3 Ideas of Space by Norman Lock

3_Ideas_of_Space

 

Artist’s Statement:
Central to each of the three acts comprising the installation is a narrative presented by a different voice. Like the theater space in which it is related, each narrative is no more than a residue of a larger drama whose plot and dramatis personae have been reduced to essentials, the requisites of theater: a space consecrated to an event made meaningful by the space itself and its power to evoke in an audience sensations and thoughts, regardless of their formlessness. The production values of the mise en scène – either refined or else starkly conceived – assemble into a cabinet theater where stories can be told.

Scene:
A room emptied of light. The ceiling and floor are black, as are the three walls of what may be thought of as an intimate theater. Perhaps a proscenium arch of simplified design, devoid of ornamentation, can frame the action unfolding inside the room. Entrance is forbidden to the spectators, who must stand a little apart from the action, if the little that does happen can be called one.

Silence, except for a voice, which will seem to be everywhere inside the room although we understand it refers to the person whose image – in extreme close-up – is projected onto the back wall or seen on a large plasma screen placed inconspicuously there. Silence in which a voice is heard and also, perhaps, a light wind scarcely audible to the spectators. (See Sound, below.)

Lighting:
Light sources in the ceiling or floor produce focused beams whose powerful verticals create each act’s mise en scène, according to the light’s hue. The beams are irregularly organized within the space to suggest a disorderly system, i.e., nature where (fractals aside) all is, or seems to be, at random. This vertical, almost architectural formation is felt to crowd out both spectators and the actor, the partially obscured image of whose face is shown on the back wall. Perhaps the columns of light that project, each in its turn, the piece’s three ideas of space ([1.] the ancient forest, [2.] the burning garment factory, and [3.] the polar icecap]), are arranged within the space in forced perspective – moving from a more open array to a much denser one that closes in on the image of the actor’s face.

To subvert the stark verticality of the mise en scène and to introduce a plausible, naturalistic gesture, a mist might form a slightly agitated horizontal zone, if practicable. The color of the vapor would be that of the vertical columns of light.

Spectators having entered the blacked-out installation space stand or sit in a foyer outside the room’s fourth wall (or proscenium arch, should there be one), adjusting their eyes to the darkness. The purity of darkness must not be violated until the piece has finished. Darkness having been established, the beams of light will assemble the mise en scène, followed within a brief space of time by the advent of the face and its voice.

 

I. Teutoburg Forest
Place:

The ancient and dense forest of Germania.

Time:
A moment in antiquity – or, better said, the moment when the mind as it was shaped by life spent entirely within the primeval forest gave way to a sudden enlargement of space and its resulting consciousness.

Lighting:
The vertical beams of light are a green hue suggesting both trees in the ancient Germanic woodland and downward shafts of light filtered through its arboreal canopy. A green mist tumbles and swirls above the floor, if practicable.

The Video (for Projection or Plasma Screen):
In extreme close-up, a man’s face. Pallid, almost ashen, and badly shaven. A scar perhaps. The gray hair is short, brutally cropped. The face registers the man’s intense emotions as they are disclosed by the voice.

In all three acts, the video images may be somewhat imperfect – marred here and there by artifacts, “stutters and erasures”; but such manipulation must be restrained. Or it may be that the flow of video images will, from time to time, slow while the words continue their measure. All this to call attention to the artifice and to effect a distance – in time and space – from the spectators.

Recorded Voice (a Man’s):
The voice refers to the man whose face we see. It would belong to him if he were able to articulate his feelings. Their articulation (product of a new and raised consciousness far in advance of the man and his time) belongs to a later era. The voice is distributed uniformly throughout the room. The reading of the lines, here and in the subsequent acts, should be clean, without rhetorical emphases despite the elegance of the language – a language, to say it again, not belonging to the man but to an idea of him. And to the poetry of the moving image.

Script:
You had lived always among the trees and when at last you came out onto the Plain, your head reeled and you were sick. Never, until that moment, had you seen the sun whole and undivided. Always, it had hidden behind a screen of leaves or, in winter, bones of twig and fescue. To see it, all at once and of a sudden, stung your eyes and turned the light within them black. You smelled it – smelled the light on your hands – like rust, tasted its bitterness, and felt it against your skin – hot and barbed. What did you know of distances, immensities of space, horizons, and emptiness? You lay on the ground, face pressed to the cool grass, the colder earth unlike that of the forest floor, which reeks of rotted leaves. Of animals. Of death from which you had hoped to escape, in your folly. You shut your eyes to the clamor of that light and waited for the earth to stand still and for night to fall, so that you might return and be again among the crowding trees. The shafts of light falling down from the high leaves far above you.

Sound:
Beneath the recorded voice may be the sound of wind blowing more or less steadily. Its quality should probably be electronic rather than naturalistic, although it should not be perceived as noise. In fact, the audience should scarcely be aware of it; may mistake it for an aspect of silence. The sound is the same for each act. (Whether perfect silence behind the voice is preferable to this or any other sound can only be judged in performance.)

Blackout and Silence (except for the Sound)

 

II. 23-29 Washington Place
Place:

The tenth floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a garment factory, which is burning.

Time:
Saturday, March 25, 1911, 4:40 PM.

Lighting:
The vertical beams of light are a red hue suggesting the flames that engulfed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Place in Greenwich Village. The beams of red light can also be thought of as the flaming bodies of sixty-two women who jumped to their deaths. Red smoke tumbles and swirls above the floor, if practicable.

The Video (for Projection or Plasma Screen):
In extreme close-up, the face of a young woman – a garment worker recently emigrated from Palermo, about to jump from a tenth-story window. She wears her long dark hair pinned up. Her face is smudged and registers her intense emotions as they are disclosed by the voice. Nothing is seen of her but the face and hair. (See note to Act I, the Video, concerning the quality of the video image.)

Recorded Voice (a Woman’s):
The voice refers to the woman whose face we see. It would belong to her if she were able to articulate her feelings. She cannot do so because of the moment’s terror, her horror as she woos herself to jump rather than to burn. As before, the words given the voice convey an idea of the woman.

Script:
Already you were, at that high window, like a woman brought to the crematory to be burned. Or nearly so. You stood on one of the sky’s piers, turbulent night rushing down the black jetties of space – your hands grasping the greasy air while flames spindled behind your back where your dress was turning to ashes. You thought, if you thought at all, of a beach, perhaps by the Tyrrhenian Sea when, a young woman, you had leaned far out into the night – not as you were leaning now at the reddened window – but on a young man’s lips fiery with impepata di cozze and desire. That man’s kiss, that distant place and time, all men’s kisses, places and times were very soon to vanish as you made your way sighing, like a woman stepping into her bath, toward a sidewalk crowded with other women, women with less patience than you as you kissed your own mouth – there being no other. Look now, how, from cornices of fire, women are falling like comets – like brides trailing fiery trains through a rain of black petals!

Sound:
(See notes to Act I. Sound.)

Blackout and Silence (except for the Sound)

 

III. Under Mt. Terror
Place:

On the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Time:
Winter, 1912. During Scott’s fatal expedition to the South Pole.

Lighting:
The vertical beams of light are a blue hue suggesting spiraling ice formations as well as a rare blue aurora. They may also convey the purity and fatality of that polar light. Blue mist tumbles and swirls above the floor, if practicable.

The Video (for Projection or Plasma Screen):
In extreme close-up, a man’s face. Burned by reflected sunlight, except around the eyes where he has worn snow goggles. Hair and beard, an ice-caked stubble. Lips, split open. Head bared rather than concealed by a parka’s hood. The head of a man ravaged by deprivation, exposure, exhaustion. The face registers his intense emotions as they are disclosed by the voice. (See note to Act I, the Video, concerning the quality of the video image.)

Recorded Voice (a Man’s, different from that of Act I):
The voice refers to the man whose face we see. It would belong to him if he were able to articulate his feelings. He cannot do so because of illness and exhaustion. Like the woman of Act II, he is at the point of death.

Script:
You waited among ice cliffs and dull spires while the aurora fell on Mt. Terror and the glacier rumbled. Far below, under sea-ice, the ocean clenched. Tears froze on your cheeks like beads of glass. The cold on the ice shelf killed the dogs. You ate the last of the biscuits and honey and remembered your dream of Japan. The dream you had each night now that the end was near. You saw it again and for the last time there, below Mt. Terror, while a gramophone played somewhere in that pale night a shriek as though Earth had turned heavily on its axle. Or the glacier had moved on its iron hinge. Or your bones made iron by the cold had, in an instant, turned to rust. See again and for the last time how the cherry trees bloom! Their crowded petals are raining down and soon the meadow will be white. A spring breeze will whirl them away over the green fields, the silvery branches, toward that soft and always liquid sea. And then you saw – no longer dreaming – the ice mound waiting to receive you.

Sound:
(See notes to Act I, Sound.)

Blackout and Silence.

 

Norman Lock

Norman Lock

Artist’s bio:
Norman Lock’s newest book is Love Among the Particles, stories published by Bellevue Literary Press, New York City. His newest play, The Monster in Winter, has just been translated into German by Per Lauke Verlag. His newest radio drama, Mounting Panic, was recently produced in Germany by WDR. Lock won The Paris Review’s Aga Kahn Prize (1979) and fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (2009), the New Jersey Council on the Art (1999, 2013), and the National Endowment for the Arts (2011). His work has been translated into Dutch, German, Turkish, Japanese, and Spanish. He lives in the U.S.

www.normanlock.com

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