Being | Human

by Michael

The Prometheus Experiment

A flyer for ‘The Prometheus Experiment’ (London, 2005)

I saw two events in this series at King’s College London. Both had some stimulating elements though both were also flawed – but I like flawed work: it is interesting. These are my notes made either during or shortly after each event. The first I went to see because I have a long-standing interest in the myth of Prometheus (I wrote a play called The Prometheus Experiment in 2005 – it is my last play to date); the second because I have a long-standing interest in Utopia, by Thomas More, and would like to produce something to mark its 500th anniversary in 2016.

prometheus-empedocles fragments

Martin, a convivial host, honest about the running time (shorter than billed), inviting us to inspect the elements of the show (the ‘props’), explaining the provenance of the technologies on show – a 1960s slide projector, a cathode ray TV set, an iSurface. All from home, his home, his family’s home (his wife and son were assisting; the latter in school uniform) – a flat in the Barbican.

A performance in two parts – 7 minutes plus 23 minutes.

7min film: a nice idea. A blob of red. Some viscous clear liquid dribbled on top, pushing the red beyond its edge, spreading it out until this film caught up with the adjacent film of this same admixture being stirred with a paintbrush. That is all.

23min films: three screens now. Excerpts from a performance of Empedocles. Martin’s 1991 performance, I assume. Then a shifting pattern of white and black seeming dots but strangely organic like a fingertip maze. The second screen: seven lines appearing and disappearing, a domestic symbol, from Prometheus. The third screen – the only non-dom technology, a projector, showed titles, texts and finally a hearth fire.

Music and the sound of the street outside this room. ‘Five improvisations’, yet recorded, on playback, played (and composed) on a synthesiser of some sort. Competent but derivative.

Before and after the ‘performance’, the installation: a slide projector projecting the same domestic symbol onto a model tree trunk, with a tiny TV showing a single white line. A sugar mouse under a bell jar, the domestic symbol on the tabletop with architecturally miniature people to make it look habitable, a matchbox with a smaller version of the miniature architecture flat inside. The accompanying sound of Martin reading a text by Hölderlin but sped up via an analogue magnetic tape cassette machine.

Some interesting elements, explored quite separately, although in conjunction perhaps, though not with any discernible purpose intact (any more?).

The billing, the build-up, the welcome, the introduction all promised interesting things. I was not disappointed by these promises, although the installation and performance left them rather unfulfilled.

[To explain – everything that went before the performance was fulfilling, stimulating. The performance per se was not, but in the context of the precedings, it was sufficient.]

Utopia by design

A map of Utopia

A map of Utopia

Richard Howells, in a clerical-ish suit (minus the dog collar) prepares to lecture us in a hectoring setting – the King’s Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre. Subtitle: Creation, creativity and visual culture.

Audience of old-looking young people and young-looking old people. One old-looking old man in front of me and to the left. A piratical man in the front row. This event is being photographed. This event is being recorded. I’m flattered but please do not record or take pictures.

He is a cultural sociologist. He “pulls things together”. He fancies himself as a heretic. [He reads a lot, thinks a lot, and synthesises theses such as this one here tonight, presented simply as thesis, with no antithesis or synthesis.]

Utopia (1516) – there is hope.

The concept of utopia is present in the Garden of Eden – literary utopias often fail with respect to the practicalities of living. They are not utopia for all, often quite prescriptive/proscriptive.

There are examples of lived utopias, such as Harmony, PA, in the 18th century, but these very rarely worked long-term: the religious sensibility towards sexual abstinence often gave them a built-in obsolescence, they had rival prophets and were disposed to crank-iness. Many were ‘utopias’ anticipating the true utopia to follow in the next life – therefore not utopias per se.

The search for utopia is a work in progress, not just a destination.

ERNST BLOCH – “indispensible and impossible” utopian scholar. He said utopia was already coded in our culture. Texts that have more than the author intended (?überschluss), and often utopia. Wishful landscapes. Not limited to high art but include circuses and fairytales (“Castles in the sky par excellence”).

Vorschein: Anticipatory illumination [that which the author did not intend but is in the work].

Culture shows what is missing from life.

Aufrechter gang: Upright gait. A stature man has not yet achieved – it means to become more God-like and to control our own destiny.

Heimat: (home) A spiritual place to which the human race will return.

Stage and story as laboratory.

Navajo case study: diyogi (woven products). A beautiful rug woven from undyed sheeps’ wools – monochrome with hints of rouge, though this may have been from the slide or the projection. Mythic memory and collective memory in artworks, even diyogi.

The hardship of production implies the drive to make beautiful things (descent into an evolutionary psychological explanation of decoration).

Harmony: order, balance, aesthetic but cultural and mythological too: the creation myth.

The coyote figure as a disrupter of order. The existence of imperfection in the world requires the Navajo to make things better; make beautiful things.

The Navajo creation myth is one where order is actively created from what is in the world – the first man and the first woman are in dynamic opposition with the coyote.

What need for art? It is part of all human societies, implying it is fundamental despite “no practical value”.

Bloch: Heaven as the city of man.

Bloch: Life has been put into our hands. When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, it was an opportunity to grow up, grow out of the (e)utopia and enter the world. If there is something missing, make it – now!