Saturday, April 26, 2014

Isaac's Eye

Science + comedy = ...?

Historically it was perhaps possible to mix the two (although I struggle to think of examples. But that's maybe because I forget comedy fairly quickly. EDIT - Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid). But now? Apart from following some old adages: "laughing in the face of danger" perhaps, or "tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin", I can think of barely any justification for creating an out-and-out comedy about science in the age of global warming. This was very much reinforced for me with Richard Bean's The Heretic a couple of years ago - which at least had the gall to directly suggest that scientists fabricate truth -if not to effectively deal with the problems contained in that suggestion.

That's not at all to say that it shouldn't be done. There are some extremely good comedies out there with serious subjects - the Roberto Benigni film Life is Beautiful is perhaps a perfect example. The risk is that you trivialise the subject. Oscar Wilde, that most trivial comic writer, was the chief exponent, standing as an example of how to treat something as serious and trivial at the same time, creating a kind of acidic layer on otherwise totally irrelevant comedy. Given that scientists already battle vast misconceptions of the public, trivialisation does little to help that situation, and may, in fact, significantly hinder it.

It is interesting, therefore, to see in some supplementary notes for Isaac's Eye, provided by Regine Hengge, (a scientist at the Humboldt Universität Berlin who is acting as a 'scientific co-ordinator' to ETB's ongoing Science and Theatre series),  that the playwright of this 2013 play, Lucas Hnath, "does not miss a single one of any of these cliches". Here she is referring, not necessarily in a critical way, to the myth of the 'scientific genius', sometimes called the 'Great Man theory' which informs the technological determinist view of history - that history is advanced by the discoveries of a handful of select individuals. The accusation of cliche could be extended to many other areas of this play, which I found to be a particularly poorly written - almost inexcusable - attempt to discard most of the context in which it was operating.

Friday, April 18, 2014

anti theater 1

If you've ever been for a night out to the theatre when all you can remember is the bar afterwards, then New Theatre's anti theater 1 will ring true. It is an event in which, as far as I could tell, the opposite of theatre is manifested as follows: a group of English speakers in a bar in Berlin.

That is all the description I need to give of it. There were other moments, tiny accidents happening like magic, as if perhaps designed by some invisible hand. There was the conversation I had with friends - about Portugese dictatorships, and representations of the holocaust (again). But to point them out seems ludicrous - they were, after all, accidents. Accident begins with purpose.

What is the opposite of theatre? If we create a opposite of theatre which is 'real life', then it will generate, by opposition, a false theatre, remaining unseen. So what 'theatre' did this anti-theatre create? To ask this question, we perhaps have to ask - what is the opposite to Americans drinking in a bar? To me, this is a problematic artifact to pose as anti-theatre. Too often now, theatres are reliant on their bar sales rather than ticket sales to drive profit. Theatre as a social experience has perhaps become a kind of bar - removal of formality, prevalence of lights and loud music, breaking down of the barrier between audience and 'the stage'.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Public against Capital

A dialogue with my frequent collaborator Sonja Hornung, written in response to a ticketed conversation about on the topic "Art in the Public Sphere" at HAU, Berlin, has been published over at ArtSlant, and is available here.

This is an increasingly urgent conversation, as capital becomes more coercive and invisible in its strategies, and is being fought with protest and dialogue - I fear, sometimes, to little effect.