabitant of the city of Utrecht. By looking at the city as a playground we tried to give the inhabitant a new perspective to the city structure. In the playful performance Pauze the viewer was the visitor of the playful performance. By letting the visitor go through the same route three times we tried to make them realise that looking at something and seeing something are two different things.

The City as Theatre

My research proposal for the seminar The City as Theatre, “City 2.0: The Rhizomatic City” (.pdf) used the metaphor of City 2.0 to restructure the city and by doing that restructuring the viewer’s perspective. The question I raised was:

In what way can we restructure or redefine the existing city structure by using the metaphor of the City 2.0 and in what way does this restructuring or redefining change the viewer’s perspective?

The metaphor of City 2.0 was derived from the metaphor of Web 2.0, a so called new version of the web. Web 2.0 is characterised by the role it is giving to its users. We, as users, seem to be in control: we can add content, remix content, (re)connect content. The user of the web is a user of the city as well. I was interested in using this metaphor to change the perspective of the inhabitants of Utrecht on their city.

The seminar The City as Theatre was organised by students of the MA Theatre science (UU)and was attended by six students of different bachelor studies at the theatre department of the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU). During the seminar The City as Theatre we wanted to carry out research on different locations in the city of Utrecht. Together we did practical theatrical research on the topic of the city and the city system as theatrical space. By making performances, which include both the qualities of that specific location and means of redefining and restructuring that location, we researched the city as theatre. The workshop was training in doing research combining practical work, experiment and reflexivity.

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‘I see, I see, what you can’t see’ written in Dutch on the street

The performance we made, “I see, I see, what you can’t see”, was actually a variety of games acted out in the street by the HKU students. By playing games we tried to grab the attention of passers-by and make them look again to the street on which they were walking. On both ends of the street, the Lijnmarkt in Utrecht, we wrote “Ik zie, ik zie, wat jij niet ziet” with chalk on the street. This movie shows a short fragment of the performing of “I see, I see, what you can’t see”. You can see that some games have more effect on the passers-by then others.


A short clip of the performance

The performance starts with the performers walking circles and dropping or picking up garbage in the middle of the street. Because of this the people who walk by have to circle around the pile of garbage that’s on the street. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t very great and there was a truck in the middle of the street so the pile of garbage wasn’t the biggest obstacle. Every time a person in a white coat would pass by the performers would join together and recite the line “I see, I see, what you can’t see” while pointing at the white coat. Then a new game would start. In total four games were played: tug-of-war, tag, ‘hugging the buildings’ and the game with the garbage.

Both tug-of-war and the garbage made people take small detours. They were forced to go around something that isn’t normally there. The interesting part of tug-of-war was that it was alive. The performers were spinning around each other. And they were asking people to help them. These games grabbed the attention of the people in the street but they didn’t really make people look again at the location and the structure of the location. This is seen in the video and on the photo’s we made.

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Garbage in the middle of the lijnmarkt, the performer in the white coat is about to drop something onto the pile

‘Hugging the buildings’ did a better job. Because the focus is now on the buildings and no longer on the street itself, passers-by are looking not only to the performers in an open space but to the performers and the buildings. The Lijnmarkt is a street with shops so a lot of the people were probably looking at the windows already, but with this game they had the opportunity to look at the buildings as being something else. The shops with there windows are turning in an object at a playground.

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Hugging the buildings

To really derive conclusions from this short experiment we would have to do more research. It would be interesting to think of different games that can really involve the architecture and the structure of a location. And even more important can get people to look not only at the performers but to the location in which they are performing as well.

Pauze

The idea for the performance Pauze came after I had written my MA-thesis New Media and Digital Culture. In “De spelende bezoeker van playful performance: een productiedramaturgisch onderzoek naar de rol van de performancebezoeker” research is done on the question

In what way can the visitor of playful performance get the experience of being a player?

This research is a combination of practice and theory. Theory of theatre and new media (especially computer games) are combined with practical experience of doing the dramaturgy of the performance Datsja.

Although the research came upon some answers concerning the performative and the ludic situation of playful performance going into both the performance itself and the context surrounding the performance I wanted to do some extra research on this subject. By making a playful performance myself I wanted to do more research on the possibilities of merging the mental and physical activities of visitors.

While making the performance, one of the main subjects turned out to be differences in perception. In what way can a viewer’s perspective be restructured? This question, already mentioned before, was one of the starting points of this performance. By making people go through the same route several times we wanted to confront them with different perspectives on the same location. To do this we used various techniques. These techniques al got to do with the degree of physical and mental activity.

1. stimulation of physical and/or mental activity
2. stimulation of different senses
3. repetition
4. change minor details
5. accentuate different objects
6. giving extra information

We didn’t give the visitors a lot of time to look around the first time they went through the route. By making signals, using light and using there unfamiliarity with the game they were in we made them go quite fast. The visitor is physically very active but because of that hasn’t got the time to mentally comprehend what he is doing and seeing. They look and are being watched while they walk through the different hallways and rooms.

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Two woman, wearing eyepatches, are going to set the time for the visitors

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A mysterious guy makes a photograph of every single person entering the room

After that the visitor sits down in a very dark room and listens to headphones. Through these headphones they hear a voice telling them about the same locations they just went through. Some of the parts are exactly described as they are, some are a bit different, some things that are described you could never perceive just by going through the locations the first time.

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After you go down the stairs you are guided to a chair in the dark

The visitor is stimulated to relax and only listen and imagine. Here you can listen to the mp3-file we used during the performance Pauze.


MP3-Textfragment from Pauze, please listen to it in absolute darkness

After this the visitor is tempted to go through the same route again. By this time some minor details have been changed. But the biggest change is that the visitor is made more aware of his surroundings because of the text he just heard. It was quite surprising that, although the text told the visitors to too again, a lot of people still thought the performance was over when they entered the same room as they had started in.

The second time the visitor physically goes through the locations he tends to be more relaxed and at ease. He is more eager to look at things and for example look behind the doors in the hallway. This time both the physical and the mental activity is stimulated. Pauze gives the visitor the chance to take a step back and look again to the situation he is in. Pauze gives the visitor the experience of being a player by stimulating both physical and mental activity. By varying the degree of these activities, in combination with repetition, giving extra information and making small changes in details, accentuation and addressing of senses the visitor is stimulated to restructure his perspective several times.

Because I could not be at every location at the same time as the visitors it is hard to extract any conclusions out of Pauze. Thinking about this problem, it is a pity that I couldn’t question the visitors of Pauze. If I would be able to perform it again I would try to find a solution for this. Either not performing myself or prepare some kind of question list. It would be nice to hear from the visitors of Pauze what they experienced and to what regard it had to do with the questions I asked myself.
What I did found out by asking questions to some of the visitors is that most of them started to appreciate the performance more, after they had been talking about it with others. Comparing thoughts, looking for differences and similarities and sharing experiences seem to be an important aspect of Pauze.

In this post there are some photos of Pauze. For more photos see playfulperformance.nl or click here.

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Stepping out of the dark

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