Friday, 21 December 2007

Full Definition Reality

There is a move in the contemporary zeitgeist which is allowing the notion of 'reality' to come under discussion. The Levehulme Foundation in fact includes this title in its guide for new applications - as if reality needs re-definition due to movements in contemporary technology: biological, digital and manufacture - nanotechnology, cad cam and the rest.

But I'm not sure that all we need to be insightful about the human condition still exists in prior technology and prior cultural forms, that the investigations we have to make about the way the world is now is not also present in the cultural forms that were previously dominant. Over the last three weeks I've become involved in lighting a play at a theatre and it's come home to me that the stage space is a place where images are made, high definition images with a depth and realism that 3 D cinema can only dream about.

The theatre world is a different world than the one I'm used to and though I've been there before, maybe 15 years ago lighting a play for the Edinburgh Festival, by now I'd forgotten the terms theatre people use: the use of terms for the equipment and the notation used to delineate the placement of lamps (lanterns as they call them) on a lighting grid. I worked through the experience in my usual male fashion: I can do this even if I know nothing of the form because I can use my natural intelligence to formulate theories as I go along about the space and place I am working in and tat these theories on a practical level will find the contemporary bar. Also, because I travel from another discipline I can bring something new to the form. I do not see this as a n arrogant position, in fact I see it as a necessary way to re-invigorate different forms and practices. The course I studied on for my BA was called communication design and was based upon the ideas of Stafford Beer, Edmund Carpenter, Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan - all of which understood the notion of enriching the soil when it has become exhausted, The necessary nutrients were the insights and understandings gained within different disciplines.

There's also the issue of process where you take what you know into this different form and that act alone challenges the what's known and formulates it into something that distinguishes what you produce from the general practices prevalent in the form you are entering. This process often involves antagonism from those that work in the form seeing the incomer as threatening what is valuable and needs protecting against invading hordes who may dilute if not destroy the already realised form with new and inappropriate ideas. Ever the same old story. My own recent experience had elements of sabotage in it and nearly scuppered my plan which was me imagining what might work if given the chance. FUnnily enough even though resources were withheld I still pulled it off and on the first performance, of all the elements that go together to make a piece of theatre, an audience member was overheard by the assistant director as being imaginative. Therefore mission accomplished (I hope imaginative also meant appropriate to the story). On this particular production a particularly imaginative collaborator was Forkbeard Fantasy, internationally renowned for their crazy kind of theatre and they were responsible for a series of projections and puppets that had projections form inside their bodies onto their faces (yes they were big).

The lighting people from what ever discipline who might be reading this know that you need to do something special to not wash out the projections and that alone added a complication when cover light is a standard in theatrical form. Necessarily I didn't use any of that. I did use a lot of what I would call a 'special' - meaning something particular to light a specific thing. Bu the particular form of sabotage I encountered (be it unconscious or conscious) deprived my of a quarter of the circuits in the lighting board. Simply put this means that by the time I had got to the front bar of the lighting grid I couldn't put in what I\d planned to make the whole show work!

Usually on a film production I make a plan and by the night before the shoot I gather the courage to throw away the plan so that I might function on the shoot in the full knowledge that there is a plan if I need it but I have empowered myself to listen to my intuition at each moment and try to be truly creative on set because on set everything is different from what one imagines anyway when reading the script !. In this recent case the simple exigencies of the lack or resources meant that I ad to wrok with less than I'd planned - and that everything was in the wrong place now because of what was missing. Therefore I had to be imaginative about what I had placed and focused and use it for different reasons than it had been placed on the grid. This meant that lighting surprises (surprise for the artist being a principle artistic technique) were coming thick and fast and we entered an interesting lighting space immediately !

The definition I had intended was partially there, but also definitions of form and shape and colour came that I hadn't 'intended'.

Definition and intention - these go hand in hand in contemporary re-definitions of the zeitgeist. There's a sense in which intention was formed in a previous age and that previous intentions don't fit with the new digital world - simply because they're anachronistic. ANd definition is about bringing ideas into focus but of course in a world where the idea of reality is being investigated we have technologies offering higher definition but an attendant question of what it is that is needed to bring into focus.

So I may be arguing that we don't throw the baby out with the bath water here - that the previous has all the seeds of what is to come if we can decode it and release it from past associations.

Imagine a future High definition 3D theatre: It would be a world into which we look and see three dimensional images and CGI landscapes. One thing I am coming to know is that if you create too much description and detail then the experience of looking into that over described world is neutered - as contemporary games designers have told me - the game loses out to the high definition landscapes that have to be created and the game function is defeated. Could it be that theatre is the height of 3 Dimensional HD form already ?