Verk produksjoner piles up heaps of scenography elements, but should have toned them down to get across the points of the performance
By and with Verk Produksjoner
Black Box, Oslo
Verk Produksjoner piles up heaps where they should have peeled away, and lets an exciting project drown in scenographic stuff.
Whatever happened to the artists’ manifestos? is Verk produksjoner’s question in the performance «Manifest United». And they ask with good reason, as the climate for poignant, loud manifestos full of artistic determination has not been the best these passed 20 years. Something has happened since the 1900th century, which was the century for everything from the surrealists’ and Dadaists’ dreaming manifestos to texts written by hard-hitting feminists. In “Manifest United”, we get a glimpse of what happened on the way towards a different climate, but you have to search hard, and see with a clear vision, because this performance is drowning in effects.
Verk Produksjoner have made an interesting and varied choice of different artists’ manifestos from early 1900s to the 1990s. Visual arts, architecture, film and theatre is represented by names such as Gilbert and George, Antonin Artaud, Lebbeus Woods and Andy Warhol. An excerpt from “Dogme 95” opens the evening, a manifesto well known through films such as “The Celebration” and “Idiotene” by Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier. The opening is perhaps the best part of this performance, where the actors in the beginning attempt to maneuver a large white screen through three of the scenography doors, accompanied by canned laughter. It is a simple and striking imagery of what manifestos wants to do; to place art in space (the world, that is), and express the relationship between art and the world as clearly as possible. And as we can see from the Pat & Mat-inspired clumsiness with the screen, this is not as easy as it may seem. They are even laughed at. When the excerpt from “Dogme 95” clearly advocates a democratic art for everyone to express, and a rebellion against the bourgeois and commercial taste, it becomes apparent that the manifesto genre, with its concise and uncompromising form, so to the point, and with such certainty, is a necessity when art, and the artist’s role in the world, so easily can be undermined or ridiculed.
In its continuation, this performance unfortunately is overloaded with wigs, big shoes and whimsicalities not differing much from Verk’s previous performances. Still, they make some good turns, like when we see that some manifesto-excerpts are pre-recorded, and the scenic presentation is not synchronized with the recorded text. This gap between manifest and presentation opens for thoughts about whether artists’ manifestos and artistic practice correlate, and whether it is possible at all to execute a manifesto in praxis.
As a familiar example, the Danish dogma-films where widely seen and often referred to, and thus in many ways ended up in the commercial carousel they were rebelling against. Had Verk opted for less and simpler effects, more aspects of the manifesto-genre could have been highlighted better. However, this scenic universe created in the three rooms – one part forest, one part atelier and finally a living room with an artwork over the sofa – gradually becomes rather messy with plastic, paint-splatter and long pieces of fabric entwining the entire scenography. It is far too easy to go astray, and not see the wood for the trees. That goes for both the actors and the audience.
Surprisingly, a lot of the text excerpts seem relevant also in 2018. Several texts also express a wish for a more democratic art field where anyone can be artists. And perhaps some of the older manifestos fiery utterances have become true in a world where the art field gradually have expanded more and more, and technology can make everyone a “good” photographer, for instance. Perhaps the arts have become more democratic, for good and for bad. And perhaps the art field, also the more clandestine parts have become more open, and have taken more space, and thus the breeding ground for manifestos is not as fertile as it used to be. But only time will show if the time of the manifestos is passed or not.
Inger Marie Kjølstadmyr.