London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts staged a series of live events this past weekend entitled ‘Against Gravity’ (November 26 -28) taking inspiration from Italo Calvino’s proposition that ‘lightness is a value, rather than a defect.’
For one evening only Mathew Stone staged a multi-media piece, ‘Anatomy of Immaterial Worlds’. In a packed house, the work projected a film of computer generated imagery against the back wall of the stage.
At the outset, a grey orb like a planet swiveled towards us revealing a dark aperture through which we entered on a long and strange adventure. Stone took the audience on a what seemed to be an epic odyssey through a twisting, enclosed space that resembled a long tunnel. Largely dark, the gloom was illuminated by glowing patches of fluorescent colour like plankton attached to the walls of a sea cave. As the audience was taken deeper into this imprecise, allusive space, the electronic score became more urgent and throbbing.
The effect was to induce a trance like sensation that was neither unpleasant, nor uplifting but rather emphasised exploration and progression towards an unknown destination. Calvino’s ‘lightness’ seemed to take the explicit form of gravity-free and ‘immaterial’ travel so familiar from science fiction in film and literature, but this physical experience acted too as imaginative spur to a more metaphorical condition of travel.
This floating journey, which initially felt enticing, became insistently monotonous as if the dramatic denouement were being deliberately denied. A state of weightless movement became rather banal through 30 minutes of repetitious images and sound reminding us of the endurance required by the processes of discovery. Eventually, the film faded and we were left in darkness while the original music written by Stone grew louder with more pounding bass effects, ramping up the expectation and an accompanying hunger for release. (Some used this blackout to impose their own ending by leaving the theatre).
Finally and to some evident relief, the lights came up to the sound of a Soprano singing accompanied by live musicians. On stage, a pair of dancers performed a very brief duet in costumes that appeared to be made from transparent stockings stuffed with rags that stopped abruptly. Whether this was intended to induce an elevating climax or an exaggerated bathos for the time we invested on the journey, the entire work concluded with a degree of confusion. ‘Anatomy of Immaterial Worlds’ had left the audience truly untethered from any certainty.