The other night I attended an evening dedicated to exploring Motor Neurone Disease through short lectures, poetry and a play, including art by Sarah Ezekiel, the woman who I discussed in an earlier post who has lived with the disease for 14 years. Sarah Ezekiel was there and I went with my friend, who was diagnosed at the end of last year, and another woman we both know.
The lecture by three scientists working with MND research was fascinating. The three things they talked about which stuck with me and related to what I’m looking at here in this module, and generally were:
- Seeing and looking are not passive activities – I loved that phrase, it sums it up so succinctly.
- Art is profoundly important for human beings, the expression and exploration of what and how we see integral to our neurology and evolutionary history
- In the complex organ that is our brain there are 30 areas linked just to the activity of seeing.
The play reminded me of what I don’t like about acting – I won’t say much about it but it felt that the production had no genuine connection to the reality of MND despite all the words being accurate, well researched, and the company were no doubt well-intentioned.
Sarah Ezekiel gave a pre-prepared talk using the eye-response technology which has made her life so much richer and fuller than it otherwise might have been. My friend, whose name is Jenny, was deeply moved by it.
Two things that have become more embedded in my mind about presentation:
- Is it ever possible to truly convey the reality of a situation through representation? Yes, but it’s fraught with complications and I think happens truly successfully more rarely than we might imagine.
- Brechtian ‘reporting’ in an epic theatre: as an actor in training, I think it is very hard to comprehend quite what Brecht meant when he advised that actors should report rather than emote. As described here:
“The demonstrator need not be an artist. The capacities he needs to achieve his aim are in effect universal. Suppose he cannot carry out some particular movement as quickly as the victim he is imitating; all he need do is to explain that he moves three times as fast, and the demonstration neither suffers in essentials nor loses its point. On the contrary it is important that he should not be too perfect. His demonstration would be spoilt if the bystanders’ attention were drawn to his powers of transformation. He has to avoid presenting himself in such a way that someone calls out ’What a lifelike portrayal of a chauffeur!’ He must not ’cast a spell’ over anyone. He should not transport people from normality to ’higher realms’. He need not dispose of any special powers of suggestion.” (Willet, 1964)
I think this is difficult to get your head round. Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen gets close to it although she is imposing an intention on her delivery so it is not entirely reporting. I do think fellow student Stephanie D’Hubert gets it spot on when she reads the nightmares she has collected online in the voice-over that accompanies the images she has found. For an actor, a type often addicted to expressing big emotions (generalisation, I know), this is tricky to allow her/himself to do and perhaps other art forms are more suited to this type of philosophy. However, I understand the actors in Brecht’s company were riveting and powerful and I wish I would have seen them working to understand this more.
- Acting seems to be in many cases a skill where a mask is constructed and worn by the artist in order to reveal a universal truth about existence, and photography in many cases, especially nowadays seems to be aimed at finding moments caught by the artists, where the social mask has slipped in order to reveal universal truths. There are of course lots and lots of variations relating to this. And here are two examples that demonstrate the breadth of photo practise one can see: Jemima Stehli in Strip reveals the slipped masks of the men that photograph themselves. Cindy Sherman in all her work is more of an actor, exploring the masks woman are handed by culture. The other day when I worked with 8 year olds the children performed and wore masks and acted and then I photogrpahed them, but I was also asked to capture one particular class just standing so the teacher could cut them out and place them in landscapes we’d asked them to create. These were so interesting. I always love the awkwardness of children standing in line, the lack of control of their bodies as they are still formulating their cultural selves and so limbs move for little apparent reasons constantly; and seeing those genuine moments for me were more interesting than the masked images. Sadly I can’t post them here.
Brecht, B. 1950. “The Street Scene: A Basic Model for an Epic Theatre.” Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Ed. and trans. John Willett. London: Methuen, 1964. ISBN 0-413-38800-X. pp. 121–129. (Accessed 23/6/2017) Available at https://head.hesge.ch/arts-action/IMG/pdf/The_Street_Scene_A_Basic_Model_for_an_Epic_Theatre.pdf
D’Hubert, S, 2017 More Video’s with Self Reflection (Accessed 23/6/2017) Available At: https://stephaniedhlearninglog5.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a4-more-videos-with-self-reflection/