You walk into a room, one of an audience of two. You know from the promo that you’re about to embark on a journey – with the help of video goggles, headphones and ‘autoteatro’ instructions – a joyride to the edge of civilisation, crammed in a car with three Faruk clowns. You’ll be immersed, captivated by a wild, uneasy adventure. “Anarchic, dreamy and dangerous,” the brochure says. But what is a Faruk clown, and how scary IS this dreamy and dangerous ride?
And the Birds Fell from Sky is the creation of Il Pixel Rosso collaborators Simon Wilkinson and Silvia Mercuriali. Wilkinson is a filmmaker; Mercuriali creates ‘autoteatro’ – a form of theatre in which the audience becomes the performer, wearing headphones and responding to instructions to create the performance. The two came together after each was asked to create new work for the Brighton (UK) White Night festival – both of them were interested in incorporating both cars and projections, says Simon Wilkinson, so they decided to combine the commissions into one.
Wilkinson says he was making a documentary at the time, “about an ancient tribe of feral clowns –the clowns upon which all other clowns are based – called the Faruk.”
“We threw this into the mix and then worked together to create the mythology and narrative of And the Birds Fell from the Sky,” he says.
The Faruk lived side-by-side with hunter-gatherer humans until around 10,000 years ago, says Wilkinson. Il Pixel Rosso’s web site quotes Dr M. Drizhal: “Theirs was a rollercoaster life that tore through the ashes of death: a life of thrills, spills and unsullied truth, knowing its destination but with no concerns at all for the route.”
“The most significant achievement of humanity [since then],” adds Wilkinson, “has been to take life, with all its wild propensities for adventure, and turn it into something tedious.” Wilkinson explains how humans and Faruk moved apart with the development of agriculture, which produced surpluses, and enabled us to plan for future needs.
“The Faruk…did not adopt these developments, preferring the wild adventure of life lived for now to the stolid certainty of a life well planned. In this piece we, as audience, find ourselves in their world. Our journey is transformed from that of the commuter train with its known destination and known route, on an even keel and devoid of surprises, to that of the rollercoaster – where only the destination is certain and everything else is improvised.”
“In short, we embody the audience in an experience of pure poetic disharmony.”
According to Wilkinson, there are around 50 small groups of Faruk still roaming the European sub-continent. “They have their own indecipherable language, they sleep outside in twists in the grass, they are in hugely declining numbers and are rarely seen by contemporary humans,” he says.
For Silvia Mercuriali, And the Birds Fell from the Sky takes to a whole new level the technique she’s developed with UK company Rotozaza with collaborator Ant Hampton. Their ‘autoteatro’ piece, Etiquette, toured to Arts House in 2010. In Etiquette, two participants sat opposite one another with headphones on, at a small table set with various small objects. Synchronised, individual instructions directed the participants to speak, gesture, and move objects to create the half-hour performance – a fascinating reality in which one became both actor and audience.
The possibility of the audience becoming the characters also intrigues Wilkinson: using video goggles means they can experience the work, “not as a spectator, as with traditional cinema or video, but as a component of the narrative”.
“Since 2006 I have been working with video in live settings in a way that attempts to draw a bridge between the reality of the audience and the reality on screen,” he says. “There are many neat uses of video to ‘extend the stage’ to incorporate reality, but with goggles we are able to create a seemingly different situation in which the screen reality is the only reality that the audience can directly perceive… As a means for taking the audience on a ride it is brilliant.”
Combining video goggles with ‘autoteatro’ instructions removes the ‘passivity’ of watching a film, he says – intensifying the immersion of the audience in the story:
“When you watch a movie on screen you are following a set visual path created by the director – wide shot, close up, track, pan etc… We have no free will within this, the director is leading us through a narrative, placing our eyes where s/he thinks they should be.”
“With video goggles and instructions in fact the situation is no different – BUT when the instructions are closely followed the audience does experience the illusion that they are driving the visual path.”
In the visitors’ book for Il Pixel Rosso’s And the Birds Fell from the Sky, the adjectives gather and scatter across the pages, scrawled and looped and written in post-show wobbly hands…unique * surreal * immersive *creepy and brilliant * psychotic and wonderful * a fast vivid magical dream * mesmerising, exciting, scary and beautiful…
Between someone’s “Amazing, Amazing” and someone else’s “A unique experience”, one audience member has penned: “I am 66 and that is the most bizarre thing I have ever experienced. A good thing to have done – I think…”.
As Wilkinson says, quoting Francis Bacon: “the job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery”.
AND THE BIRDS FELL FROM THE SKY
Il Pixel Rosso (UK)
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
Wed 29 Feb – Sun 18 Mar 2012
(03) 9322 3713