Continuing with my whirlwind written tour of PQ15, I’ll move on to some of the highlights from the installations in the “Section of Countries and Regions.” As my colleague Susan Tsu advised me before the PQ began, in many ways the student work presented was more compelling than the “professional” work. This may be because so many of the national curators have chosen (or have been constrained) to exhibit a collection of what they considered the best or most innovative design work done in their region or country’s theatres over the last four years, which meant that many of these exhibits display a whole bunch of model boxes and design sketches and photo slide shows on ipads without much context. Such exhibits, while by no means uninteresting, become very hard to differentiate from each other after the dozenth of the type. No matter how artfully such collections are arranged, there is often an overwhelming amount of visual information to take in, and I’ve found it difficult to focus on the individual elements (particularly when those elements were displayed on mini ipad screens, as seemed to be the trend!) This may be why I’ve been so taken with installations like the border performances put on by the students from the UK and Utrecht, or the scenographic exercises presented by the Belgian, Latvian, and Hungarian student sections – the unified vision helps me to focus more closely on their creativity and craft and on the use of design as a storytelling device. Nevertheless, in addition to the award winners I wrote about in my first PQ post, there is a lot of amazing design work on display in the “Countries and Regions” sections!
(Note: I’m linking in the following to the PQ websites for individual countries because I didn’t always get great photos of all of these.]
The USA professional exhibit, “Vortex of Our Dreams,” presents an illuminated tornado gathering up scenographic and sound work from a number of really fabulous productions – and we Tartans were pretty tickled to note the large number of alums whose work was on display, including Bryce Cutler for the site-specific, ecologically sustainable, “upcycled” scenic design for In the Basement Theater Company’s The Lady in Red – which featured a number of CMU alumni both on and off stage – and sound designer Erik T. Lawson for his work on Victor Frange Presents GAS, which was an original collaboration by several CMU alumni, including Sarah Kron, Dan O’Neil, Patrick Rizzotti, Bryce Cutler, and Bart Cortright (follow the links for images from those two parts of the exhibit). I found this exhibit quite snazzy, but visually overwhelming – the forest is cool, but it is hard to focus on the individual trees, so to speak. The exhibit does invite the visitor in to interact – there’s a stairway to climb, and spools of wire to allow you to add your own twist to the wiry chaos.
The USA student exhibit, “Transcend: the Designer as Creator,” is a set of bright red lockers with displays of student projects inside. I was underwhelmed by this curatorial concept and presentation; in fact, you get a better sense of the quality of these students’ work from the USITT website than from the exhibition on display.
One of the most effective installations is the United Kingdom’s “Make/Believe,” which projects designs and scenes of individual work on all four walls of their exhibition space – a strategy that allows the visitor to be immersed in each work (there’s seating, too, which is welcome after a long day on your feet!) This installation received a Special Award for the complexity and richness of its selection. In the evenings, you can get a mini-immersive “Solotoria” theater experience: you put on headphones and put your head inside a curtained box that has been outfitted like a grand theater, and watch a miniature ballet, magic show, opera, or comedy sketch. They only last a couple of minutes, but are worth waiting for.
The Catalan exhibit, “Catalan Ways,” is also really striking. On a turntable is a sculpture of a naked figure crawling and reaching out; projected video transforms this sculpture in surprising ways, from a ghost-like apparition to a skeleton to a figure in flames. I wasn’t able to get a clear photo but here are some images from the PQ website (follow the link above for more).
Another exhibition that has a lot of spectacular appeal is the Hungarian exhibition, “Donor for Prometheus,” which presents the myth of Prometheus and asks visitors to donate their livers to help him out (!). Each evening they bring out a live bird of prey that flies down onto their hanging Prometheus figure and eats a bit of its “liver”; the sculpture is then used to melt metal, which is poured onto text stamped in the sand below, and the cast text is lifted out and mounted around the installation. By end of today the full phrase will be spelled out around the installation; when I visited, it was still backwards and in Latin so I wasn’t able to make out what it said.
The Canadian team took a novel approach to presenting individual design work; their installation, “Shared [private] space,” is a set of old-fashioned outhouses with interactive installations inside that immerse you in the design world of each production. You have to wait, much as you might for a port-a-potty, for the person before you to be “done,” which creates an interesting audience/exhibit dynamic. As with the UK exhibit, this presentation strategy gives more focus to each individual design; it also allows for some interesting surprises when you open the door (one outhouse has a live performer inside!)
Spain’s exhibit, titled “Muérete,” invites the visitor to imagine, and embrace, her own mortality. Here, a picture may indeed be worth a thousand words (that’s projected video of maggots crawling all over me; visible to me in a mirror on the ceiling):
The Danish contingent has brought a project that is aimed at getting people to see the world from another perspective. Called “Through Different Eyes,” the exhibition invites visitors to transform themselves – using theatrical makeup, wigs, and costumes – into a person of another race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and/or gender. Participants are encouraged to walk around in public (go shopping, etc) for a couple of hours and experience what it is like to inhabit someone else’s perspective; they then receive a before and after photo as a souvenir. The producing organization, “Global Stories,” has used this project as a diversity awareness tool at a number of festivals and exhibitions as well as at schools and corporations. I didn’t have a chance to participate (the line was loooong) but, like the Estonia project, this seems an excellent example of how people are using the tools of theater to effect real world change.
PQ15 ends today. I’ll post more tomorrow, but the final image I want to leave you with today is this beautiful three-dimensional mandala from the Mongolian exhibit, designed by Ariunbold Sundui.