Too often, pleasure is programmed out of politics. Strong ideology finds the aesthetic and the pleasurable to be extraneous to the struggle. Optimization optimizes for optimal optics.
Rebecca Solnit on her book “Orwell’s Roses.”
“I also wanted to see if I could write a book that was about climate change and totalitarianism and fascism, and a guy dying of tuberculosis, and make it a deeply pleasurable aesthetic experience. You know, Georgia O’Keeffe said that she painted her flowers big so people would look at them. There’s a way that people think of politics as always eating your spinach, when often it’s eating cream puffs and champagne.”
At the exhibition of paintings by Pierre Bonnard, called “Painting Arcadia,” there were about five rooms filled with work by the artist. Early in Bonnard’s career he belonged to a gang known as “Les Nabis.”
In the first room, there’s a painting called “Twilight, or The Game of Croquet.” This was one of my favorites. I only want to draw your attention to one thing. Look at the pattern on the clothing against the organic patterns of the garden. There’s no solid, dark line separating one pattern from the other. The patterns are distinct, but flow into each other. That’s a beautiful way to look at objects. And you may think this is a step too far, but it’s an ecological way of looking.
You are complicit. Or, you could be. We say this phrase from a stance of pure innocence. You didn’t personally commit an evil act, but some of your actions and attitudes are so resonant with this evil, that you must be complicit. Because I am not complicit, I can say that you are. But complicity is a slippery thing. It jumps the gaps and implicates us when we least expect it.
I like this definition:
Involvement as an accomplice in a questionable act or a crime.
As an “accomplice” your participation may be direct or indirect, but what I particularly like is this idea of a “questionable act.” An act of uncertainty—is it an evil act or not? “The Encounter?” Is it a questionable act?
The cutting-edge technology of the virtual reality headset attempts to give you a virtual world in a bottle. But what McBurney and Complicite offer is more than that, they’re playing with the stuff of reality itself. The audience is required to wear a headset, but in this case, it’s a pair of headphones.
“…my hand, groping around the universe, has torn a corner open… why did I tear the corner open, if I’m not prepared for the encounter?”
Twenty years ago Simon McBurney was given a book.
Written by a Romanian who escaped the Ceaușescu regime to reinvent himself as a Los Angeles screenwriter, the book, Amazon Beaming, tells the story of photographer Loren McIntyre, who, in 1969, found himself lost amongst the remote people of the Javari Valley, on the border between Brazil and Peru. It was an encounter that changed his life: bringing the limits of human consciousness into startling focus.
Complicite’s technical team has wired the performance space with 600 pairs of headphones. Simon McBurney performs to a microphone that looks like your head. He whispers in this ear, then he moves around the space, and whispers in the other ear. (If you tune in to the live stream, be sure to wear headphones. That way you can experience “spooky action at a distance.”)
Judged purely as a sonic experiment, the show is an astonishing technical feat. Amiably chatting to the audience and asking us to put ourselves in the mind of McIntyre, McBurney asks us to don headphones that relay information from a binaural microphone. This results in a complex aural mix of live and recorded sound. At one point, we hear the whirr of the Cessna aircraft that deposits McIntyre in the jungle. At another, McBurney simulates the sound of walking through the forest by trampling on a mass of recording tape. But the heart of the story concerns McIntyre’s encounter with the nomadic Mayoruna tribe, and his dependence on his close relationship with the head shaman, known as Barnacle, with whom he communicates in a way that transcends language.
This is what real-time technology has the capability to create. But technology only gives what we ask of it. McBurney and the Complicite team ask for the moon, the stars, and the jungle. A work of this magnitude begs the question, who should be asking technology for the next new thing? Should it really be the technologists themselves?