M.F.A. graduates combine history, landscape, and technology to create interactive performance art at the Brooklyn Museum.http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/new_2013news/131008_IPABrooklyn_94x84.jpg
A Journey to the Center of Psychogeography
Oct. 8, 2013
Two women dressed in white lab coats and turquoise scarves lead a group of people, identified only by a museum catalog number taped to their lapels, to a piano stuck in the trunk of a tree. The women ask the group to sing a lyric from an Elton John song before escorting them to a freight elevator where two other women, dressed in bridal gowns, encourage the group to rotate their necks, gyrate their hips, lick their lips and, eventually, recite a kind of vow, wedding them to "The Shaft"—a nod, perhaps, to the elevator shaft or maybe an allusion to the phrase's more prurient meaning. The group is then led to a ballroom, where a woman dressed in black plays the violin as another woman, in blue, ballet-dances around the perimeter of the room and disembodied male voices moan along with the music. Suddenly, three men in sundresses appear and divide the group into smaller units, leading them on separate excursions.
If this sounds like the madness of a fevered dream, that is likely intentional. It is all part of an unusual cultural experiment conducted by the Institute for Psychogeographic Adventure (IPA).
The IPA is made up of four alumni from Brooklyn College's award-winning Performance and Interactive Media Arts (PIMA) program: Andrew Goldberg '13 M.F.A., Liza Wade Green '13 M.F.A., Radoslaw Konopka '13 M.F.A., and Emily Rea '13 M.F.A. With IPA, they bring together song, dance, drama, film, and a little weirdness to transform a space into an interactive artistic experience.
"Our name signals both a serious 'scientific' intent as well as a sense of humor," they said. "We're incredibly serious about our art making, but we also seriously believe in humor as central to that vision."
Their latest venture, entitled "Experiment 23b," was unveiled at the Brooklyn Museum on September 19 and 21 and took its audience on a trip that was like a merging of Alice in Wonderland and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with ancient Egyptian artifacts, 17th century European paintings, and contemporary installation art as backdrop. The audience itself was as crucial to the experience as the performers and the venue. The IPA took "psychogeographic" surveys of and completed interviews with each participant before leading them into adventure.
Psychogeography is an avant-garde approach to exploration in which individuals are encouraged to experience their environment in a way that is both playful and unpredictable. The surveys and interviews were meant to give the IPA a sense of who the participants were so that they could customize their involvement in the adventure. So while groups of people travel on the tour together, no two participants interact with the performers or the space in precisely the same way.
"We call our projects 'experiments' because for each one we reinvent the form of the adventure," the IPA added. "This gives us a certain formality, but also the flexibility to continue to grow and change and not be locked into a particular performance format."
"Experiment 23b," for all of its spectacle and whimsy, was able to tackle difficult subject matter. At one point, audience members were invited into a classroom where instructors and students exchanged gender roles. Leaflets were handed out explaining the nature of patriarchy and its negative impact on society. A short film examining the objectification of women was shown, and performers screamed remarks at the screen, replicating the culture of street harassment that some women encounter. The audience was then left to examine their roles in the perpetuation of those practices.
This visionary approach to the arts is precisely what the PIMA program prepares students for, says Helen E. Richardson, an associate professor of theater who is also the PIMA program's newest director.
"Today, in the art world, an interdisciplinary course of study that is based on a collaborative approach is highly valued as it reflects the complex and diverse cultural needs of contemporary society," she said.
PIMA began as a certificate program in 2003 when several academic departments at the college saw a revolutionary opportunity for collaboration, and established a course of studies based on that. Now a full-fledged, two-year M.F.A. program, PIMA boasts a core curriculum that is unique not only in the United States, but also around the world, and endeavors to instruct students how to apply their know-how in the job market.
"Artists have to make a living," Richardson said. "PIMA offers students the opportunity to develop a variety of skills resulting in artists who are technologically savvy, well informed about the place of the arts in today's world, socially engaged, and conceptually sophisticated so they are able to create art for a multitude of audiences and circumstances."
Graduates enter the PIMA program and go on to find success as media designers, production managers, directors, and performers of acclaimed theatrical works, including some on Broadway. Some continue their studies in noted Ph.D. programs. The IPA is the latest in a string of successes shaped by the program.
"The IPA is a direct result of our meeting and working together at PIMA," the members of IPA offered. "The four of us came together because of our mutual attraction to creating new performance modes. All four of us were profoundly affected by the program's focus on community collaboration and engagement. This was the primary motivating force behind the formation of IPA and is something that grew directly out of our classes and creative work as part of the program."
The IPA recently took their show on the road and put together another experiment during New York City's annual PRELUDE.13 theater and performance event, which ran from October 2–4.