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Scenographies of the city, weather & politics

Carlos Gomes with Katia Molino

Designer and theatre director Carlos Gomes and independent performer and designer Katia Molino are core members of Sydney’s Theatre Kantanka.

PQ Sign PQ Sign
photo Carlos Gomes
Katia Molino and I navigate the flood of tourists in Prague, looking for the ‘blue chair’—the logo for the 13th Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space 2015. PQ is the oldest symposium of its type. In the program, Artistic Director Sodja Lotker states, “PQ explores scenography as a strong and invisible force of performance; a power that influences us just like music, weather and politics.” This year PQ broke the record for participation, with more than 90 countries represented.

The program is organised by a diversity of curators and events divided into the categories Tribes, Makers, Workshops, Talks, Objects, Performance, Show and Tell, Sound Kitchen, Countries and Regions. Katia and I represented Sydney’s Theatre Kantanka. We were invited to participate in the Tribes program, with costume art from Bargain Garden, Kantanka’s performance-collaboration with Ensemble Offspring. I also gave a talk about our process for making this show.

I’ll focus on Countries and Regions, where curators for individual countries were invited to explore the theme Shared Space: Music, Weather, Politics. With exhibits housed in a variety of buildings, normal geographical relationships were ignored: Estonia was next to China, Russia and Uruguay shared the same room. There was a sense of pleasurable chaos as we wandered around exhibits amid grand Czech architecture. On show were maquettes, LED displays and multimedia images and at times designs were transformed into surprising concepts.

Australian Exhibit A-Mass Australian Exhibit A-Mass
photo Carlos Gomes
A-MASS, Australia

Climbing the stairs inside the exuberant Colloredo Mansfeld Palace, you gaze upon white clouds made of helium weather balloons floating on the ceiling. Images of the Australian sky (collected by the curator and designer of the Australian program, AnnaTregloan) are projected onto the balloons. Lured in, spectators are treated to a panorama of diverse works projected onto a large screen. The exhibit includes multi-media presentations, interactive sites and live events. The works have, as a common element, a participatory aspect to their performance structure: The Democratic Set (Back to Back Theatre), Resist (PVI), Yawn (Renae Shadler), Whelping Box (Branch Nebula, Clare Britton, Matt Prest), The Home Project (NORPA), The Shadow King (Malthouse Theatre), Super Critical Mass (Julian Day, Luke Jaaniste, Janet McKay).

Five Short Blasts by Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey, was originally created for the Yarra River in Melbourne. This elegant work was transferred to the Vltavu River in Prague where the makers collaborated with local Czech artists, including original interviews and text by Pavel Brycz and Tony Birch. We gathered early in the morning and boarded a rowing boat. Gliding down the river, we listened to composed sound as it blended with live music from the shore and the sounds of the waking city. This experience, with a surprise cup of tea and Anzac biscuit, was a delicious pay-off for having woken up at 5am to get a place on the journey.

M. Flynn, T. Humphrey, Five Short Blasts M. Flynn, T. Humphrey, Five Short Blasts
photo Carlos Gomes

Theatre NO99, Unified Estonia

Entering a bright vanilla and beige room, you notice political posters and a party logo draped on the wall. As we step onto the shagpile carpet of a ‘stylish’ political party office, Estonia’s Theatre NO99 greets visitors and promotes their “How to take Power?” franchise (designed and directed by Ene-Liis Semper and Tiit Ojasoo): “Power is just lying there on the ground. Pick it up and make it your own.”

In 2010, NO99 created a fictional populist political party and convinced the nation that it would run for the national elections. The 44-day campaign was ‘reality theatre’ taking various forms—live appearances, media interviews, public interventions. Media interest in the ‘party’ sky-rocketed. The final performance was a ‘party convention’ attended by 7,500 people inflamed with nationalistic fervour—this despite NO99 openly saying their convention was a theatrical performance. NO99 attracted 25% of public support for their party in polls.

Estonia Exhibit, Unified Estonia Estonia Exhibit, Unified Estonia
photo Carlos Gomes
The company had studied the techniques of political manipulation, copying the mechanisms of real politicians and applying them to their creation. At PQ, NO99 presented the results of their interventions: posters, videos and a ‘how-to’ guide to taking political power. This was clever, witty, humorous and ultimately frightening work. It is no surprise that Estonia won the Golden Triga for the best exposition—PQ’s top prize. [For excerpts of the subtitled performance see this and related links].

Post-Apocalypsis, Poland

Poland’s exhibit was the atmospheric interdisciplinary work, Post-Apocalypsis, curated by Jerzy Gurawski with a team of composers and designers. The installation consisted of several lopped tree-trunks supported by metal rods, creating a strange, decapitated forest.

Weather data was streamed into the space from locations on Earth where energy-related disasters have occurred, as in Fukushima and Chernobyl. This data was transformed into a soundscape for the installation and could be manipulated by the visitors. Also inserted into the trunks of the trees were sound devices. Pressing your forehead on these, classic Polish poetry reverberated in your skull. You were invited to reflect upon the relationship between nature, and technology—combining human and non-human elements to create a unique eco-system. Post-Apocalypsis won the PQ Gold Medal for Sound Design.

Post-Apocalypsis, Poland exhibit with Katia Molino Post-Apocalypsis, Poland exhibit with Katia Molino
photo Carlos Gomes

Between Realities, Netherlands

The Netherlands chose to locate its PQ entry, Between Realities (, in a corridor between the exhibition spaces of other countries and a toilet. This interactive publishing room shared information about public interventions that its artists and designers were instigating in Prague with selfie-spots, images of the suburbs brought into the city, white blobs filling alleyways, cardboard waste sculpting and undercover games, collective mapping using apps to track the movements of certain kinds of people. Daily ‘instant magazines’ uncovered the multi-layered realities and functions of public spaces in the city, suggesting how to participate in new realities. Printers were running hot, producing reports of findings while raising questions about the new realities of public spaces created by the artists. This was impressive teamwork involving a large number of artists—and surely well funded.

PQ 2015 Artistic Director Sodja Lotker and her curators made it possible for artists to create spaces in Prague for rich, diverse and inclusive cultural experiences while questioning the responsibility of scenography in the process. It will echo with us for a long while and deserves a visit next time.

PQ 2015, 13th Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, Prague, 18-28 June; PQAU was an initiative of the IETM-Australia Council for the Arts Collaboration Project with support from Arts Victoria.

Designer and theatre director Carlos Gomes and independent performer and designer Katia Molino are core members of Sydney’s Theatre Kantanka.

RealTime issue #128 Aug-Sept 2015 pg. 46

© Carlos Gomes & Katia Molino; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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