A play staged in the aisle of a supermarket, opera singers playing the role of TV-drama characters, and unaware Tesco customers becoming active part of the performance: this is what happens in one of the nine episode of a project produced by Welsh National Opera, Nine Stories High, that I recently had the chance to follow online.
To read the blog of Ben Gwalchmai, one of the writers involved in this project and to watch the episodes, click here: http://bengwalchmai.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/9-stories-high-episode-5/
In this experimental show, references to high literature cleverly blended with everyday language create a humorous postmodern mix that I find related to one of my latest works, Living for Less.
This is the first piece of an ongoing series of altered books that reflects on the relation between high and low culture, and the paradox derived from this encounter.
If you live in UK and you need a table lamp, a moustache trimmer, or a decorated toilet brush on a little budget, then there is only one place to go: Argos.
Not to confuse with the powerful rival of Sparte for dominance over Peloponnese, although there is definitely some rivalry between this major multy-channel retailer and the most infamous swedish one.
In order to be well spread in the territory with smaller branches, Argos uses most of the available space for storage only. There isn’t any display area: the customers can’t see, touch or smell the items they are purchasing. They need to consult a catalogue, packed with a wide range of objects, to submit the serial number of what they need, and to pay. After few minutes a box will appear from the back room, the customer will be called and the contact between the item and its new owner will finally happen.
I always find this ritual very powerful, a sort of pagan religion based on trust – trust in the quality of the thing purchased, or at least in the 7-days-return policy. In my metaphore, the catalogue becomes a sacred book, the cheap version of a bible, full of information that ask to be believed.
Out of a pile of free catalogues I picked one, aware that my intervention would apply value to that copy only, out of the hundreds given away for free every day.
I chose to work with an image (Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni) that would be strongly iconic for its cultural value and symbolic or religious meaning, , and I printed it on the pages, at regular intervals, allowing the image to interact with the pre-existing content, in order to create a ironic tension between the two elements.
The Holy Family surrounded by toilet seats, Saint Joseph’s head replaced by a watering can, Holy Mary pierced by cheap gold chains or the Baby used as a basketball by his careful parents are surreal and slightly heretical images.
The elements of chance and surprise had an important role in this phase of the creative process: it was with a childish and naïve enjoyment that I welcomed every result and waited to see the succeeding combination.
I then started shaping the book: I carefully cut into the volume of the catalogue a sequence of concentric circles, revealing millimetrical parts of the inserted image.
If observing the finished book from a frontal point of view, the viewer’s brain perceives the fragments as a whole and the silhouette of the Holy Family magically appears; the three elements of the idealized family and the people photographed in the catalogue lock eyes with each other creating a surreal dialogue.