As an audience member, you enter the room from the backside, through the security gate, which is also used to bring all the technical setup and materials onto the stage. From the foyer, you walk through several corridors where spotlights and other equipment are stored. You turn right twice, and pass through the big red security door. You have arrived at the installation.
Yellow cargo ropes hang from the ceiling, all over the room. They remind you of yellow rain or a Japanese drawing. Maybe, they also remind you of a derelict warehouse. Suspended from the yellow ropes are various large objects, including refrigerators and a very large plastic tarp shaped like a 20-foot container. PVC sheets are suspended between the ropes, on which someone has written and drawn. At some place between the many ropes, the PVC drawing and various hanging objects, there is a papier-mâché mountain.
This space is the result of various negotiations. It functions both as an installation and as a stage set for a performance. It tries to accommodate a set of different research dossiers on the relationship between logistics and choreography, while at the same time trying to arrange them into a coherent composition. The space was developed by scenographer Vladimir Miller, who adapted his method of Set-Up for this performance production. Some of the steps in the development of the space are described below:
Grid, structure, suspension
One of Miller's first conceptual decisions is the proposal to hang all stage elements. This decision, which is an important starting point for the scenographic process, but is not stringently followed through in the end, requires an infrastructure from and onto which things can be hung.
Already in the first rehearsal phase, we experiment with differently colored belts that we hang from a rig on the ceiling. The straps function on two levels: They structure the space visually, marking it as a mathematically-geometrically framed space, insofar as they hang from the ceiling at regular intervals. At the same time, they represent a form of skeleton onto and from which certain things can be hung.
For this purpose, Miller initially provides simple materials, i.e. sticks and wood, cloths and sheets of hard plastic. These can be used as tables, displays, projection surfaces, writing surfaces, room dividers, insulating materials, etc. The actual installation then emerges from the needs of the participating artists and is constructed within a collective process of negotiation – a method Miller has been using for many years in his pedagogical-scenographic practice Set-Up.
Set-Up is Miller's artistic research practice which he has developed and tested at a.pass in Brussels. It aims at understanding the production of art spaces as a collective negotiation. At the very base of it, two simple rules apply: There are no established protocols of ownership in the space. Rather, a provisional form of ownership emerges only from the repeated use of individual materials, places, or elements. Only in so far as things are used iteratively, they belong to particular practices and people.
Secondly, the materials used in Set-Up do not have a clear functionality. For example, there are no chairs and tables because these, like all heavily designed objects, already carry certain affordances and protocols of assembly. Thus, all participants are called upon to reformulate their own practice using a selection of ‘simple’ materials.
In the process of differentiating the workspace, materials and objects often change both owner and function. A board that serves as a table today may become a whiteboard or a slippery surface tomorrow. It is the interaction between material and human used that decides which of the many affordances of a specific element is actualized.
What emerges is an alternative form of logistics; one that does not simply ascribe functions to individual objects and or transport them to a particular place as efficiently as possible and according to external rules. Rather, a form of logisticality is at work in which people and things are related to one another by means of open-ended negotiation. Here, things are granted a certain indeterminacy.
For the collaborative rehearsal process of the Great Report, Miller adapts his method of Set-Up. First, the invited artists begin to build and design their own places within the pre-installed grid, thereby finding forms and representations for the research they conducted within the project. At the same time, the space also serves as a rehearsal studio for the performance ‘Dance as Oracle’ by Maria F. Scaroni. During the rehearsal process, the individual stations for the research conducted on Crete, in Nigeria and in Lebanon are thus designed by the participating artists in conversation with Vladimir Miller:
For the research on water overconsumption and the tourism industry on the island of Crete, Miller builds a cinema screen, flanked and framed by refrigerators stacked on top of each other, hanging from the ceiling next to the screen. The refrigerators are lit from within and serve as small shrines in which objects from the research in Crete are shown. They become a display for the essences and ingredients of paradise.
For the research in Nigeria, Miller builds a large table out of lattice panels that is reminiscent of a photo developing lab. On a long table in the front of this installation, documents are displayed that reveal the costs and organizational work involved in the research in the Niger Delta. The environmental activist Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface is highlighted as the protagonist and amateur photographer. Behind this, black photo tubs are placed on several lattice shelves, in which prints of Robin Hinsch's pictures seem to be lying to be developed. Lastly, several flagpoles are attached to the grid tables, from which three pictures from Nigeria hang as large flags.
For artist Nour Sokhon's sound work on land reclamation in Lebanon, Miller builds a listening station: A large plastic tarp normally used to fill the inside of a 20-foot container is cut in half and hung from the ceiling so that the audience can stand inside of it. On the inside, it is lined with hemp so that the sound played here is somewhat muffled. At the same time, the interior of the container smells of plants and processes of decay.
All the materials used in the space are reminiscent of the field of logistics in terms of their material aesthetics and functionality. First of all, the yellow cargo straps refer to the process of securing or mooring goods. The large white plastic sheeting represents the form of the shipping container, the central medium of modern logistics and global supply chains.
The metal elements of the grid table on which Robin Hinsch's photographic work is exhibited are reminiscent of heavy-duty shelving. Similar elements are also present in several places in the space, as tables on which further strands of research are made present through objects and with the help of sound.
The hanging refrigerators refer to the working field of second-hand logistics, which we researched have in Nigeria, and which is also very present in Hamburg, especially in Billstraße. In one corner of the room, a car console hangs from the ceiling next to a large-format image of the car that Robin Hinsch and I used in order to do our research in Lagos.
Thus, the space may appear as a dysfunctional distribution center, a place where – in the case of the performance – information is repackaged and thus made accessible to the viewer. Insofar as this place is no longer in use, but serves as a display for our research only, it also takes on an abandoned, almost nostalgic quality which is reinforced by the presence of the veiled performer, as whom Maria F. Scaroni appears.
A hanging labyrinth
The last stage element are different maps and drawings attached to the yellow belts. They are drawn on transparent PVC sheets with thick marker pens, so that they appear partially transparent and can be read with varying degrees of clarity, depending on the lighting conditions.
At first, the map elements hanging across the room create the impression of a branching navigational system that can only be read in fragments. They create diagonals, small passages and separate narrow sections from the rest of the stage. The experience of exploring the space may thus remind of a labyrinth.
The labyrinth, whose origin is located on the island of Crete, can be interpreted in different ways. On the one hand, it refers to a certain form of circular dance; at the same time, it is the place where the Minotaur is held captive. Yet, it may also be interpreted as a metaphor for an early shocking experience of urbanity. For the Greeks of early antiquity, the Minoan city of Knossos represented an impossible-to-decipher maze of multi-story houses and alleys.
Therefore, the labyrinth indirectly refers to my own experience of working on the ‘Great Report’. While I, together with the participating artists, have tried to follow specific materials – i.e. water, garbage and oil – to different places on the globe, in order to uncover something about my own entanglement in logistical process and global supply chains, the project increasingly produces feelings of disorientation and powerlessness.
The impossibility of adequately representing the complexity of specific contexts, of mapping the multiplicity of their connections to one another, of thus mapping the entanglement of my own position with other places on the planet, can be experienced within the space. Objects, writing, image and movement overlap.
Hanging in the air
Perhaps, my own position as the initiator of the project and as an artistic researcher to uncover and narrate aspects of my own entanglement in global supply chains is also left hanging in the air. The choreography of information, which is being narratively and physically reworked within this project, is in need of emotional labor so that it can be reconnected to the concrete place in which it is exhibited.
In this respect, the space staged by Miller speaks of the following question: In the face of a super-extended choreography of logistics that pretends to be sending things, objects and people around the planet without ever meeting any friction, what can a practice look like that tries to critically reflect its own position without understanding it as a central reference point?