Robot Theatre @TateLiverpool Pt.1

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Cecile B. Evans: Sprung A Leak, Tate Liverpool, Floor G.

“Let’s go back and see it again, early tomorrow, when we can watch the whole thing through without interruptions,” Alien Spouse said, stepping out into the rainy Albert Docks.

FYI the Tate Liverpool is closed Dec. 24th, but we will surely return to be audience twice-over for this brilliant play by Cecile B. Evans.

Sprung A Leak is play performed by two humanoid-shaped robots, one robot dog, three pole-dancing avatars on screens, 15 or so flat-screen tvs, and a box jetting water periodically, like a geyser.

Who is Liberty? What happened to her? Is it a coverup?  Virgin visitors like us wander into the room, and walk right into conversation between A-Plot and B-Plot, the robots pictured above. Gliding on wheels, with startlingly fluid and expressive waist-up movement, the characters owned their stage. Dialogue flew around the room. The “outsourced”* robot actors smoothly executed their blocking. Images and words flashed on the screens.

Textually-inclined as my partner and I are, we quickly turned to the gallery wall for information. The crux of the work was written on the wall. We learned that we’d stumbled into a play. Appropriately, the digital dramatics had been going on before, during and after our appearance in the ‘theater.’ Like the sleepless internet, the story bubbles and boils with or without an audience. We entered in the middle of Act III, apparently. After watching the end, we waited for the show to start over, to see the whole loop.

Other patrons were less patient. Stodgy, studious creature that I am, I was irritated by people waltzing in, nattering loudly and upstaging the action. Self-appointed jokers in their twenties, numb to the greater attempt on the part of the artist, followed the robots around and tried to put beanies on them. Children, transfixed by the novel, even ominous, automated actors, shrieked and waved their hands in front of A-Plot’s unseeing eyes–oblivious to the show cryptically unfolding in front of them. Several gallery-goers walked in and out of the exhibit quickly, lacking the patience to find out what was happening, or believing they already knew.

I found the onlookers response to the exhibit as interesting as the work itself. As a multimedia, techno-play in an art gallery, what expectations does it need to surmount to claim listening ears? On a proscenium or in a black box, it might’ve played to a readier audience…But isn’t it another important dimension to the show? The fact that as a Digital, Technological Story, it plays literally in between the audience (Gallery-goers can walk all around all parts of the set, examining each piece, chasing the robots like a dumbass, if that’s what they want to do)—The same way that online dramas, twitter wars, and comment trolls lurk in pockets, as people make their way through a space. Virtual stories weave through our day and physical space so casually. They play out with and without our knowledge, in fragments and as cohesive stories.

I will write more when my partner and I return to the exhibit again.

Sprung A Leak  as theatre deserves its own post, written by someone else on a blog that stands a chance of being read. Regardless, I am moved to spin my own impressions, independent of any browsing eye. I’ll smoothly spin my wheels, while my audience wanders through other galleries.

Stay tuned for Pt. 2.

*Excerpt from “Compass: Your Guide to Tate Liverpool’s Winter Program.” Larger excerpt below:

Given the work’s contemporary concerns, the title of Cecile B. Even’s new commission…comes from an unlikely source: a soliloquy in the Jacobean play from 1634. Two Noble Kinsmen, atributed to Shakespeare and Fletcher. In her descent into hysteria, the Jailer’s Daughter describes a ship crashing against rocks and cries ‘ a leak is sprung, a sound one.’ The wrecked ship can be understood as a metaphor for the character herself, the leak referring to the act of crying, a liquid outpouring of the body that in turn is a physcial manifestation of hysteria- historically seen as a specifically female ‘breakdown.’ A stand-in for emotional trauma, the metaphor brings together in our imaginations the leaking of the ship- at that time an advanced technology- with a distinctly bodily emotional reaction.

 

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