Data Ocean Theatre/Tragedy & the Goddexxes was first shown in Titanik Gallery in Turku. Within Moving in November, you bring this performative installation to a theater space. This is quite a shift. What does this mean on a conceptional level for the work?
Before answering what does it do conceptually to the work, it is important to me to answer your question by positioning the project beyond a disciplinary and antagonistic polarization between the white cube (gallery) and the black box (theater). Of course, it is impossible, and it is not even desirable, to deny our history of the conceptual and lived categorization of the contexts of the visibility of the various artistic disciplines, and the way they perform and orientate perceptions. And many spectators, perhaps less and less the youngest ones, might still perceive these given architectures, and the events displayed within, and, consequently, the displacement of a discipline-specific form from one to another, through this categorizing habit.
However, as metamorphosis is the dynamic principle of the project, and as I recently proposed the notion of ‘discipline-fluidity’ to open a space for contemporary de-disciplining hopes and needs, what interests me is both to aesthetically recognize, embed, and queer, this heritage of the modernist binarity, and at the same time, to transition the practice beyond it. Therefore, I am not interested to didactically provoke by making a theatre piece for the white cube, or vice versa, an exhibition on the stage of a theatre, but rather to invite mixed audiences to experience a work which’s DNA is fluidity and versatility, relying on a non-essentialist movement of shapeshifting through diverse architectonic conditions. To put it another way, I am interested to respond sensitively and formally to specific contexts, and let transformations and variations of a same corpus of works happen within the hosting ecosystem. May the latter be a gallery, a theatre, underwater, or online… I am aware that we are still depending on the disciplinary ecology (and economy), and I hope our discussion, and the experience of the work itself, can contribute to share infrastructural thinking and processes of ecosystemic transformation for inventing new stages-shelters-interfaces for the growing community of discipline-fluid artists and the emancipated public.
More concretely, and in line with this site-sensitive ethos, I am interested to work with Kiasma theatre stage first and foremost with and through its material qualities and see how the works can enter into a dialogue with these. As much that I was more interested, in Titanik, to install the work in a space by the river Aura. In a space that used to be public toilets divided in three rooms with a huge glass wall, with an interesting window-pattern at the front, than installing in a «visual art gallery». The height and the possibility to hang things and play with verticality, the darkness – and the specific redness – of Kiasma theater, the means to produce immersive light and sound, the possibilities to play with the distances and multiplying the experience of the work from close-up to long distance gaze on it, and the theatrical, maybe choreographic, potential generated by the random distribution of the viewers on stage and in the audience seats… are excitingly offering other material and corporeal parameters for the works to re-appear, situated. In addition to the affective tonalities and surrounding specters linked to the theatre as historicized container… Black box is the new site-specific.
Could you talk about your interest in marine mythology and sea creatures regarding this work?
The reading of an artwork through the biographical lens is not the most interesting, but it seems important to me to share here where I come from, and through which stories and legends I intimately grew up. I was born in the French (francized) Basque country, on the Atlantic coast, and from the very beginning, the ocean has been a founding and animating partner of my becoming, and consequently of my artistic becoming.
Just like the Finnish culture, the Basque culture is originally based on animist stories, and from the myriad of spirits inhabiting these founding myths, a sea creature has popped back in the project. Their name is Xixili, spirit of the ocean (itsaslamina in euskera), a merfolk with a human torso and a fishtail bottom, but with the particularity, and a difference with the other merfolk species, of having duck feet. Alongside Xixili, we indeed meet other sea and ocean creatures, like Iku-Turso, the leviathan-octopus from Finnish Kalevala, or Hanzaki, the giant salamander, from Japanese mythology. The interest for marine mythology is directly linked to the chosen field of research, i.e. the seas and oceans, in relation to the general climate crisis, and more specifically the alarming forecast of water levels rising.
Swimming with the basco-finno-japanese goddexxes shoal and masquerade, the visitors will also encounter several divine figures from Greek marine mythology. This comes from the fact that my project finds among its multiple origins the critical endeavor of «re-mythologizing» Western theatre, by giving back narrative space to other-than-Greek-alpha-cismale-gods to preside over what I call the “new tragic”. Among these Greek deities we meet Amphitrite, the queen of the seas and oceans, who is an Aeneid (a sea deity), a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and – the function for which she is famous for – the «wife of Poseidon». In the very origins of the work, Amphitrite was summoned to be the inaugural figure and protector of the Tragedy & the Goddexxes project. This choice was motivated by the fact that the goddess is almost non-existent in mythological sea-related stories, and completely neglected in classical tragedies with a marine backdrop. Unfairly overlooked figure in comparison to her famous husband, the project started from this injustice, and therefore, involved imaginary repair, and an alternative to androcentric stories. Accompanying the queen of the oceans, gather on stage other deities from Greek mythology such as the Oceanids, the Psamides, but also imaginary gender-neutral goddexxes, whose names were generated by name generators for video games online.
Talking about online matters, another reason comes from the fact that the project is looking into the phenomenon of contemporary hypertech submersion in simultaneity with the phenomenon of the rising seas and oceans levels. In the project, I relate this technological ‘drowning’ on the one hand to the metaphorical use of nautical vocabulary, like sea imagery and analogies, as a dramatic illustration of our computational realities (surf, flow, flood, explorer, navigation, storm, contamination…), and on the other hand, to the fantasies, even fears, of “technology-as-monster” narratives in which alien creatures and supranatural phenomena are often connected to the former aquatic metaphors.
Therefore, intimate oceanic feeling, remythologizing theatre endeavor and calamar-morphic submarine data-cables playfully engendered the project marine mythology, within an époque of a collective imaginary made of tentacular thinking, hydrofeminism, seapunk amongst other underwater-oriented movements.
Tragedy and the Goddexxes is the first part of the Data Ocean Theatre project, would you like to give some insights about this title you have given to this large project?
Data Ocean Theatre (DOT) is my postdoctoral project, in the continuity of my artistic research on “re-ecologizing theatre” which has materialized through and within a series of artworks that were eventually gathered in my doctoral publication titled «Reacclimating the Stage». DOT, as much as the «Reacclimating the Stage» project, is based on my urgent needs, shared with many other artists, to ecologically impact art practices – in my case, scenic – with the contemporary realities of climate change and technological hypergrowth. To embrace this challenge, I myself adopted almost now 10 years ago the strategy of reversing the duality «human stage/non-human backstage», placing the latter at the center of attention and agency, and moving the human presence to the periphery. DOT continues to experiment with this dramaturgy of the (once) backstage in the (now) leading role, with a focus on the dynamic concept and scenic imaginary of submersion, considering simultaneously the phenomenon of the rising of the seas and oceans, the exponential growth of big data and automation, and their emotional response, in relation to the marine and oceanic memory of Western theatre.
DOT is mainly about continuing to transition my practice of theatre directing, shifted into “redirecting” (myself, agencies, and attentions), and to open a scenic/theatrical language and imaginary for the audience at the crossing of the urgent challenges of our times in terms of climate crisis and algorithmic determinism, and their infrastructural impact of our ecologies of artistic practices and experiences.
Drawing on a cross-disciplinary, or discipline-fluid to use the term I introduced above, methodology, based on environmental intelligence and media hybridity, DOT seeks to contribute to changing human-inhuman political ecologies by triggering affective formations and opening senses on the heterogeneous contemporary condition. In the project, the simultaneous forces, and fragilities, of the transforming marine ecosystems meet the growing algorithmic-conditioned life and the crossbreeding of diverse art disciplines and research fields in order to make appear, flickering, fluent, and nebular scenographies, maybe seanographies, as imaginary prototypes for the relational constructions to come. Diving into the “techno-oceanic” as a dramaturgical model of inquiring, staging, forming, sensing and making senses, is an invitation to project the commons through opaque depths, radical otherness, unknowability, guided by a few mythological cyber-aquatic beasts, whose chants, shapeshifts, and wet glitches are signals to maybe enter stages of other possible worlds.