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Blurred Spaces Sara Prat Soto Conceps of space — Sara Prat Soto — MA AHTI

Blurred Spaces Sara Prat Soto Conceps of space — Sara Prat Soto — MA AHTI Introduction “[Laurie Anderson’s] investigations into sound led to the construction of several new types of sculptural instruments which she used in her live performances. Just as she engaged passer-by during her street actions, she also created a few interactive works that require the viewer’s participation in the gallery”. Lydia Yee, curator of Barbican’s exhibition.

Laurie Anderson, like Trisha Brown and Matta-Clark are masters and pioneers of performance art. As seen in their Barbican exhibition, their works lose much interest when located inside instead of outside, isolated instead of amongst spectators. The city was the setting for their work, and not only the setting, but also the work itself. They are classified as “off stage” artists. In a period in the 60’s, when Pop art was in the limelight some artists wanted to keep away from conventional gallery contexts. But it was not new. At the very beginning of the twentieth century, theatre had dealt with the same natural need to extend its artistic space into the conventional world. The confinement of the stage’s frame or the space of the museum was suffocating for new artistic trends and the involvement of the “real” world, with “real” people, rather than actors-puppets or Chanel dressed artists was crucial for the natural development of both artistic forms. It seems to me interesting to explore this need to eradicate the historical limits of ritual spaces. Theatre, art and religious rituals are historically rooted in their particular places: a theatre or a simple atrezzo consisting of backcloths; a gallery or an altar of the church. These are the places through which rituals can possibly exist. They are related to the mere essential meaning of the ritual and omitting the space, would result in negating the ritual itself. 1

When Adolphe Appia claimed that “if theatre is confined to the stage, it dies”, he was starting the beginning of a new revolutionary space where the ritual (or fake or mimetic) world ceased to become something to be lived within. It mixes two worlds, the sacred and the profane, as it mixes two spaces normally separated. An actor with no make-up, a painting with no frame or a priest with no collar is out of place and have no power. Is this loss of capability necessarily 2 3 that good as Matta-Clark’s Open House (1972) wants us to believe? I am discussing the role of decontextualizing and the spatial implications when acting as a “creator” of a work of art, a liturgy or a building. The seminar I presented about “Sacred Space” and the later discussion about threshold-less architecture have made me think about the natural need of confinements and barriers rather than open and uncontrolled endless spaces. The “chaos” Eliade suggested where the non-religious man has been terribly reprehended by modern and natural art trends. Yet, I found myself wondering to what extend is this chaos acceptable in a world where disorder is the main order. Furthermore, I want to consider decontextualization as a subject. When Duchamp decontextualized his Fountain 4 (1917) as one of his Readymades, he was praising the ugliness of a sheer residual object by displaying it in an art gallery. The act of locating the piece of art (itself decontextualizated) in a “sacred” place, made this piece “sacred”. It is nothing but a claim for the continual existence of sacred places (art galleries, theatres or churches). And as Heidegger 1

Adophe Appia: “son of Red Cross co-founder Louis Appia, was a Swiss architect and theorist of stage lighting and décor. Appia is best known for his many scenic designs for Wagner’s operas. He rejected painted two-dimensional sets for three-dimensional "living" sets because he believed that shade was as necessary as light to form a connection between the actor and the setting of the performance in time and space. Through the use of control of light intensity, colour and manipulation, Appia created a new perspective of scene design and stage lighting.” According to Wikipedia. 2 “In Open house (1972), he [Matta-Clarck] installed and industrial waste container on the streets of SoHo, creating within the interior a series of maze-like corridors out of salvaged doors and wood. He invited fellow artists and dancers to perform inside the container< they improvised with umbrellas as it was a rainy day. The poet Ted Greenwald contributed an audio piece recorded on his newspaper delivery route and Matta-Clark documented the performance on film” according to Exhibition’s catalogue.





suggested, the existential “hut” is nothing but clear boundaries, a place to provide dwelling for mankind. And according to Greek cosmogony, light was born out of chaos. Therefore, I will try to discuss the location of spatial boundaries in the process of getting to the space of ritual, the magical world. The need to be in “the” space, in “the” time (lights off) reminds the ideal process of walking through a threshold, to get in a sacred building.

Unframed space, profane space “Scenography is one of the means by which we human beings attempt to fit out a space for our dreams, both those engendered by our febrile imagination and those that come to us from the other world. The dreams of reason breed expositions” Azara, Pedro

Aristotle said that drama was an imitation of men in action. Greek ancient theatre is full of burlesque actors posturing on wooden platforms sited in the Agora, the communal space where the plays developed their essential participative nature in the context of festivities. The stages depended on the type of play. Comedies, according to Vitruvius, had “trees, caves, mountains and other characteristics of the countryside in an imitation of landscape” while tragedies had columns and pediments (a city, a temple…). Overall, the skene implied a world apart. A secure world for men, far from dangerous weather and other threats, while feeling free. The boundaries are visible and known and frame an unreal world, since ancestral times. 5

Another characteristic of the skene is its temporary character. It can only possibly exist in a fleeting capacity (during times of festivity or after a catastrophe when ephemeral huts are built). Time seems suspended during skene and normal and real life seems to disappear during its existence. Does this exclusion not happen when attending theatre, mass or the museum? 6

Chantraine , the French philologist, argued that skene was derived from skia, also a Greek word, which means shadow. In our minds, lights and shadows have always been thought of as being an integral part of theatre. The word theatre 7 derives from theaomai which means “to behold ”, hence, to be seen from a distance; never to be touched. It is a place of shadows to be admired but not to be inhabited. The world of Shadows reminds us of Plato’s Cavern myth, the other world. “The world of shadows, like every spectacle was composed of lights, shadows and mirrors –a play, a puppet show, a film- asks that the lights be turned down before revealing itself to the eye” according to Pedro Azara. These arts are practised in the dark and when lights are switched on, the magic world vanishes, as at the end of a theatre play. Scenography is necessary for the development of any form of art. Masks, costumes without a scenic space, “religious spaces”, perfectly separated from “profane” spaces, would never become alive. Drama would not be an imitation of life because actors would not have been able to go through the process of transformation. So they would still not be in a separated enough real world. In our daily world we are still accustomed to virtual spaces, or unreal spaces. If we take the example of TV, all comedians, journalists… need this process of transformation to be “on air”. Due to the lights, they need to make up over the top. Yet, make up acts also like a mask. The same mask any actor uses with costumes, or any priest. Apart from the space itself, there is always this symptomatic transformation, a literary change, in order to get the world of fiction. Generally speaking, it is framed in a place as I have been justifying, but also it is framed inwards the human being exterior image. “Theatre comes into existence when a separation occurs between audience and performers. The paradigmatic theatrical situation is a group of performers soliciting an audience who may or may no respond by attending. The 8 audience is free to attend or stay away” said Schechner . Audience is necessary to understand theatre as a ritual, transcendental.

5 Suggested by Pedro Azara 6 Pierre Chantrain was a French linguist from the École pratique des hautes études in Paris. Was also explained by Azara. 7 As explained by William Turner 8 Schechner: “is Professor of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, editor of TDR: The Drama Review, and artistic director of East Coast Artists. His BA is from Cornell University (1956), MA from the University of Iowa (1958), and PhD from Tulane University (1962). Schechner is one of the founders of the Performance Studies department of the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University (NYU).” Definition by Wikipedia

For Eliade: “The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds- and, at the same time, the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible”. Eliade’s split of space in religious and profane explains perfectly well the world of fiction and the need of real boundaries, being these places or costumes. The role of the threshold has the essential meaning of a process, the transfiguration alike the preparation of any religious ritual. The time of passage when walking through the door (from outside to inside’s Heidegger’s hut) is the time of art, of the ritual, of preparation of the soul. The lights are off and the shadows come alive, is the time of dreams, the time of festivity. It is totally another world.



“Performance art, a time-based art form that typically features a live presentation to an audience or to onlookers (as on a street) and draws on such arts as acting, poetry, music, dance, and painting. It is generally an event rather than an artefact, by nature ephemeral, though it is often recorded on video and by means of still photography. Performance art arose in the early 1970s as a general term for a multitude of activities— including Happenings, body art, actions, events, and guerrilla theatre. It can embrace a wide diversity of styles..” Encyclopaedia Britannica

“The Tempest” was the Shakespeare’s play which the Spanish theatre company called “La Cubana” was performing in Barcelona in 1986. There was only one play. The premiere. The audience arrived, the lights switched off and some off voice announced there were extremely severe problems outdoors and the spectacle could not possible be carried out. It was heavily raining and the city was totally flooded, as never seen before. Meanwhile, the sound of water everywhere, the sight from the main door full of rain, dull greyish environment, no visible human being and some collapsed cars. No communications were possible. People could not possible call their relatives but remain indoors waiting for the storm to finish. Chaos, nervousness… Next day’s newspapers announced how successful the premiere had been, and would have never be repeated again. Public were actors, without knowing it. 10

According to Victor Turner in “From ritual to theatre”, “performance” is derived from the Middle English parfournir (par: thoroughly) plus fournir (to furnish). Itself, it does not mean manifesting form but “accomplishing”. To perform is a progress rather than a deed. On the other hand, “acting” is ambiguous “like all simple Anglo-Saxon words”. It can mean doings things in daily life or performing on the stage according if it takes pale in ordinary time or extraordinary. So to distinguish between a performance acting [for example, going everyday to work] or a performance acting “on stage”, we should recur the kind of time of practice. The “sacralisation” of time and I suggest, also the space, is what differs from daily acting. 11

Lefebvre , in the line of Situationts, wrote: “ In the street, a form of spontaneous theatre, I become spectacle and spectator, and sometimes an actor. The street is where movement takes place, the interaction…”. They way of calling “theatre” of mere acting art is crucial for the understanding of superfluous way of behaving. Like we say a politician “acts” in English language. It emphasizes the concerning of public space as a play table but still not that different of the spectacle when someone is gossiping and “being entertained” by the window. It seems clear that last centuries tends have focused on the making the audience part of the spectacle. It means negate all the boundaries historically set to separate both worlds. Also the creation of chaos when the confusion is set. Adolphe Appia, the master of theatre scenopgraphy, was one of the first on negating the classical form of theatre. His designs for settings which create basically light and music and transforms the actor into the only essential element on 12 the stage to focus on, were at least fascinating. Even his subtle drawings were engaging, charming . “I have your picture in front of my desk always. And the more I see it, the more beautiful it seems to me. (a banal-true thing to say.) It excites me far more than any other artwork which belongs to our age. There is no escape from it & one wishes not to escape because it gives NO OFFENCE. But how inviting it is –how gracious- how silent-how perfectly 13 temperate- hos G-O-O-D.” said Edward Gordon Craig about the drawing above related. His ideas of new staging, seem totally related to artistic trends in that moment. This was one of the main revolutions the theatre world owes to him. He actually wanted to create a cyclorama as a space, not as a mechanism. 9 “Plain, curved, stretched cloth or rigid structure used as a background to a setting, giving an illusion of infinity.” Definition by Queens Theatre Glossary. 10 Victor Turner: “was a British cultural anthropologist best known for his work on symbols, rituals and rites of passage2 Definition by Wikipedia 11Lefebvre :”was a French sociologist, intellectual and philosopher who was generally considered a Neo-Marxist.” Defined by Wikipedia. 12

[C] Appia’s: “Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurycide, the descent inot hell, Hellerau 1912”. Geneva.

13 Gordon Graig:”was an English modernist theatre practitioner; he worked as an actor, director and scenic designer, as well as developing an influential body of theoretical writings. Craig was the son of revered actress Dame Ellen Terry”. According to Wikipedia.

Yet his profound reform of theatrical terms went further. For Appia, theatre is an act, in everybody had to participate. He wanted to bring the actor to the spectator, to merge both of them. The Italian type archetype of separation between stage and auditorium was totally negated by Appia. The proscenium arch [“proscenium theatre is a theatre space whose primary feature is a large frame or arch (called the proscenium arch even though it is frequently not a rounded archway at all), which is located at or near the front of the stage. The use of the term "proscenium arch" is explained by the fact that in Latin, the stage is known as the "proscenium", meaning "in front of the scenery."] and the footlights. He said “The dramatic art of tomorrow will be a social act in which everyone will take part”. According to him, “a show becomes a work of art when its connected parts are systematically “modified” in their interrelations”. This is his basis to set the difference between “looking at entertainment things” like a Roman sitting in his amphitheatre and real art conceptualization. One of the main ideas which pushed Appia to this second “revolution” was the discovery of “Eurythmics”. “It frees our 14 bodies and minds from all our harmful domination” said Jaques-Dalcroze. Appia’s second step revolution was totally accompanied with the role of music. The domination of musical rhytms were seen as liberators of actors and performs, 15 the seek of freedom. It was a matter of “incarnation” rather than “representation” . It was improvisation thorough the human body. The new ritual of improvised theatre had no space in a curtained space because it was not a representation anymore. One cannot help thinking, also in the same terms, in the state of “possession” Pollock painted. Benjamin’s flaneur seems to have also set his roots. Always surrounding the world of magic. One other good example of these kinds of appropriation from the “artistic” world towards the real was Lauire 16 Anderson’s work The Handphone Table . It was an interactive sculpture activated by the viewer when seated with elbows on the table and hands on ears. The poetry goes through the table, hands and into the ears. In this particular place, the sculpture is the public itself. Still admitting that these particular works are fascinating, you can smell the sense of lost in its location. It means that the spectator is embodied and used for the work of art, used and took to the “religious” world without knowing it, without the walking through the threshold; hence, without passage. Who is the performer when feeling roughly surrounded by dancers? One can feel the urge of getting absorbed by the musical rhythm and become an actor. He can feel lost, undefined territory between light and shadow; therefore, chaos. The lost of the proscenium makes the space uncontrolled, where no orientation can be possible so impossible to inhabit. Men cannot possible live without orientation, and less go to the sacred world without knowing it, with no preparation. It means that the space of art, if not well defined, can possible loose the transcendence required. And art with no space, like priest with no church, cannot possible be called “art”. Yet there is another essay to be written about human romanticism and engagement with getting lost. Deceiving masks mark off religious space and there is to consider human enjoyment to hide behind its shadows, to create a new persona. In a literary same way people enjoy participating in parallel virtual worlds, such as Facebook or Second Life. Ambiguity in the barriers fiction-reality are further discussed in the world of technology, yet share the same origin.

14 Jaques-Dalcroze:” was a Swiss composer, musician and music educator who developed eurhythmics, a method of learning and experiencing music through movement” Wikipedia 15 “Until now it was believed that staging should attain the highest possible degree of illusion- and this principle (an unesthetic one if ever there was one) held us paralyzed. (…) show the art of the stage ought to be based on the only reality worthy of the theatre- the human body” wrote Appia in 1904, an article in La Revue, in Paris. 16

[D] “Inspired by the way vibrations travelled from her electric typewriter, through her desk and up her arms, Anderson’s interactive sculpture The Hanphone Table (1978) can be activated by the viewer when seated with elbows on the table and hands on ears. A fragment of recorded poetry travels from the table, through the hands and into the ears, which act as a pair of headphones” Exhibition catalogue.

Catharsis “Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is admirable, complete (composed of an introduction, a middle part and an ending), and possesses magnitude; in language made pleasurable, each of its species separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through narration; effecting through pity and fear the purification of such emotions.” Aristotle, “Poetics”

While in theatre the blurring owes much to the effect of music as we have seen, in the world of art the value seems to remain more constricted to the place. Any work of art placed in a museum must be understood, feel or admired from the distance, and thorough the senses. The difference between any current object and “this” is the meaning it has to us, not the use. The aim of art is to alter our mood, our soul, in order to free our anxiety. Aristotle, in his Poetics, refers to “catharsis”, which means “purging” [In dramatic art that describes the "emotional cleansing" sometimes depicted in a play as occurring for one or more of its characters, as well as the same phenomenon as (an intended) part of the audience’s experience. It describes an extreme change in emotion, occurring as the result of experiencing strong feelings (such as sorrow, fear, pity, or even laughter). It has been described as a 17 "purification" or a "purging" of such emotions] The concept is quite clear: the audience need a sheer identification with the characters of the play in the case of theatre, with the work of art in the case of an art gallery; this identification will generate the “purging” of the soul, like a human need. The need of catharsis has inward its meaning the idea of distance to be contemplated, otherwise it makes no sense. This is one of the reasons why, according to Aristotle, boundaries are a quintessential need to contemplate a work of art: a play or a picture. This distance cannot be ensured but by the correct use of space, the correct use of barriers. In the church, this lines [the altars] are much clearer as, so far, not has been intended to profane the work of the connection with God. It is still and spectacle seen from the distance, from the pews, as if still there was a glass wall in front of the altar. Victor Turner suggests that “[ritual] does not distinguish between audience and performers. Instead, there is a congregation whose leaders may be priests, party officials, or other religious or secular ritual specialist, but all share formally and substantially the same set of beliefs and accept the same system of practices, the same sets of rituals or liturgical actions”. I think his view mislead the understanding of the ritual as a sharing knowledge but not the same “role” or “performance” of all assistants. All of them attend to mass to be in contact with God, yet all the ritual must be lead by a “religious” performance to be seen and to be identificated with, but no one can replace the role of the priest. I think it is theastai, to be viewed, understood and”catharsistic” intend to take part. But the position is strictly well set by any single attendant. Furthermore, Plato in his “Republic” says that works of art must be “mimetic” but have to keep a certain distance from the reality. There must exist this difference in order to get a clear image and to be considered a work of art. Thus, according to the classical images, the role of Appia’s blurring the boundaries would develop to a diverse definition of work of art, out of theatre, out of museum. The question remains in considering what is this new piece of art considered. 18

Grotowski in his “On the Road to Active Culture” gives an interview to Trybuna Ludu, the communist Polish newspaper: “working in the sphere of theatre, preparing productions for many years, step bys tep we were approaching such a concept of active man/actor, where the point was not to act someone else, but to be oneself, to be in relationship, as Stanislawski used to call it”. Modern and contemporary development have made ambiguous the classical distinction between man/actor in the claim Appias’ alike need for jazzly-spontaneity and real-man body release. Yet, far from the meaning of “theatre” and from the “extraordinary marked-off” time of ritual. This new relationship is the foggy mass in between the “sacred” and the “profane”, an “off-off-Broadway” kind of theatre.

17 According to Wikipedia 18Grotowski:” was a Polish theatre director and innovator of experimental theatre, the "theatre laboratory" and "poor theatre" Defined by Wikipedia.


The relationship between theatre and audience is also dealt by Jen Harvie in an interesting, and to my view, more respectful way in “Theatre and the city”. She says:” The way an audience experiences and interprets a play, we now recognize, is by no means governed solely by what happens on stage. The entire theatre, its audience arrangements, its other public spaces, its physical appearance, even its location within a city, are all important elements of the process by which an audience makes meaning of its experience”, she herself quoting Marvin Calson in “ Places of Performance”. In these studies, audience is not only a regulated and relevant entity in the theatre affair, but also, from the classical distance it must has according to its classical meaning, takes part in the process of “catharsis”. Audience formalize theatre from outside and, in the same way I can imagine people attending to a Tragedy [who always knew the plot] were there to “react” the process and revalue their lives, to participate in the ritual and always beeing “free” to attend or not to.

19 Jen Harvie: is Reader in Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary University of London.

Dead blackout


“The Czech-born Svoboda, who has died aged 81, was one of the most influential stage designers - although he preferred the term "scenographer" - of the 20th century, and an artist in space and light who constantly reinvented the empty stage. With reflections, swiftly moving scenery and an adventurous use of film and projection, he opened classic texts and operas to astonishing multiple perspectives.” David Jays, The Guardian (22nd April 2002)

Sometimes the process is just Appias’ contrary. The creation of lines, of strict boundaries, make the sacred space more real, closer to the spectator. It could be the case of Joseph Svoboda, the scenographer and architect, considered one of the masters of modern scenography. He also followed Appias’ approaches to non-realistic settings and worked fiercely on the evolution of modern stage 21 design. Nevertheless, in 1993, in his set design for La Traviata by Verdi , he visualised the need of drawing resounding lines in a stage. In an open-air space he created a nineteenth century Italian stage. He chose some traditional backcloths but used them in a completely different way. They were put on the floor and displayed through mirrors suspended above the stage at an angle of 45. Later, they reflected the audience. This particular case is astoundingly the way Duchamp had decontextualized his urinal to my view. Svoboda, even being exceptionally modern in the approaches and the genuineness of his work, felt the need to draw a stage, to create boundaries. And not only because the set needed that, but also for the need to create a place, a theatre, in order for the play to become alive. In order for the play have the “catharsistic” distance. Svoboda, like Appia, started his studies as architect. His designs are very architectonic, not naturalistic in a continuity Appias’ manner. Appia was the master of music, Svoboda of light and images. But on the contrary, his idea of theatre kept on seeing, in my opinion, the Platonic idea of work of Art or Aristotle’s catharsis, the ancestral way people had been related to theatre, hence to art. From the distance; from the creation of a sacred space. [as Scechner said]. So even academically seen as an evolution from “Appia to Svoboda”, I would like to suggest that this is only possible when talking about the revolution of skene but not in the relation actor-audience.


Complete darkness on stage, used to hide scenery changes or to create dramatic effect. (Queens Theatre Glossary).

21 [F]: Svoboda: “La Traviata”

As curtains fall "When I sit alone in a theatre and gaze into the dark space of its empty stage" Josef Svoboda

Sometimes we live according to our particular rituals. We spend time counting the days for holidays, for our birthday, for Christmas or for weekend. We expect different days, where rules can be misled. When pleasure goes together with “becoming another persona”. Sometimes it was attending to church; now is going to cinema. But, somehow, we are always looking for this parenthesis. Could we touch Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, or see it left on the floor, would be worthless. In the same way we do not pay the same attention to “La Traviata” indoors a majestic theatre or a high quality street performance, firstly because of being off-place and hence, not being able to measure the “sublime” of the work of art. I do believe there is a time for ritual (8 pm’s Theatre play, for example) and also a place (The National Gallery). There must be a process of identification and some time of adaptation like walking, as said before, along the threshold of a house and getting to the fire place where all the inhabitants are sitting together. Or just going forward the Altar, surrounded by majestic pews, way to reach God. It is not a matter of belief, it is “transcendence”, the aim of any human being. It is life.

Bibliography Helvetia, Pro [Arts Council of Switzerland]: “Adolphe Appia 1862-1928. Actor-space-light”. Graphileld, Lausanne, Switzerland. Azara, Pedro: “Arquitectos a escena: escenografias y montajes de exposicion en los 90”. Gustavo Gili. Barcelona, 2000. Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark. Barbican exhibition (2011). Turner, Victor: “From Ritual to theatre: the human seriousness of play”. PAJ Publications. New York,1982. Harvie, Jen: “Theatre and the city”.Palgrave macmillan. New York, 2009. Azara, Pedro: “Castillos en el aire: mito y arquitectura en occidente” Gustavo Gili. Barcelona. 2005. All the texts delivered in the seminars.







Seminar Notes Sara Prat Soto Conceps of space — Sara Prat Soto — MA AHTI

Blurred Space  

The space of theatre in Architecture

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