Left - Mar Bucknell. Cover - Allan Boyd
The media promotion for The History of Glass begins with: ‘One day a whole lot of people wake to find they've been imprisoned in a huge cube of yellow glass. How did they get there? Who has imprisoned them? Why? And why them?’ I suppose because these questions were raised I presumed that they’d be answered during the show. They weren’t. Perhaps this is just a lesson for me – that one must never presume, especially when one is dealing with the subjectiveness of art. That said, The History of Glass is an intriguing piece of installation art. The idea of it is brilliant, in fact; it’s just the execution that leaves a little to be desired.
The piece is set up in one of the smaller, square rehearsal rooms downstairs at the Blue Room. It’s a good venue for a show about people stuck in a cube, and sitting on the floor on cushions was doable for that amount of time (an hour). The show is hinged on a cycle of eighty short prose poems, written and performed by Mar Bucknell, accompanied by soundscapes by Allan Boyd and live drawing by Stuart Reid. This concept of performance poetry married with live drawing is utterly wonderful. The artist, Stuart Reid, sits at the back of the room with a graphics tablet (allowing him to draw with a digital pen instead of a mouse) and the drawing is projected in real time on a large screen in front of the audience. Projected onto the adjacent wall are block colours (mostly yellow) and primary shapes.
So, the idea is terrific, but that’s where the intrigue stopped for me. The entire piece is very abstract and repetitive and needs a stronger performance from Bucknell to overcome the monotony of it. Considering that the text comprises of fragments taken from songs and adaptations from various texts and quotes, along with the 80 original short poems, Bucknell manages to create a reasonably coherent flow of ideas through the show. His performance, however, lets the text down, which is a shame. Perhaps the monotone is intended, but if so, I missed the point of it.
The show is about a group of people trapped in a yellow glass cube. They can’t remember how they got there, who they are, or why suddenly people seem to be disappearing. They’re not sure how big the cube is, they are somehow never able to measure it. The text dips and swings, but ultimately seems to be a simple metaphor about the alienation and globalization of modern society and an age-old beckoning of a source of light and solace deeper than ourselves. It’s peppered with repetition and paradox: The glass contains us but we cannot mark it. We are here and we are not here. Ultimately, the people escape the glass cube as if it never was. We looked sideways and stepped through the glass and we stepped into the light. We will find ourselves. We will be.
The live art is abstract indeed. And the performance itself – with the audience stuck in a cubed space – is a metaphor for the piece and vice versa. It’s interesting to watch it take shape in front of you over the duration of the show, but the artistic techniques themselves are rather repetitious and monotonous – lots of loops and circles. I suppose I was expecting an exotic (but on some level, conventional) landscape or cube of some description to be revealed, à la Mr. Squiggle style, at the end. The art, however, remained abstract, and I was left feeling none the wiser about those initial questions of how, why and who of the yellow glass cube. I realise that art doesn’t have to provide answers to its own questions, but I really wasn’t moved on any level by anything presented to me across the entire hour.
Allan Boyd’s ‘soundscape’, with its broken, apocalyptic noises and the discordant and oddly timed live electric guitar was distracting and at times left Bucknell inaudible under its volume. I assumed that the disjointed nature of the sound was intentional, while my partner did not, so one could safely assume from this that at least half of the audience thought there was a significant problem with the sound on opening night. While The History of Glass will not appeal to everybody, it does offer a very different experience and has at its core a wonderful, innovative idea.
The History of Glass
Venue: The Blue Room, Kaos Room
Dates: 29 October - 8 November
Times: 7:15pm Wednesday - Saturday
Tickets: $20/ $10 conc. Blue Room Members: $18 / $8 conc.