The Point of Pointless Effort: Simon Starling Ventures into Theater
POINTLESS EFFORT underlies the diverse, complex, and mystifying projects that have earned Simon Starling respect renown, as well as the prestigious Turner and Boss prizes. His signature projects, such as “Shedboatshed,” “Autoxylopyrocycloboros,” and “Tabernas Desert Run” all focus on effort that is physical. Each required that Starling undertake a task that was both grueling and unnecessary. These works mount an implicit critique of the contemporary cult of ‘labor-saving’ devices, from dish washers and automatic toothbrushes to backhoes and derricks.
Starling’s current project, entitled “'At Twilight: A play for two actors, three musicians, one dancer, eight masks (and a donkey costume) shifts what some might think of as POINTLESS EFFORT from physical muscles to brain muscles. Unraveling the conceptual effort he invested in orchestrating this work is required of the audience if they are to appreciate his artistic undertaking. By obviating the abundance of contemporary devices that streamline mental tasks, such as labor-saving programs and apps, the hard work of deciphering this work left to brains.
Whether he is addressing physical or mental labor, Starling offers opportunities for the sheer pleasure of exertion and the feats we humans are capable of achieving without the aid of modern technologies. But Starling always complicates this simple deduction by adding an ironic twist. In this instance, the theme of the play is summarized as "the pointlessness of waiting for a dream."
I have compiled a list the footnotes that identify some of “At Twilight’s” sources:
1. Holmwood House is a fine historic property built in 1857-8. The design of the house is similar to the grand private house where Yeats’s play was presented one hundred years ago.
2. Holmwood House is protected by The National Trust for Scotland, devoted to preserving the natural and human heritage that is significant to Scotland.
3. Cuchulain, one of the greatest warriors and heroes of Irish mythology, believed to have lived in the first century B . C .
4. William Butler Yeats, a renowned Irish poet who was fascinated by Irish folklore and the occult. Yeats applied this ancient reference to his innovative theatrical production. Starling employed it to extend his longstanding interest in the origins of Modernism.
5. Ezra Pound, a close friend of Yeats’, exposed Yeats to Japanese Noh drama, that led Yeats to write "At the Hawk's Well" in 1916, in the midst of the First World War. The setting for Starling’s play is a dried up well on a barren mountainside, guarded constantly by a hawk-woman. Its water was believed to provide immortality.
6. The performance makes use of masks made in collaboration with Yasuo Miichi and costumes made in collaboration with Kumi Sakurai and Atelier Hinode that form part of the exhibition.
. 'The backdrop of war and its devastation is represented in the exhibition by leafless trees Starling refers to as 'blast trees'.
The Hawk's Dance' was choreographed by the renowned Venzuelan choreographer, Javier de Frutos.
The dance was performed by Thomas Edwards and presented in the exhibition on film. Costumes were made by Kumi Sakurai and Atelier HInode in Tokyo.
Live music is provided by Chicago-based musician Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society. Joshua Abrams uses traditional and conventional instrumentation to create long-form intricately psychedelic environments, composed and improvised, which join the hypnotic qualities of Gnawa guimbri music.
Graham Eatough is the Scottish theater director who helped Starling stage his play.
Starling is Scottish.
Performances of "At Twilight" took place on the 26, 27 and 28 August at Holmwood House, a National Trust of Scotland property. An exhibition of 'At Twilight' will be presented in the Japan Society Gallery, New York from 14 October 2016 - 15 January 2017.