It will be silence – May 2019

Time lapse from the opening night of the installation. Video: Sophie Barth/Nina Krogh

First presented at Vega Scene during Oslo teatersenter’s annual youth festival Rampelysfestivalen, May 2019.
Nina Krogh and Sophie Barth presented the interactive installation “It will be silence” and a performance by Sophie. The project is inspired by Beckett’s work “The Unnamable”, and explores the notion of silence in its different forms.  The installation at Vega scene explored the silence encountered in a crowded environment.

We see silence as a central theme in all of Beckett’s works, and during the project period we will continue to develop the concept by experimenting with different ways of approaching silence.
For our first edition of “It will be silence”, we invited the audience to sit on a comfortable armchair, accompanied by a teak table, a red woolen cover, a floor lamp and some glasses of water. When sitting down the person will be able to read instructions on the table saying the following:  

Instructions:

  • Sit down, lean back and put on the hearing protection. You are observing what is happening around you.
  • What are you noticing? Try to look for details that you would normally overlook.
  • Listen to your own breath. Relax and take a break from all the sounds.
  • Sit as long as you wish.
  • Before you leave you can write down a few words about what you experienced.

Thank you for taking the time to be a part of this installation.

The installation was placed in the middle of the foyer facing the stairs to the main entrance. Here you could get a good overview of the whole space except the café area. You could see people entering and exiting, looking or moving down into the seating area where the installation was located. It was placed in the centre of action, yet at a distance.

Photo: Nina Krogh

People would look at it and consider whether it was an actual installation or just part of Vega scene’s interior. This is the key aspect of our installation: it fits in seamlessly but it also stands out. People would walk past, some would sit down and take it the whole experience whilst others took on the headphones expecting to hear something. When these people realised that no sound was playing, they lost interest. The others who understood the concept of silence, enjoyed it and took in all the instructions. Whilst this was going on, there were two other artists working in the same space, one singing and playing with a looping machine and another projecting digital drawings in large format on the wall . We had talked together in advance, considering different ways of coexisting in the space. There was no certainty that this was going to work well together as different expressions. However, both of our groups had a site-specific approach and a sensitivity to the shared space which created a unique dialogue. From an outside eye, one would perhaps think that this was planned in advance and that we were presenting the works together. This is a good example of a beautiful encounter that can happen when we change the speed and listen to each other – out of necessity, out of curiosity and out of acknowledging each other’s presence.

We were left with a set of feedbacks written down in a notebook that will be very useful for the further research work on silence.  Here are a few extracts (translated from Norwegian):

“I sat 30 minutes with the hearing protection: they did not block all sound. When I closed my eyes the sound got distant – just like one can experience during the process of falling asleep – thus not entirely gone. The result was that I got sleepy.”

“Wish that I sat with the hearing protection longer! The silence is fantastic.”

“It justifies the opportunity to “take in” in a socially accepted way. I look at things that I wouldn’t normally see – breathing more deeply – and don’t care about the other people in the room. Can we have cafés that offer this? Love the concept.”

“Who is staging? Who is being staged? I see my virtual images from the chair. I see my real images from the chair. The potential of the room layer by layer – all in rhythm with my own breath. Thank you.”


The performance work

Working with the installation in a performative context brought another way of perceiving it, and the body-object awareness was intensified. Everything is tactile and close, as if working with objects as an extension of yourself. The playfulness is opening up new paths, unidentified in advance but which are emerging as result of the play.

Sophie used feathers to work on silence, as this had been mentioned in our Beckett Hub in April that “hearing a feather drop must be the ultimate silence” (Kjetil). This was an assumption that had to be tried out in theory and in an environment where the performer could get close to the audience. This idea was born out of something else that was discussed in the hub, which was that “silence is something that you experience collectively” (Ermioni). Hence, there were two theories that were the main focus during Sophie’s performance.

She moved with the dust, found corners in each room, and blew on the feathers to make them move across floors and furniture. She would let them fall and listen closely when they fell. When performing this she met an audience who was curious and looking at the feathers as something familiar. Only when she listened closely to the feathers would they understand that it perhaps had to do with silence. Otherwise, as she was dressed in a white puffy dress, she heard an audience member comment that “look, there goes an angel”. She continued back into the space where the installation was located, and everything shifted: she had to move with Katarina Caspersen’s live drawing projections and Sondre Mæland’s music. Katarina had cleared in advance a possibility of interacting with her work, and thus initiating a second layer in the performance. The feathers met the drawings on the wall, and shifted into different images where the shadow of the hand moving into the pictures started its own interaction. The hand became complicit in the drawing, almost steering the motions in the pencil strokes and colours. Then the hand removed itself and retrieved back to its original purpose moving the feather in the performance. The body was drawn back to the start: the installation.

The chair and the lamp now seemed like “home”, and suddenly the notion of the domestic in a public space was implemented. Sophie changed her movement work and started exploring a character that would sit glued to the chair – out of necessity or something else. Unclear. Here she explored movements that she had researched while reading “Come and Go” by Beckett. The performance ended with her putting on the hearing protection, blocking out Sondre’s music and just looking at Katarina’s projected drawings on the wall.

Performance documentation: Nina Krogh. Edit: Sophie Barth