American research psychologist, Harry Harlow (1905 – 1981), was the first to use the word “love” in a scientific paper, stemming from his research into maternal-separation and social isolation in rhesus monkeys. Removing infant monkeys from their mothers, Harlow raised young with “wire-mothers” and “cloth-mothers”, observing the interaction and clutching tendencies of the monkey with the soft cloth, and the reaction when this contact was removed by force.
In later experiments, Harlow placed his subjects in “isolation chambers” for periods of three, six, twelve, and 24 months, forcing the monkeys into complete social deprivation, before an attempt to re-integrate with monkeys reared normally. The deprived monkeys were highly psychotically disturbed, with only some recovering a limited amount of standard social interaction.
Harlow is, in the role of antitheses, credited in part with starting the animal ethics rights movement in the United States, and lessons learnt from his experimental protocols have lead to the stringent ethical regulations seen in scientific research today.
The Harry Harlow Project is a solo show, written and performed by James Sauders under the direction of Brian Lipson, where Harlow explains to his audience the nature of his work through a series of interviews, monologues, and presentations. Yet, perhaps because of the performance aspect of Harlow’s interaction with us, in a show that is about the terrible treatment Harlow showed to his subjects, I was left with a clinical detachment to the man. All that was taken from the show was the enormity of what he did, and while, yes, his treatment was horrible, there was a lot of good that came from his research.
While his experiments were highly unethical, they in many ways informed the way society looked at the raising of young children: he encouraged interaction, and yes, love, between parents and their children in an era where it was thought more kind to raise children with a clinical detachment of your own; and his work lead to the improved care of children raised in institutions, such as orphanages.
Video and projection work by Martyn Coutts lifts the production. From Harlow interacting with a reporter on the television set, through to large scale projections of live video: Saunders interacting with his own shadow, the small trying desperately to make a connection with the large, failing in attempts; repeated images of Saunders, like a hall of mirrors, ever disconcerting images of self. These elements are the most intriguing, creating both beguiling visuals and an intriguing commentary on Harlow and his subjects.
Harlow left science an interesting legacy to dissect and move on with and from, and the Harry Harlow Project is a fascinating piece of theatre. But I feel one which has only scratched at the surface of Harlow’s potential.
Adelaide Festival Centre and Mobile States present
The Harry Harlow Project
written and performed by James Sauders
Director Brian Lipson
Venue: Space Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 24 August 2011 - 27 August 2011
Times: Wednesday & Friday 8.30pm Thursday & Saturday 6pm
Tickets: Adult $30, Concession $26
Duration: 1 Hour