marie gabriella blunck

war in heaven

War In Heaven, The Angel's Monologue by Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard



The idea of a subconscious interaction in art is particularly interesting to me as it relates directly to my work in the realm of theatre design. The design for The Angel's Monologue is the first of a series of experiments dealing with the creation of audience feedback loops. It is intended to make the audience directly responsible for any change in the environment and thus have an effect on the actor. The interactivity between audience and actor is based on a subconscious level and mediated through the (shared) space. Mutation within the space is activated by certain behavioural patterns of the audience, e.g. sneezing, coughing, sweating, fidgeting. As a consequence, the actor needs to respond to the altered space. [What happens if we modify the actor's space so that he is forced to react upon it? We can even go as far as to deprive him of the use of props he has been relying on in previous performances. Would he not follow his instincts instead and start to improvise, and reflect his own decisions?]

The outcome, however, can be entirely unpredictable, and it is possibly remodelled in every performance. The audience is not obliged to realise their impact on the environment, as it is not my place to be forcefully didactic. Again, the audience's realisation is relative to their awareness. And if they do, they have reached a state of realisation that indeed they act as part of the work. Communication cannot exist unless it is for them since the loop needs completing. Their presence is essential to the work. In the words of the angel:

I can't live without you imagining me, I have no life without your thought of me. But you can't see me as I'm intended to be unless I'm turned loose.
    - extract from the essay A View, University College London, Slade School of Fine Art

Dynamic architecture within the set lets the reaction of the audience have an indirect impact on the performer and thus on the performance of the spoken text, without the distraction of the audience by actively participating. John Cage was convinced that performance was about movement and should therefore move constantly. My design gives the opportunity of constant movement and everchanging space.

Wax is a material that is solid with the potential to liquify - to fade away - just like the angel. It's opacity and warmess convinced me that it was the perfect ground for the angel to walk on, the limbo between heaven and earth. The audience can have a variety of responses to wax, deriving from different associations - medical, historical, archeological, religious, esthetical or plain personal. I am not trying to blind people with technological advances, which is why I chose a medium that has a long lineage in theatre. Looking at the image of the fallen Icarus, and the history of Greek masks made of wax for the purpose of rituals, as well as the use of wax in the 18th Century Fantasmagorie (to make ghosts appear), it seemed logical to me to work with this material.

Temperature regulates the solidity of wax. The many different waxes each have individual characteristics and melting temperatures. Some might never liquify, only slightly soften, throughout the play - or even the course of the whole run. The different waxes are mixed in layers, the ones with the lower melting temperature at the bottom, to have an effect of wax breaking as well as melting. The audience's body temperature can be read by sensors in their seats and then are amplified to enable the heating elements - situated in the floor - to change the condition of the wax.