Site-specific performance at Grand Hotel Terminus, Bergen
Part of Performance Art Bergen’s PAB Open 2019: https://www.performanceartbergen.no/nb/program-overview/pab-open-19/
Performance, idea and concept: Sophie Barth
Recording La Vie En Rose: Nina Krogh (/The French Connection)
Picture this. A woman in a hotel room. A tape recorder. Her surroundings wrapped in plastic. A veil. What of it? Who is she?
Rrose Sélavy. Marcel Duchamp. Marchand de Sel. Sugar cubes. Sugar overpowering her. Repetitive actions. Thinking of Krapp, must not think of him. His tape recorder. Her boxed thing – barely any good. She bears false witness to her own stories. What more can she do?
A hotel room could be anywhere, yet it is here. La Vie En Rose by Joan Mitchell. A painting of void and clutters. Small humans crammed side by side. White painting for recovery. White painting to erase herself when needed. No more stories now. Enough. Yet she keeps on going. What for?
In the end. In the end she listenes to a voice singing to her. A clownish face has emerged. Her own nature revealing itself to her. It is not as expected. All memories are false. A testemony of other lives, not her own. Nothing really belongs to her. Sweet public enemy.
Finding her way in a landscape of furniture. Another fantasy. Discovering things she shouldn’t be tempted by. Impulses luring her to speak with another mind. A maze. Irrationality cloacked as rationality. Words. She has to think, pause again, record.
What did Beckett think of when he wrote Krapp’s Last Tape? This was my initial idea coming into the performance. I had for several months been trying to figure out my personal approach, and it was a very slow process.
I wrote notes on the train on my way back to Oslo. The long beautiful train ride from Bergen is a special movement in time, and thus this shift impacted me as part of the experience of doing the performance. I place myself in the middle of the action when reflecting on the performance as “she”, being both me and my character. I especially think of her tape recorder reminding me of my childhood. The tactility and the slowness of the tape appeals to her – it is not because of nostalgia but rather a way to properly sense the words. Here she feels able to distinguish memories from fantasies. To what end does it really help to tell all of these memories? Maybe someone will listen to the tapes later and remember her. Somehow “you” will listen to them. A possibility that she holds on to – the existential act of waiting that Beckett was describing.
Distant memories come and make their imprint on her everyday actions. Does she even like bananas, or what about the blueberry jam? She listens to a song that wakes up her body before it paralyses her.
I make a chronological rendering of the process, but I would rather stay in her musings. I’m talking to my rational self again.
I entered Hotel Terminus friday evening, a day before the first festival day. The hotel is situated just next to the train station so it’s easy to get to. We (me and my friend and assistant who joined me) checked in and analysed the premises of the corridors, the room itself, the furniture of the room, all possible angles. We took in the welcoming atmosphere, enhanced by the whiskey bay “Bar Amundsen”, and the dining room with a chess pattern floor.
We discussed in detail how we should adjust the room to my needs and found very quickly that we didn’t have to make any major changes. The room was in every way ideal to my concept, and this was perhaps a small strike of luck. The narrative could just “move in” to the room.
It was a liminal sort of sensation waking up in the room where you were going to perform a few hours later. It felt as all had merged into one single entity. Was I going to be me performing or could I transform into another character? It felt as though I didn’t know anymore, and reality and fiction was side by side – swapping places, childlike. I was becoming my performance. After the breakfast we worked on placing the objects in the room, using mainly the table placed in front of the television: A picture of “La Vie en Rose” by Joan Mitchell, a pocket watch, a tape recorder, a banana, a jar of blueberry jam, a casette with a recording of Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose”, an empty casette for recording, a notebook, a pen, sugar cubes, white paint, paint brushes and a mirror. The floor was covered in plastic for practical purposes but transformed into an important part of the visual scenography.
After lunch we took part as an audience in the opening ceremony where Gitte Sætre and Franz Jacobi presented their speaking dead tree that was very existential in reflecting upon why it wasn’t left alone even after it had dried up and left in a graveyard of trees. The voice narrating resonated in the whole room, and it had a sense of shyness even though it also was bold at the same time. A comedy of un-objects, of nature. After the introductions to the festival and the performance, we proceeded into the corridors on the 5th floor where many performances had already started. Almost of all of the long durational performances had open doors, and we could wander freely between different worlds. Some were noisy, some were quiet, light or dark. A complete open environment where different expressions could flourish. A symbiosis of sounds, colours, voices, paper, earth, images travelling between rooms. All of these 39 rooms had intensely present connections even though it was difficult to place what was really happening.
My performance was in the last bolk who had set duration. Whilst walking up and down the corridors myself I had observed that the audience didn’t usually stay longer than a couple of minutes in each room – browsing, or perhaps returning to observe a performance once more. I had a linear narrative, and in many ways it was planned so that the audience could stay for the entire duration (40 min). In the beginning many people stood in the doorway looking, and most stayed a couple of minutes after being led in by my friend. Some stayed for ten minutes, but one single person stayed for the entire duration. In the end I opened the door fully and the audience could peak into a dark room with a painted woman sitting on her chair playing La Vie en Rose on a casette player. Then the door closed. Right after the performance I talked to my friend about the whole experience, and especially about the fact that the audience who arrived mid-way would get a different performance as the moment of entry would determine their experience. It hence turned into a performance within a performance. It had the possibility of transforming along the way. I was intrigued by this, and decided that I would leave the door open the next day in order to invite passers-by to catch a glimpse of what was going on in the room.
Photos: Bjarte Bjørkum
The second day of performance there were fewer people walking around in the corridors than the day before, and thus I was unsure of how I would be able to get people to stay in the room. I wrote a note that I attached on my door stating that people could stay for the whole performance. Something felt different on day two, and it was almost as if I could feel a sudden pressure outside the room. My feeling proved to be right and a whole group of people had been standing outside anticipating the opening of the door. My friend ushered in as many as she could inside the room where there was any free space, and this time around people stayed for much longer. A group of around four people stayed for the entire performance. Something in me changed too whilst realising that I could “keep them” longer, and my energy amplified. I lost part of my structure and improvised more, explored and played. It created a power in the room which I could hold on to, and the audience kept on coming into the room. Some had to turn in the door because of lack of space. At the end of the performance I went out into the corridor and let more people peak into my private sphere. They could cast a last glimpse before I would close the door for good this time, and “she” would leave the hotel – purged by her stories, her breakdown, falling, then standing up.