Outlet, in collaboration with the Sober and Lonely Institute (SLICA), and in association with artSPACE in Durban, presents Springville, a fifty-minute visual performance by Belgian artist Miet Warlop. The production takes the form of a video projection displaying the original performance which premiered in Buda Kortrijk, toured from Amsterdam to Zurich and shown at the Kaai Theatre in Belgium.

In Springville we are the witnesses of constant transformation in a miniature universe, where organic objects attempt to function around each other as organisms in a spontaneous world. These animated inanimates play a moving game of pandemonium, expectation and surprise. Through this process they progressively lose their familiar natures and the surroundings change into a wild landscape that unfolds into infinity. Springville is a performance where the emerging image prevails and the costumes, props and characters become interwoven and merge together.

In the metamorphosis of the Springville universe, Warlop does away with the craving for sensation, escapism, and the romanticizing of the spectacle. Through a systematic detachment from anxiety and ecstasy, the artist is able to treat catastrophe as an aesthetic in itself, turning it into a gleeful impasse that anticipates the dead end of civilization. Warlop utilizes the absurd to depict this impasse, offering viewers a respite from the spectacle through a surplus of it, precisely because it engages in issues—both in terms of content and form—with the desire for spectacles.

Warlop does not want her performance to represent the real world; hers is made apparent as fiction, detached from our everyday life. Humour is all-important in this form of representation, allowing Warlop to confront her fiction without a sense of chastisement. Nonsense is the norm, serving as a way to be politically incorrect, disarming the seriousness of bureaucratic burdens.

Exaggerated performance and a sense of engagement in recreation keeps the audience attentive of this bureaucratic-style nonsense play, where uncontrollable happenings are pivotal to the overall performance. The tension in Springville is in part created by the involvement of the audience who are ‘confined to their seats’; whilst fumbles happen, there are no curtains to hide behind and recover from. This discomfiture makes the performance raw in a naked theatre, where the risk of enticing the unplanned and wanting something to go wrong, is not disguised as improvisation but becomes part of the overall experience between the audience and the performer. Springville was also a transition for Warlop, from dealing not only with the performance, but to incorporating the entire show, as director, writer and performer.

The artist created the generic name of Springville to be synonymous with the utopian ideals of the modern urban, ‘nuclear family’ neighborhood, or the (un)comfortably familiar. In turning this ideal inside out, Warlop poeticizes the deceptiveness of catastrophe and spectacle, and how it can happen everywhere and anywhere, even without making sound. That is to say, any distinction between ethnicity, nationality, sexuality is not discriminated upon by Oblivion. So too, this manner of dead end talk does not have to result in the end of the world; it can be as subtle and perverse as one’s self pity, a breakdown, or anything maddening enough to turn ones world upside-down. By rendering the principles of silent film into the medium of theatre, Warlop is continuing the tradition of this silence and fantasy by suggesting a place that is everywhere and nowhere.

In Springville, the normally inanimate Mise-en-scène becomes animated. A cardboard house, in this case, belonging to an ‘everyman-slash-nothingman’ is the focal point of the production. As the spectacle unfolds, a series of odd characters increasingly populate the stage, interacting with each other: a set table with women’s legs in high heels, a faulty electricity box, and a two and a half meter tall set of jogging legs in Adidas tights. Progressively, each eccentric character meets its end, culminating in the cardboard house imploding.

Once all of the characters have been subjected to their own personal catastrophe, the global catastrophe is looming from all sides simultaneously. Springville brings the spectator face-to-face with total catastrophe, reminiscent of silent movies in recalling the experiments of early cinema with slapstick effects and trickery where the props, objects, movements and quiet spaces were as important as the telling of the story. Springville has these cinematic, slapstick qualities; antagonizing action against reaction in search of collision, resulting in an entertaining chase.

Warlop finds inspiration in the catastrophic, often sourcing media on natural disasters and channeling it into her work. Warlop treats her productions as cyclones, fragmenting traditional notions of theatre, disturbing the orthodox structure of a play, embracing chaos, and accommodating noise as if it were silence (the silence before the storm). The rearrangement of formal structure allows Warlop to achieve an uneasy lyricism, experimenting with a plethora of materials, objects and effects, still maintaining an almost naïve sense of simplicity, finding the baroque in the toppling of a stack of buckets and doing away with the day-today functionality of things. The characters act as automata captivating the audience with comedic frivolity as everyday mundane events are made impossible.

Springville forms a quasi-politic, not only because it cannot be sold and financially recuperated by the market, but also because it reminds the audience of the uncertainty of our lives and is capable of estranging the spectator via an aesthetic game of internal tensions. Springville is an inverted utopia, a blind multiplicity of disasters, stemming from everywhere and nowhere as a pseudo-schizophrenic representation of catastrophe, emphasizing how vulnerable, artificial and constructed society is, and undermining the self-satisfaction of the consumer who lives under the illusion that everything is endlessly renewable.

The screening of Springville will take place from 6pm to 8pm on Thursday 14 April at the Outlet Project Room in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and simultaneously at artSPACE in Durban.

Written by Bronwen Shelwell.

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