Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Institute of Memory (TIMe) (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The Institute of Memory (TIMe) continues to haunt my own memory of the performance, which marks a pretty good indication of its success artistically. I went with a friend and we barely discussed details afterwards. We jointly agreed this needed digesting.

Imagine if you will a life. Not as we imagine a life--or as we all too often imagine one. The beginnings, middles and ends (yes I know I used plurals) are there, some of them known. But answers in many ways elude. Questions remains, forming frankly more of this specific life than we like to dwell upon. What after all can we know about anyone, save what is remembered? By individuals or by recordings one way or another. Medical files. Personal letters. These days the every increasing archive in digital format we all create with each keystroke or mouse click.

This review of example.

photo courtesy of the artist
Or this blurb:  A multi-dimensional visual design sets the stage for award-winning director and media artist Lars Jan’s theatrical exploration of the blurring of short and long term memories, and how “remembering” is changing now and into the future. With two performers, high-tech 3D renderings, original music and a collage of found and composed text, TIMe traces the transformation of archives from physical to digital structures, and the corresponding evolution of national and personal remembering and privacy through the story of director Lars Jan’s father — an enigmatic Cold War operative and privacy-obsessed misanthrope.

Appropriately enough, this sounds intriguing without really saying much. Appropriate because this show really does capture and enact its central metaphor--our memories remain fluid, unclear, full of insight yet also little finality. In a way we the audience intrude. In another way our entire society intrudes (although frankly this last seems more a minor contemplation along the them rather than anything like a bullet point or nice clear clue).

photo courtesy of the artist
Ryan Masson and Annie Saunders remain on stage for the length of this production from Early Morning Opera. Along the way they become or pretend to be or give voice to a variety of different characters, many of which remain unidentified. Others seem little more than archetypes or the voice of some official documents, such as the medical staff where Henryk Ryniewicz finally ended his days. Presumably. The gentleman in question's paranoia infected me after a time. Here was a man who named his only son "Lars" because he thought it sounded simultaneously German, Russian, Scandinavian, maybe American. A gift for his (presumably) only child--a name that might help him survive World War III and the purges to come.

Paranoid? Yes. Oh, yes. But not manic. Nor, as it happens, completely unjustified. The man had seen Poland under Nazi rule. He fell under surveillance of Polish Intelligence during the Soviet Era.

He seemed like a difficult man. A sad one. With a real appreciation of little pleasures, like watching his son climb a tree. Or so was the image Masson and Saunders created with the help of multiple designers and technicians bringing to life the real Lars Henrik (note the changed spelling) Jan's writing.

photo courtesy of the artist
In the end I cannot say for certain I understand this piece. Not because it baffled me but due to how deep and complex the subject matter--a single human life, understood and explained as such can only be, via other single human lives with their own agendas. The son. The performer. The audience member. Yet a whole in its own way, one that has made itself part of my life. I am changed. Entranced and frustrated, yes. In almost equal measure. Mind and heart, language and image, Apollo and Dionysus.

The Institute of Memory (TIMe) finishes its run at the REDCAT today at 3pm.  Another run of performances are scheduled for Portland in September, then in Boston in Winter, 2016. Hopefully more dates shall follow. I cannot but hope more people will share this experience.

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