Over spruce and logs and one hundred years of Art manifestos.
(Image): Unconstrained by the words, Verk’s audiovisual tableaus are titillating enough for the imagination and mind not to think of tomorrows chores.
Review by Ilene Sørbøe
Black Box, large stage
Showing 11. to 15. April
Translated by Ida Uvaas.
Four artists in white painter’s coats, and a rat dressed in black, zealously attempt to get a huge screen through a door, which obviously is too small. Artists are not generally known for being practical, but creative. Finally, they lift the screen over the wall. The situation is a telling image of the starting point for Verk Produksjoner’s performance Manifest United, various artists’ manifestos from the last 100 years.
Into the hall of the mountain king. Realistic aims and rational reasoning do not make up the best manifestos, rather the opposite. Verk have collected texts from various periods and art forms; from the French theatre maker Antonin Artaud’s Manifesto for a Theatre That Failed (1926) to the American architect Lebbeus Woods’ Manifesto (1993). All the texts have a common denominator; a fiery engagement for the Arts with capital A, to which the author claim to hold the key.
After making their way downstage with the screen, the five actors stand in a line and look at us. Investigating, open and curious, they take in the audience. This naïve expression is typical Verk Produksjoner, who celebrate 20 years of work this year. The energy they express has a peculiarly calming effect, at the same time this observing recognizes the social situation which is theatre. They are as excited as us to see what is about to happen.
The moment is not for long, and after, it disperses all over the place – all over the spruces and logs. This is a forest-inspired space, where the ancient Norwegian meets Disney. A long-haired troll with Mickey Mouse-gloves gets his long Pinocchio-nose stuck in a blue plastic tree-trunk. Another weird character with afro-wig and Pinocchio-nose boxes – and loses – against an invisible opponent.
It could seem as if Verk wants to bring their audience into the hall of the mountain king. When Edvard Grieg’s orchestral music increases in volume and tempo from the speakers, whilst the different characters fight their battles – against spruce trees and invisible opponents – they give us a taste of what the performance wishes to achieve: To be a manifestation in itself.
Titillating Tableaus. Even if Afro-Pinocchio’s air boxing could be interpreted as a revolutionary avant-garde artist fighting against the conform and conservative arts, the correlation between the situations and the starting point for the performance is subordinate. The manifests come as ready-made speeches from the loudspeakers or they are presented in a relaxed and philosophical manner into a microphone, so that even the dissemination is separated from the living body.
One should create tableaus which speak directly to the mind, Artaud writes in his theatre manifesto, and I suppose Verk have taken on this task. Unconstrained by the words, their audiovisual tableaus are titillating enough for the imagination and mind not to think of tomorrows chores. However, at times the mind is thinking about why Verk have chosen the manifests they have. How conservative one is, who cannot just be immersed in the experience.
Because it is difficult (inhuman, I would argue!) not to look for context in an attempt to understand what is presented. Is the dressed in black rock and roll rat infected by the plague Artaud refers to as theatre? In the program, Verk asks if the time of manifestos is over, and the images – stupid trolls getting their nose stuck in tree-trunks – could be read as a critique to Norwegians’ artistic inertia. Are we only as much as we can be? Too lazy to really engage in the arts, write manifests with our own blood and declare war against “art sitting on its arse in a museum”?
Not groundbreaking enough. Yet again, Verk have created a theatre space rich with associations, where the audience feels included in their universe, and the performance is a successful manifestation of their theatre language. The problem is that Verk do not give the audience anything they haven’t already seen from them.
With Manifest United, they do not raise the bar from previous productions, and thus, do not live up to the eternal, ruthless demand to be innovative. And is not exactly that the essence of all the artists’ manifestos?