For most people Brighton is known for the beach, the Palace Pier and the Royal Pavilion with its unique Indo-Islamic exterior. But the seaside resort has a thriving cultural and music scene and hosts an eclectic cultural festival. Each year the organisers invite a cultural tastemaker to be Festival’s Guest Director. In the past, the musician Brian Eno, the artist Anish Kapoor, the choreographer Hofesh Shechter have been guest directors and this year Laurie Anderson, the experimental performance artist and musician. Her film, ‘Heart of a Dog’, was screened at Brighton Festival and she did two live performances. ‘Drones’ a work by her late husband, Lou Reed, was also staged. As the events were spread all over the city, visitors were able to discover that there is more to Brighton than the pier or the pavilion. A few highlights from Brighton Festival.
Standing in front of the Chapel you can already hear Lou Reed’s work. Inspired by one of the pioneers of drone music, La Monte Young, Reed and his Velvet Underground band mate John Cale released an EP in 1966, ‘Loop’, an experimental drone piece. In drone music a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece.
On stage were six guitars owned by Reed, and his rightman, Stewart Hurwood, who orchestrated the sound installation. He worked with Reed for the last ten years of his life. In the programme book Hurwood recounts the story how ‘Drones’ originated. At a meeting what should happen with Reed’s guitars and equipment he spoke up: “I wanted to use them as therapy for Lou and the idea of a feedback wall”. Anderson loved the idea and said that Hurwood must do it.
When you entered the space you were happy to be wear the provided ear protection. The sound was loud piercing and deafening. But the longer you stayed in the Chapel the repetitive sound had a calming and transformative effect. For Reed an even stronger effect when he shouted during a tour in Sydney to Hurwood: “I feel healed in the Drones.”
For her new film project, ‘A Room With Your Views’, Gillian Wearing invited people to submit a short video clip of ‘views’ from their homes across the world. They recorded the opening of their curtains, blinds or shutters and revealed their view from their windows. By mentioning the location at the beginning of each clip it triggers the viewer’s curiosity and expectations as to what the view from someone’s home might be.
Some people are fortunate enough to have a stunning view each morning, looking at the Golden Gate Bridge or the pyramids in Egypt. Whilst others are less fortunate, looking at a wall, a scaffolding or an airstrip. The film is a mixture of magnificent, idyllic views alternated with horrendous and depressing views.
Opening your curtains consciously or subconsciously influences how you start your day. Your view can inspire you or dispirit you. Looking at a wall or palm trees? Also by opening your curtains you see what the weather is likely to be that day, which can affect your mood in a positive or negative way.
I sense the same reason as to why I was glued to the screen like other viewers in the room, is that the film becomes a playful guessing game. We can’t help ourselves that we have a clichéd image of some of the locations mentioned on the screen and then wanting to check whether they are true or not. We think that a person living in Brighton, England, will probably be confronted with bad weather (correct, it is raining heavily outside) and a person living in Kuusamo, North Finland, will look at a snowy landscape (correct, two Huskies sitting in a snow covered garden). Sometimes we are misled though. When a person opens their curtains in Arcadia, California, there is nothing utopic about the view of an unmaintained garden with a dilapidated wooden fence.
In her work, Wearing explores our public personas and private lives. One of her most renowned pieces of work is ‘Signs that say what you want to say and not signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ (1992-93). She asked people on the street to write down on a piece of cardboard what they were thinking at that moment and then she photographed them. A young city worker wrote “I’m desperate”, a police man wrote down “Help” and an old lady “Hello Sailor”.
In ‘A Room With Your Views’ Wearing presents a fascinating elaboration of her main theme: our private lives.
We consider our home to be our private space. It’s our personal sanctuary. With curtains, we close our space off from the world. Although the film shows the view from people’s windows, we can’t suppress our nosy tendencies imagining what the interior may look like and what kind of person may live there. “This must be a home of a factory worker”, “This must be the home of an elderly person” or “This is a home of a well-to-do family”.
We compare each view in the film with our own view when opening our curtains each morning.
In 2012, I attended the theatre performance ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Complicite, a British Theatre Company led by Simon McBurney. I vividly remember the visually stunning stage design by Es Devlin*. In one scene two actors lay on the floor in a position as though they were astride a horse, whilst a ceiling projector beamed a picture of the horse (that was made of chairs) underneath their bodies. This amazing image was then projected onto the wall behind the stage.
Complicite’s latest production ‘The Encounter’ is a dazzling sonic experience. The stage looks like the studio of a Foley designer, a person who reproduces everyday sound effects that are added to film. The background wall looks like Pyramid acoustic foam used for sound proofing.
At the beginning of a two hours solo performance, McBurney, instructs the audience to wear the provided headphones hanging on their chairs as he wants to be in their heads. Central on the stage is a head on a stand, reminiscent of the Easter Island statues in Eastern Polynesia, that turns out to be a microphone. With humor McBurney demonstrates when the audience members are wearing their headphones how it works. He walks around the microphone and whispers something in your left ear or blows in your right ear.
‘The Encounter’ tells a hallucinating story about a National Geographic photographer, Loren McIntyre, who became hopelessly lost in the Brazilian rainforest while searching for the Mayoruna tribe. McBurney evokes a rainforest landscape with simple objects such as bottles of water or endless tape of video cassettes. ‘The Encounter’ is an immersive, ingenious and witty performance and a tour de force by McBurney and his sound design team.
Written by Thierry Somers
Credits Gillian Wearing, ‘A Room With Your Views’: Befekadue Beyene, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Chris Jehl, San Francisco USA
*Es Devlin features in the fifth issue of 200%. The British set designer, has created spectacular sets for Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and the sets for the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony. Devlin gave 200% unfettered access to previews of her set designs and gained insight into how she operates.