DISPATCH - May 6, 2011 (Friday); 7:30 p.m.
Water Mill, NY
Pack away expectation and bring an open mind. The only thing to know is that it will be different.
Artist presentations at The Watermill Center are parts of larger projects-in-process. Most change the minute the evening is over. Revisions arise from audience feedback and/or artist observation of what is typically the first public run of fresh minted work.
Friday night was no exception.
I had never seen a pop opera before and wasn’t sure how the concept fits together. Pop music sung dramatically? Italian tragedy lightened and micro-sized for modern audiences? It turns out it was neither.The World is Bigger Than You Think was presented in a series of four site-specific installations. Each segment featured a short video projected onto Watermill collection objects that were also part of the film.
The World is Bigger Than You Think felt like performance art or a gallery/museum installation even though it was billed as opera. The conceptual art vibe was strong but meshed with Black Box Theater. Music was sometimes soundtrack; sometimes soundscape.
The result felt like reality and art could combine if not for the vibration of human angst.
The pop opera is being created by Egill Saebjornsson and Marcia Moraes. They assembled an international team to join them at The Watermill Center to hunker down and write new dialogue and scenes for The World is Bigger Than You Think. Each contributor is from a different country but they all work in Berlin, Germany, explained Moraes.
Film characters were project artists, cartoons or animated characters represented by googly eyes, lush lips or distorted faces.
Monologues or discussions explored matters of the heart and intricacies of the mind. Original music enhanced explorations of self-imposed pressures of contemporary life.
Pressure to succeed or to keep up with peers, neighbors or personal aspirations were explored in the site-specific segments.
In one installation, a man admitted trying to financially succeed was making him sick. Vomit sounds punctuated the soundtrack as he physically caved to anxiety. Another man and two animated figures coaxed him to leave the stress track.
One animation was a partial face projected on teacup. Another was a mouth bobbing on a balloon in the foreground.
Another installation featured the face of Peter Sellers projected two-stories tall onto the exterior of The Watermill Center. Sellers rolled his eyes, blinked and began philosophizing how the frontier of the mind was the ultimate journey.
The British actor is known for his role as Chief Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies.
The first film installation featured a man fleeing a careening meteor while shouting for help. The meteor offered a half-hearted apology and explanation—It was nothing personal, assured his demented-looking face. Destruction is merely what I do, the meteor said.
The final installation was projected onto an outdoor bricked courtyard. The audience watched through a stretch of windows while seated inside.
There, a cartoon gecko and animated characters discussed whether they should leave the garden and what that would mean.
By experiencing the installations, the audience tasted what the pop opera might be when finished, Moraes said. But it wasn’t the videos the pair of collaborators was after. It was the pages of new dialogue written in an intense time during the one-week residency, Moraes said.
The films were created for the public presentation. They were also a way to test new dialogue before an impartial audience. And the film wasn’t about film—it was theater, music and art presented through video, Moraes explained.
“We’re left with a film—that’s physically what it is--but that’s not what it was about,” Moraes said. “It is theater and art through film. This is an installation and it is meant to be experienced live.”
Moraes continued, “Even if we use the films again in another location, it won’t be experienced in the same way. This was specific to The Watermill Center. It’s a one-time experience.”
BASIC FACTS: The Watermill Center is an interdisciplinary performance lab for theater and the humanities. It was founded by theater and visual artist Robert Wilson as a place where artists can create and thrive.
Outside of summer, The Watermill Center offers short residencies for artists to develop creative projects. Each residency culminates with a public presentation. Admission is free but reservations are required. http://watermillcenter.org
The World is Bigger Than You Think creators are Egill Saebjornsson and Marcia Moraes. Contributors during the residency also included Lisa Lie, Jeremy Woodruff and Manuela Altmann.
Moraes and Saebjornsson have previously collaborated on “The Mind” and “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Their work is supported by The Icelandic Arts Center in Iceland.
© 2011 Pat Rogers and Hamptons Art Hub. All rights reserved.