An installation by Aline Stäheli (Theatre Pedagogy, Zurich University of the Arts), Liu Shiyan (Visual Arts, Baptiste University), Qian Yuxuan (Film and Theatre, Nanjing University), Raúl Castro Estévez (Music Performance, Zurich University of the Arts).
Encounters with strangers are unexpected. We see them as random coincidences or signs of fate. We pay attention to them or let them pass by. They might leave a trace in our memory and life that changes us. They offer us the possibility to experience ourselves in an unknown way.
The work is composed as an installation that works with audio sound, masks, mirror paper, performance and mainly the people entering the installation. It’s an offer for the audience to experience themselves in a new way, an artificial surrounding. Therefore, they are free in how they handle this offer: They can fully engage and make a quite active piece out of it or they can just be in the room listening to the sound. The space offers both, an in going or an outgoing ‘journey’, following your mood of the day, and is highly dependent of the group dynamics taking place. The group participating becomes one of the core aspects of the piece. The dynamics are created and perceived by the audience in the very moment they are taking part. Thus, they also broach the issue of dependence and independence between individuals.
We’re working with the participants, masks, sounds and sometimes performance. Each experience is unique, so we experimented with different settings during the presentation: How do the participants react when there is no information or instruction at all? Does a text change it, that gives a little bit of context info before they enter? What happens, when a performer enters the space without a mask? What happens, if a performer with a mask gives some impulses to the group? Will it become clear he or she is a performer or is he/she still seen as another participant?
We were also still exploring the possibilities to work with light and the mirror paper as a material, when the presentation took place.
We want to create an experience for the visitors of our artwork, so they encounter strangers and maybe the stranger in themselves.
How do we create meaning? Why do certain memories stick with us, while others fade away with in a glimpse? How can we create connection? What happens, when we can see others but are not able to see ourselves through them and their reactions?
The inspiration of the installation are our own experiences with strangers. We were most interested in the bonds we create with strangers. Strangers can have an impact on us and our understanding of the world, they can leave a trace behind, e part of them can stay with you, energies and memories might be exchanged. Encountering a stranger can allow ourselves to see us in a different perspective, in a new one, that might be a bit more open than the way our family or friends see us, because they’ve already known us for some time. Because of that encounters with strangers might have a special quality and are very powerful. So encountering a stranger may allow us to reflect upon the bonds and ties we already have and live in: Are the bonds we once built still bonds or have they changed and became ties? Where are we restricted by the familiar? How could we become more free again?
Step 1: We discussed and worked with mind maps and notes in the beginning starting with our personal experiences. We told each other stories of encounters with strangers and realized that they were quite powerful and meaningful to us. This was the starting point for our research, we were discussing a lot how we could create an artpiece, that gives the audience an individual experience, which is as powerful as our encounters with strangers.
Step 2: Later we explored interviewing people on the street and collecting stories like this, and we thought about creating an audioinstallation with the stories.
Step 3: We looked into the material and discovered it was not really what we had hoped it would be. We realized that the encounters were meaningful to the people experiencing it, but not necessarily interesting for an audience.
Step 4: We discussed more about how to proceed with what we already got, and what the special qualities of encounters with strangers are, that we are interested to work with. Because we didn’t come to an agreement what should be done next right away, we decided to create a “Try Out” individually to also see the artistic approaches from one another. So each of us created a small “draft” and we combined the different elements to a shared idea. We decided that our piece should focus on the individual experience of each participant and give them the possibility to shape it.
Step 5: We created the masks and the sound.
First we discussed in the whole group, then we realized that we got stuck by talking too much, maybe also because of some language barriers that we couldn’t make ourselves always understood and understand the others completely. So we decided to start collecting material and then we decided to first work individually with the material to see and experience the different artistic approaches. We created small try-outs, that we could show each other and through the combination of this different ideas, elements and approaches we finally created our piece. So we collected our ideas and thoughts and created the concept together. In the end we split up the duties and responsibilities. When we got stuck, we changed our working mode, so we worked with a try-and-error-principle. Other challenges we faced working as a group were language barriers, different availabilities, different understandings of art, communication problems, problems coming to an agreement.
Result/State of Play