Eric Joris, the draftsman and stage director who heads the Belgian collective CREW, a movement of researchers, writers, actors and philosophers, strives to produce disturbing slices of reality that call into question the presence and the place of the spectator. Mid-way between performance and theatre, over the last ten years he has developed hybrid shows in which technologies are combined with immersion. For each project, he sets up new dialogues that combine information technology advances with robotics, then with immersion elements to interrogate the theatrical narration. His career was marked by the desire to explore new territories such as the Internet in 1996 and the first drawing software in 3D. Eric Joris examines both the actions produced by technology and their effects and resonances. In particular, he explores the human mutations engendered by technologies. His current focus is more on neurology, the barriers that the brain sets up once it is plunged into a universe of uncertainty.
When I started out, the comic strip seemed to me – maybe naively – the right medium for expressing concepts. The visual world, design, architecture and narrative text are combined on the page. My first comic strip took place in the world of art, where it was seen as a sort of parasite. In the story, each artist was murdered in a way that corresponded to his own way of working. Based on this story line, I decided to invite 80 artists to form an exhibition at the The Belgian Comic Strip Center. All the works were like micro-installations, and the exhibition was a big success.
In 1995-1996, I started to move away from the comic strip towards a more hybrid form. At this time one of the first computers able to process drawing with a graphic tablet was released - the Power PC of Apple. I bought the proper hardware and software, and I created comic strip plates with the computer equipment. Drawing on a screen was fascinating, even though the technological aspects were daunting. This period was a turning point: the Internet was just starting, video games were making their debut, and drawings were able to be projected, which made it possible to create interesting scenic effects. Drawings could be transformed into gestural and scenic statements. They also became somewhat animated. We felt that everything was going to change in a few years.
Then I received a proposal from "spoken word" in which a number of artists, visual artists and others, got together for evening sessions. We went on stage with our computers and our tablets to draw live. I wanted to try to integrate the Internet as much as possible in performances, proposals for websites, etc. The idea came to work in a Cave-like Advanced Virtual Environment with an architect and several musicians. To make Kammerspiel 1&2 (1996 - 1999), we had to dismantle the motor of the video game Duke Nukem and transform it into a tool capable of composing music. This reconfiguration enabled us to make scale models and staging designs… The main interest of this project was that it brought together different people working in varied disciplines around this "motor".
In 1998 we produced Kaufhaus Inferno, based on Dante's Divine Comedy, in which the stories and the narrative approach seemed to me like the new ideas emerging from the “storytelling” of video games… It was also for me a way of trying to set up a virtual reality setting on the stage of a theatre with real actors. The project took several forms: a book, a comic strip, a diary, a website and a play. The play was made with very few means - a projector installed on a steadicam so that we could use the projection as a character - and lots of technical mistakes when handling this on the stage. We took apart video games, all their contents, etc. A critic said that the idea was an interesting failure. He was not wrong.
The transposition of the textual structure by the writers Paul Mennes and Stef De Paepe into a game play linked to the video game enabled us to experiment with new narrations. On stage the combined realities faced each other: the flesh of the actors and a projected virtual reality, one becoming the illustration of the other. We looked for a way to ensure that these two realities on the stage not to conflict, but rather, to coexist so that they interpenetrate each other and unite. But that did not happen. Not at that stage.
With another playwright, Kurt Vanhoutte, also a philosophy teacher, we started to think about the notion of prosthesis, i.e. the technological elements that complete the human body. In the case of some disabled people, the body adopts the technology. Then the brain no longer makes a distinction between its own organism and the added technological organism and manages to construct this third reality… We wanted to understand if this type of relationship was transposable to the theatre; that is why we met Paul Antipoff, a former technician who had become paraplegic as a result of a viral infection. Because of this illness, he could communicate only with a complex device clamped onto his skull. Over three years we created shows in close collaboration with him; the first was called Icarus/Man-O-War (2000). The music was composed by Eavesdropper and the text was written by the writer and theatre director Peter Verhelst. The latter had created a very personal world that intrigued me; he is also collaborating on our latest project, Immercity, currently in the writing stage. We did not want to produce a messianic story linked to the myth. That is why Icarus in this show is infected by ecstasy and deliberately flies close to the sun to burn his wings. The idea of a virus served a complex narration and took place both in the body as well as within machines.
(full article can be found in TRANSDIGITAL COOKBOOK #1)
Transdigital CookBook - a recipe book with a difference - offers ingredients, suggestions and discoveries to awaken the taste buds of scientific, entrepreneurial and artistic curiosity.
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