How Heavy Are My Thoughts

Pirrko Husemann

What struck me when I saw How heavy are my thoughts (HHAMT) was this casual remark about artistic projects in which theatre meets science, and science meets theatre. Although it is expressed with an ironical tone, this sentence summarizes perfectly what the lecture-performance is about.
On first view HHAMT is a lecture given by the performer Bill Aitchison and a report on a series of experiments carried out by the absent protagonist Ivana Müller. The performance itself is not too spectacular. Bill sits on a chair at a table in front of a projection screen. He reads his text from a script and throws the sheets on the floor after he has finished each page. Whenever necessary he presents video documents from his laptop on the screen. Sometimes he gets up to point out certain details or to demonstrate something. In the videos the audience can follow a seemingly endless variety of attempts to answer the question “If my thoughts are heavier than usual, is my head heavier than usual too?” In a series of more or less amateur self-conducted experiments with some additional group experiments and with the help of interviews with thought-specialists namely a psychiatrist, a philosopher and a physicist, I.M. tries to explore the causality between the quality and the location of thinking processes. So obviously, HHAMT is a theatre performance about scientific experiments, but on second view it becomes clear that this scene (the performance) and this scenario (the story) are also a matrix for another kind of coincidence.
In the last couple of years many young directors and choreographers have chosen to present lecture-performances in the multiple sense of the word: spoken or written texts that are to be listened to or to be read by an audience. This almost inflationary accumulation of lecture-performances coincides with a growing tendency of self-reflexivity in the performing arts. Inspired and activated by a scepticism of the market’s dominant commercially-oriented forms of production and presentation, more and more performing artists have set themselves in search of other ways of working, striving for a way to (re)discover new or forgotten concepts of staging and perception, and aiming to use these forms as part of a critical practice. These self-reflective forms of artistic practice question the doings of one’s own form and the conditions of these doings, conditions in this case meaning the predominant ways of producing and receiving. One effect of the more progressively visible internal reflection upon the artistic process is an exhibition or a presentation of one’s own work. Today, the process of work stands more and more at the centre of the work’s interest, in place of its result. The work, which is normally confined to the studio, becomes staged as presentation (and not as rehearsal or work-in-progress), ultimately exhibiting the process of the work through the process of presentation. In relation to this, the lecture-performance is an interesting format, which connects theatre practice and theory, performance and discourse in a very convincing way. It is compatible with both, theatre and science and offers the opportunity to reflect on artistic working processes, which usually have their place off-stage, by making them a subject on stage.
If we reframe HHAMT in this context it turns from a report on an experiment about thinking processes into the presentation of a working process as a performance product. What appears on stage is the absent presence of work in the form of discourse. The working process seems to have happened before the performance started, but it is still very present in the video documents. I.M’s mediated presence on the screen even dominates Bill’s real-time performance. After a while our attention is drawn away from the lecture and is absorbed by the experiments presented onscreen. We become sucked in by the development of I.M’s more or less successful research, which reminds us of the fact, that a performance is first of all, a product of circumstances and that the conditions of work are part of the artistic product, including all its obstacles, inherent paradoxes, and perhaps even its failure. In the end we are left with the impression that it is not only the thinking process, but also the working process, which is invisible, ungraspable and unexplainable and that’s why it is so interesting to make it a performance.

published in Volume, 20004