a performance lecture about a future theatre
'Fragments 2020' is a performance lecture that presents a vision of the future and specifically a vision of a future theatre.
The lecture plays with the idea of speculation. The performance appears to be directive and didactic, but it is fictional and it is presenting a fictional vision - one that cannot be obtained. The circular economy and a sustainable world are utopian notions. They are objectives that humanity must strive for but they can seem to be the search for perfection - the search for El Dorado. It will never be found. But they function as the Bradburian idea that we must always aim for a more exciting, prospective future in order to build a better world.
In this sense, the lecture is influenced by and satirises 1950s-style retrofuturism. It seeks to play with the notion of the narrator/designer/architect as both a God-like figure and a charlatan salesman.
It is an engineered future, one in which society is designed from the top down with heavy infrastructure, which influences (and controls) behaviour. The lecture presents a benevolent dictator who represents the moral dilemma that perhaps the only way for a sustainable future to be obtained is if society gives up a lot of its civil liberties granted by the free market of capitalism. Would we, as humanity, be happy to do this in service of the environment?
The 50s optimism is contrasted with fear - a fear of what the world of tomorrow could usher in. This was present in science fiction of the time period, such as 'It Came from Outer Space' and 'Godzilla'. These odd, uncanny cosmic horrors can be read as metaphors for the environment. Indeed, the modern environmental
movement has its origins in this time period.
Experimental City, Walt Disney's EPCOT and Buckminster Fuller's Spaceship Earth were projects that seemingly had a technological, and architectural approach to environmentalism but they were flawed, ambitious, utopian visions that structured society in a way that likely would not have allowed for an organic, free and equal society, despite the best of intentions. Writers such as Bookchin and Carson would later counter this masculine-centric, visionary approach design.
The lecture was performed in fragments over three sessions in January and February 2020, immediately before the outbreak of Covid-19 and the global, cosmic fear that the pandemic represented, which will shape the culture of the early 2020s. Corona virus is an example of an event that can put an abrupt stop to utopian, speculative rumination.
Part of the intention of the performance lecture is for it to remain unfinished, like Wordsworth's epic 'Prelude' that was an introduction to a grand, epic work he never completed. Similarly, 'Fragments 2020' is a vision that is never meant to come true and the serendipity of the global pandemic reinforced the idea that the Promethean aspirations of humanity are often humbled by greater forces.
The lecture was partly
performed at the Bartlett School of Architecture, as part of the 2020 Research conference. More information about the event can be found here.
It was important that the lecture was in this context as it was about what the vision of the future is describing as much as about how it was described.
The exhibition installation was in the form of a wood-frame temporary wall, stripped back of any cladding to avoid wastage, and reused wooden pallets that formed a stepped platform stage.
A monitor was rigged onto the empty wall and part of the lecture was presented in audio form. This described pages from a speculative play script. The script comprised a series of experiments that were both ecologically themed and put forth a new form of sustainable methodology. The marriage of theme and design, form and function, and page and stage are key notions expressed. The script is fictionally treated like a book of spells - one in which the incantation of the performance can give rise to a green new theatre.
The script also comprised scenographic visions of the stage and back-stage spaces. The script designed the periphery of the theatre more than the theatre itself. It is a vision that outlines the frame without showing the picture. A poem whose meaning refers to something unfulfilled - something lost in time. 'Fragments 2020' is a vision that, like Eliot's Wasteland is a positive thought lost in time.
Left hand column from top to bottom:
Walt Disney's EPCOT (source: https://d23.com/a-world-of-tomorrow-inside-walts-last-dream/);
Still from 'Hare-way to the Stars', 1958 (source: https://twitter.com/weirdlandtales/status/1097299739975077890);
Athelstan Spielhaus' drawing of the Experimental City (source: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/nov/05/minnesota-experimental-city-the-1960s-town-based-on-a-comic-strip);
Matt painting from 'Forbidden Planet' (source: http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com/2011/03/forbidden-planet-shakespeare-in-space.html);
Buckminster Fuller's Geodesic Dome (source: https://suzannelovellinc.com/blog/buckminster-fullers-geodesic-domes-contemporary-twist/)
Right hand column:
Photographs from Fragments presentation, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL 2020. Photo credit: S. Read; Drawings of Speculative back-stage space by Hamish Muir