A film by Sophy Rickett with music by Ed Hughes
Produced in collaboration with composer Ed Hughes, Auditorium is a direct response to the architecture of the opera house at Glyndebourne, and in particular the mechanics of staging and lighting. The video uncompromisingly strips back the operatic space to its architectural and theatrical core, using simple, slow movement that transforms the interior of the building in a monumental caress of light and shadow. Ed Hughes' musical score overlays the film's formal, grid-like structures with its own elements of line and rhythm while adding further dimensions of musical space and colour.
2007/ split screen video installation with 5.1 sound/ dimensions: variable
A response to AUDITORIUM by Nicholas Till
Theatre is a place of multiple concealments: backstage from stage; orchestra from stage; audience from stage. In each of these pairs the stage may be seen as a space of relevation that at the same time implies a concealed other.
In western epistemology that which is revealed, brought to light, is assumed to be inherently truer than that which is concealed; the metaphor of knowledge as enlightenment, of seeing as understanding, is a commonplace. And in western aesthetics, from Aristotle to Heiddegger, art is also about revelation: the bringing of that which is not immediately evident to us into the light of presence.
Sophy Rickett's film Auditorium leads us through the stage, backstage and auditorium of the Glyndebourne opera house in a series of such revealings: veils lifted, light cast, dark spaces made visible. In the opening sequence, on the left-hand screen, bars of light ascend from the stage floor to the top of the proscenium to illuminate (we assume), on the right-hand screen the dome of the auditorium. At the end of the film a series of flimsy curtains are raised to expose not, as we expect, the stage, but, for the first time, the complete auditorium as seen from the stage, miraculously filled with glowing light.
And yet: surely the stage is a place of illusion and make believe; not a place of truth? Indeed, in western metaphysics theatre has often served as a metaphor for illusion and deceit; Plato's cave, in which the audience is entranced by the shadows cast on the screen and fail to recognise that they are only shadows, is a founding image for the long history of anti-theatrical prejudice. In western metaphysics (as opposed to western epistemology) that which is concealed from us is implicitly more certain than that which is visible to us; what is within is truer than what we can see on the surface. Never trust appearances, we learn. Behind the tinsel illusion of the stage lies the hard and unglamorous reality of the backstage machinery and the labouring stage hands who operate it. In the orchestra pit another form of concealed labour is at work, telling us things that the characters in the drama can neither hear nor know. In the auditorium the viewers may temporarily suspend disbelief, but, Plato notwithstanding, they are never truly deceived, and they bring the judgement of the real world to bear on what they witness.
Sophy Rickett's film turns the stage, backstage and auditorium of Glyndebourne into a play of deferred revelations that implicitly acknowledge the tensions and contradictions between those two core theatrical metaphors of truth and knowledge. At times her film is impassively formal, offering an austere image of truth as geometry. At other times it turns the functional modernist spaces of the Glyndebourne opera house into a baroque fantasy; a joyful play of illusory spaces. Near the beginning of the film she sculpts the semi-circle of the auditorium into a series of swinging curves, as flamboyant anything by Bernini or Borromini; the dome seems to float above us, its lattice-work sprung like the dancing vaults of Guarini's churches in Turin; later in the film the dense thickets of the backstage machinery confound the eye, like the tortutous webs and (literally tortuous) contraptions of Piranesi's labyrinthine Caceri.
Opera, of course, is the quintessentially baroque art form, and the metaphysics of concealment and revelation also lie at the heart of the opera. For seventeenth and eighteenth-century critics, opera was as much associated with spectacular scenography as with virtuosic singing: Purcell's ‘semi-opera' The Fairy Queen was described as a work with singing, dancing and machines ‘after the manner of an opera'. As much as anything, Sophy Rickett's film investigates those machines, the hidden technology of opera, finding in them a kind sublime drama in their own right. But she also reveals in these contraptions a model of industrial production: in some sequences the camera climbs up through the grid revealing a dense layering of industrial frames that look like photographs of the great cotton mills of the Victorian age, or the turning flails of a giant combine harvester.
Rickett's film banishes human presence from the theatre, save for a solitary fly-man, whom we glimpse twice, hauling on the ropse that raise and lower her bars of light, her curtains, and indeed her camera. It is a Wizard of Oz moment. We have been led to believe that this modern theatre is a feat of technological omnipotence. But behind even that imposing structure, us, no, not God (who is, indeed, the hidden stage-manager in the theatre of Geothe's Faust), but a fly-man. This is the mise-en-abime of theatrical metaphysics, and perhaps of all metaphysics: at the heart of the machine, after the play of deferred revelations, there is nothing more than the modest fly-man. In the end, all the film can reveal is a procession of absences: the absent drama on stage, the absent orchestra; and finally, the absent audience in the empty auditorium. Can truth or knowledge exist without a knower? One is irresistibly reminded of Foucault's brilliant analysis of Velasquez's painting Las Meninas, the masterpiece of baroque illusion, in which the play of mirrors and reflections constructs the viewer him or herself as an absence - "an essential void", as Foucault puts it. In the anit-metaphysics of both structuralism and post-structuralism there is, when we finally arrive, nothing there.
Commissioned by Photoworks