Chapter Five: The Alchemical Chimera
Within this chapter the focus turns to applying the alchemical framework to the phenomenon of 'The Digital Double'. It is my objective to determine that this stage craft encapsulates the Artaudian ethos through the alchemical foundation I have engineered. I shall provide a commentary and additional thoughts regarding this taxonomy, elaborating that 'The Digital Double' (within my practice) allows for an entheogenic quality within performance 32. This taxonomy shall be applied and discussed alongside the performance of ‘A Shadow of Grace’ (2017) and Rosetta (2017-2018); we shall examine how 'The Digital Double' in this instance is an embodiment of various alchemical principles and a-priori, encapsulates the stage language of Artaud. Central to this discussion shall be the exploration of its destructive and creative potentials within performance, akin to the Negrido and Albedo process of the alchemical method and respectively ‘Plague’ and ‘Cruelty’ within the Artaudian methodology.
I shall explore my particular deployment of 'The Digital Double' through reference to The Aesthetics of Digital Interaction (Kwastek, 2005); this shall help quantify the particular deployment of 'The Digital Double'. My particular staging of this effect is that of the Kwastek’s ‘Vicarious Interaction’. Ultimately this particular staging of digital interaction engenders a state of mastery permissible between performer and digital system which is not achievable through a singular encounter of audience and interactive systems. I propose that this state of mastery is more in keeping with the strictness insisted upon Artaud’s stage language. By applying and understanding a correlation between the alchemical process and this particular scenic language I shall determine that 'The Digital Double' is an emblem of Artaudian scenography. I justify this through an evaluation utilising Dixon’s taxonomy (2007); the theories of Robert Edmond Jones (1940), as well as the Jungian concept of The Shadow (1968), to determine the Artaudian nature of 'The Digital Double'. This shall be discussed with reference to the perspective of technologist and performer.
Mastery of the System And Vicarious Interaction
Kwastek (2015) in Aesthetics of Digital Interaction discusses the different models of interaction, with a primary focus upon instillation based performance. He explores how the role of interaction between the system shifts between performer, and audience.
“Knowledge doesn’t arise through successful comprehension of sign systems designed to be interpreted in a specific way, but through the interplay between transformative experience and its reflection. In interactive art, too, the recipients activity socialites between physical experience and cognitive interpretation.” (Kwastek, 2015 ,88)
Within this statement Kwastek summarises the importance of the interactive process as a means of practically investigating the relationships between gesture, reaction, and reflection of the process. The dynamic of this form of performance is built upon both experience and analysis. Within this line of thought Kwastek is regarding the audience’s personal experience of an interactive system; rather than the viewing of a performer within an interactive system, which he defines as ‘Vicarious Interaction’. Kwastek defines this as “a cognitive comprehension of others actions” (Kwastek, 2015, 95) During the ‘Vicarious Interaction’, the audience view the drama in which a rehearsed performance takes place inside of an interactive system. The audience are not directly subject to the transformative experience but arguably are able to view the interactive process with the greatest level of clarity and detail (due to being able to see both performer and interactive system).
This is a curious point of discussion and asks the question of the subject of the transformative experience. The ‘Vicarious Interaction’ places the performer within its centre, and the audience as observers of the alchemical process. However, as ‘Vicarious Interaction’ is a “cognitive comprehension of others actions”, then the performers responses are directly experienced and so do not follow the ‘Vicarious Interactive’ model.
Within this study, the focus lies upon the experience of the performer and of the technologist. This then confers the interaction of the performer as being directly experienced; the understanding of the audience then is rendered as ‘Vicarious Interaction’. Ultimately through exploring interaction with a trained performer, a degree of mastery is enabled through the careful choreography of movements within a system; this is simply not achievable when an audience member enters the interactive system for the first time. This alters the interactive process from a state of play to that of intentional design.
“If mastery could be achieved.... the ontological status of the work would change, for the recipients perception would be focused not on the experimental exploration but on achieving a certain result. The work would become an instrument for audiovisual performance.” (Kwastek, 2015, 233)
First encounters within an interactive system are exciting, engaging, and playful, but not refined. The performer has knowledge of how to push the system to the most aesthetically intense aspects. While the participants are able to learn and experience directly, they are simply ignorant as to the possibility of what the system is capable of. However, if performers are able to understand the interactive experience through the repeated experimentation they may learn and adapt alongside the system in order to engineer “an instrument of audiovisual performance”.
From the alchemical perspective I must consider the intentionality of the Alchemist; the Alchemist is attempting a deliberate transformation, a devised and carefully planned process. This is not to say that there is no alchemical value within the audience as primary subjects of the interactive system, but within the confines of this theatrical model the Conjuncito and Solutio of theatrical elements are a deliberate and carefully planned process. I believe that a degree of mastery and intentional design is central to the Artaudian stage language. As Jamieson writes on the subject of Artaud’s choreography it would “... be made up of smaller, tightly- directed components, merely creating the effect of anarchy.” (Jamieson 2007. 22)
Through Kwastek's definition I have been able to place the model of practical exploration within the realms of mastery of an interactive system. This specific instance of interactive performance has alchemical merit and through it an “audio visual instrument” is created. My attention now turns to framing such a process within the alchemical model.
The Digital Double within A Shadow of Grace
The applied alchemical taxonomy of 'The Digital Double' within this performance harkens to 33 Dixon’s remarks that 'The Digital Double' is elusive, and evades direct classification. As the classification of ‘Digital Double’ is multi facetted, so to is its placement within the alchemical model. Different aspects of 'The Digital Double' engage with multiple phases of the alchemical method, and to an extent alter the ordering of the four/five phase alchemical method outlined within the third chapter. The process of Conjunctio and Solutio are marked by the preparatory steps taken by ‘The Producer’ in order to select and deploy the technology used to generate this theatrical Alchemy. Within this case study we shall focus upon the alchemical principle of Quintessence alongside Negrido, Citrinitus and Albedo.
Within A Shadow of Grace (2017) the entire performance was continually lit by 'The Digital Double' as a source of ‘Spiritual Emanation’. From my perspective as Artaudian ‘Producer’ this invoked an entheogenic quality towards the performance; that is to say, a revelation of a metaphysical light within the body. The reader may recall Dixon’s classification of 'The Digital Double' as ‘Spiritual Emanation’, as being a visualisation of a clairvoyant light. The key alchemical notion explored utilising this ‘Spiritual Emanation’ is that of Quintessence. This ‘vital principle’ is the associated connection one must have in order to practice Alchemy. Without first discovering this ‘divine spark’ the transformation of material (and self) cannot take place. Within performance this Quintessence or ‘Spiritual Emanation’ is the starting point of the alchemical transformation. Upon a practical level, this formed the foundation of my practice, a body illuminated by the mediated form of its self, or, a ‘Spiritual Emanation’. As Wolstenholme enters the stage in utter darkness, only her ‘Spiritual Emanation’ is present.
“...'The Digital Double' is like a subconscious figure, following my movements around the stage. Personally, my relationship with 'The Digital Double' in this performance was a powerful one. I felt that I was finding myself within the digital double and that we were in a partnership together when dancing.” (Wolstenholme 2017)
This interaction serves two purposes; the audience are permitted an understanding of the interactive process which is central to the performance. Wolstenholme’s body is a vehicle of light and is interwoven within the technical system. Secondly, this interaction instals the thematic idea that neither the technical system, nor Wolstenholme, can exist separately.
Examining this from an alchemical perspective, we are presenting two reactive agents together; the initial dissolution is not possible with only one agent, and so both must be placed together in order to begin The Great Work. The idea of simultaneous presence of performer and mediated self forms an active embodiment of the theories of Robert Edmond Jones (1941). Jone’s believed that through the combination of film and performance that both subjective inner and objective outer worlds would be revealed, resulting in a total image. “In the simultaneous use of the living actor and the talking picture in the theatre there in lies a wholly new theatrical art, whose possibilities are as infinite as those of speech itself.” (Jones, 1941, 15-16) Jone’s theories form some of the earliest approximations of multi media theatre of the 20th century (McKinney and Butterworth, 2009, 53). This revelation of the inner and outer world reconciled within one image appears as a true engagement of the Artaudian ethos, using scenic elements to activate a metaphysical quality within performance.
While one of the simplest of technical phenomena involving 'The Digital Double', this basic technique of illumination engages with the most fundamental of alchemical principles. This ‘Spiritual Emanation’ is an entheogenic light, which forms the Quintessence of the alchemical method.
Putrefaction/The Shadow/ Plague/ The Distorted Double
Continuing the exploration of 'The Digital Double' as an alchemical analogue; the next stage of The Great Work is the Negrido. Wolstenholme’s digital body alternates between a displaced cellular pattern and her ‘pure’ ‘Spiritual Emanation’. In this we enact the first destructive stage of the alchemical process, the dissolution of form. If we were to define this within the taxonomy of Dixon, 'The Digital Double' has entered the realm of ‘Manipulable Mannequin’. Dixon notes;
“The Manipulable Mannequin, the most common of all computer doubles, plays a myriad dramatic roles, as a conceptual template, as a replacement body, and as the body of a synthetic being” (Dixon, 269, 2007).
The definition is flexible, however entails that the body or form present alongside performer is not bound to aesthetic similarity and can act as a “conceptual template”. The key aspect of duality between performer and digital double is present within kinetic quality rather than aesthetic similarity. Referring to the alchemical method, creation is only permissible with the destruction of the original, the blackening, or Negrido of the base form. Within her model of Artaud’s alchemical theatre Demaitre notes: “Violence and death were to precede purification and resurrection; perfection was not to be attained without suffering”(Demaitre, 1972, 244). I perceive this distortion and displacement of 'The Digital Double' as an embodiment of this alchemical principle. My understanding of the interaction deepens, as we are aware that the form of Wolstenholme’s ‘Digital Double’ can change. This idea is central to the alchemical ethos of all matter being transmutable. Wolstenholme remains as the only anchor to the visuals humanity. In recognising the abstraction of Wolstenholme’s ‘Digital Double’, I understand that the human form has within it a hidden darkness.
This phase of the alchemical process encapsulates the Artaudian notion of ‘Cruelty’; this ‘Cruelty’ is revelation of a truth which we (Western culture) would rather not face. As Artaud wrote within No More Masterpieces; “We are not free and the sky can still fall on our heads”. (Artaud, 1970, 57). To help illustrate the similarities that tie this thematic deployment of 'The Digital Double' to Artaud’s ‘Cruelty’, I shall consider Jung and the facing of ‘The Shadow’. ‘The Shadow’ represents the aspects of the unconscious mind which we have chosen to repress or would rather not face.
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognising the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.” (Jung, 1968, para 14)
Jung believed that in order for the process of ‘Individuation’ to take place, that one would first have to face their ‘Shadow’. Jung proposed a psychological Alchemy to transform the mind of the individual into alchemical gold. Within this model, the alchemical gold is represented by the completion of the ‘Individuation’ process. (Hamilton 1985) A necessary part of that process however was an alchemical putrefaction, a destruction of the inhibitions holding back ‘The Shadow’ in order for it to be made visible. “This act is the essential condition for any kind of self knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule meets with considerable resistance.” (Jung, 1968, para 14) Once made visible, ‘The Shadow’ can be confronted, allowing for the individual to move forwards within their personal alchemical journey. 'The Digital Double' serves in the position of ‘The Shadow’, in the revelation of the repressed, hidden beast inside of us all. The revelation of ‘The Shadow’ in this instance is an analogue towards the principle of Artaudian ‘Cruelty’ in bringing forth of the darker side of our humanity. This ‘Cruelty’ lies not in bloodshed or torture but within the necessary whole truth of our being.
A similar analogue can be found within Artaud's theatrical metaphor of ‘The Plague’. Artaud’s essay on ‘Plague’ suggests that his ‘Plague’ is a psychic entity which causes a material and mental destruction culminating in the truest of theatrical experiences; that is the lowering of all inhibitions and subversion of Western culture. While societal cataclysm appears to be an extreme example of achieving a ‘true’ theatrical experience, Artaud’s reasoning behind this is rooted within the alchemical stage of putrefaction.
“But if a major scourge is needed to make this frenzied pointlessness appear and if that scourge is called the plague, we might perhaps attempt to determine the value of this pointlessness in relation to our whole personality”. (Artaud, 1970, 16)
It is clear that ‘The Plague’; acts as an outlet for the infection of Western culture, the physical transformation of the body, or the putrefaction of the material, allowing for the release of the hidden and chaotic values which would revive society from its path of stagnation. “The disease running through their whole anatomy, is discharged in mental outbursts.” (Artaud 1970, 15). ‘The Plague’ is but a destructive analogy of Artaud’s ‘Cruelty’, developed to insight change in societal values through the revelation of the bestial nature of humanity. Artaud bestows a sentient intelligence upon his ‘Plague’. “However mistaken historians or doctors may have been about the plague, I think one might agree on the idea of the disease as a kind of psychic entity, not carried by avirus.” (Artaud, 1970, 11) Considering the intentionality of ‘The Plague’ as a psychic entity this places the technologist as the channeller of ‘The Plague’. As live mediator of the visual effects present upon the stage the technologist is afforded the power of manipulation to alter the effects of the digital ‘Plague’s’ aesthetic. Within the alchemical paradigm this is perceived as an active mediation of the Alchemists within their experiment, for instance; the change of temperature, addition of new catalysts or intentional distillation of substance.
“It is telling that the performer- dancers describe the sprite as “alive” and “intelligent”, seeming to indicate that they can sense the intention/attention of the operator in the sprite, yet they almost never report thinking of the sprite as being controlled by the operator.” (Popat and Palmer 2008)
Such a feeling of presence encapsulates the ‘intention’ which Artaud bestows upon his ‘Plague’. This sentient ‘Plague’ is effectively doubled through the intentional control of the technologist mediating the image upon the stage. The phenomenon removes the technologist from their operating station and places them amongst the image. “After a period of operating, they are often unable to recall consciously being positioned by the operating desk...” (Popat and Palmer, 2008).The reader may recall that the Alchemist themselves are subject to the psychic transformation taking place within the still; that both an exoteric and esoteric operation take place simultaneously. If I extrapolate the phenomenon noted by Popat and Palmer, the performer operator as Alchemist mediating the scene, simultaneously manages the scenography and also subjects themselves to the phenomenon of translocation. The active technologist in this instance has become a channel for the Artaud’s ‘Plague’.
Whichever model of philosophical contextualisation considered, in this instance the role of 'The Digital Double' as distorted ‘Manipulable Mannequin’ embodies the Alchemy of the Negrido. Within the release of ‘The Shadow’ the audience are confronted by the uncomfortable true shape of their repressed emotions and fears; this tension is a necessity for the alchemical transformation of the self. Artaud’s ‘Plague’ similarly heralds the revelation of the repressed, through the mortification of the body and mind, realised within this digital bubonic scourge. ‘The Plague’ also allows for the consideration of the role of technologist as the psychic conductor of Artaud’s ‘Plague’. Such a revelation has occurred due to the phenomenological approach towards this study. All of these contextualisations for the placement of the of 'The Digital Double' inform an understanding regarding the nature of Artaud’s ‘Cruelty’. At the centre of Artaud’s ‘Cruelty’ is the revelation of a truth which all are uncomfortable facing; our ‘Shadow’ self, our inner deamons and the true shape of our human nature.
Albedo and Citrinitas: The New Light
“There must be poetry for the senses, just as there is for speech, but this physical tangible language I am referring to is really only theatrical insofar as the thoughts it expresses escape spoken language” (Artaud, 1970, 26)
This analysis turns towards the Albedo and Citrinitas of the alchemical operation, or the Whitening and Yellowing. This phase of The Great Work marks the emergence of a new light and the reader will recall, it was this otherworldly light within my alchemical framework which marked the revelation of the Artaudian metaphysical principle. I have chosen to encapsulate both these phases within one section of this chapter as both lie within the revelation of the metaphysical. The operational order of the alchemical work is not the focus, but rather its analysis and placement alongside the Artaudian methodology. I will be considering this alchemical phase using retrospective analysis of performance interviews from Rosetta (2017-2018) performer and co-creator, Virkutytė. This analysis of primary data shall be contextualised utilising Artaud’s essay on Production and Metaphysics 34 (1970, 23-33), in order to establish synergy between the metaphysical speculations of Artaud and examination of the phenomenon encountered within the creation and performance of Rosetta.
(Grimoldby et al, (2018) Rosetta Photo Credit Putinas Dainius)
Within Demaitre’s systematic juxtaposition of Artaud’s methodology and Alchemy, the Albedo is marked by the “Awakening of the unconscious now freed from the the Ego’s sensorial functions.” (Demaitre, 1977, 247). I have utilised a sensory bombardment in order to go beyond the visual, 'The Digital Double' was a tool in order to access a higher state for the performer. It was noted during rehearsal process for Rosetta that a moment of transcendence occurred.
Virkutytė “I felt the third space, within the visuals. I was somewhere else.”
Grimoldby “You were outside the stage do you think?...or were you in a deeper layer of the stage?”
Virkutytė “In a deeper layer, because of my image.”
Grimoldby “Do you think the space transcended at that moment?”
Virkutytė “Yes... there were definite moments were it transcended...not all the time. A very abstract, I mean indescribable stage.” (Virkutytė and Grimoldby 2017)
Virkutytė noted due to the presence of her ‘Digital Double’ that she was able to access a deeper layer within the performance. While even momentary, this phenomena is fascinating and demonstrates the catalytic alchemical properties of 'The Digital Double'. This would support the notion that 'The Digital Double' can be an instrumental tool for the achievement of Artaudian metaphysical intensity. Within his essay on Production and Metaphysics Artaud states that the painting Lott and his Daughters engages with these metaphysical qualities due to the fact that they are deeply interwoven into the paintings “external symmetry”.
“And I might even say their poetic greatness, their tangible effect on us arrises from the fact that they are metaphysical, that their mental profundity cannot be separated from the paintings formal, external symmetry.” (Artaud, 1970, 25)
The power within Lott and His Daughters lies inside of a tangible aspect of the painting, but it is the paintings profundity that gives rise to the metaphysical effect upon the minds of the spectator. Jamieson writes of Artaud’s sensitivity towards the effects of the painting. “He senses something deeper, a force emanating from behind the oils on the canvas.” (Jamieson, 2007, 18) The metaphysical aspects arise from Rosetta but they exists as part of the performance for Virkutytė; in this regard the metaphysical cannot be separated from the “external symmetry” of the performance. The reader may recall that the audience are not the only subjects of Artaudian ‘Cruelty’ within performance and so Virkutytė’s experience provides a fascinating insight into the catalytic potential of 'The Digital Double'. 35
It was also noted that once the performance had been crafted the ontological nature of movement and projection shifted into a far more harmonious partnership. This partnership allowed for the access of a quality far deeper within the performance. Kwastek’s “mastery of the system” appears to be engaged, and the technological apparatus has become a refined tool for performance, capable of assisting in the discovery of a metaphysical layer.
Virkutytė: The movement and the projection blend together, the outcome has so much more quality.
Grimoldby: So when you operate the projections in this refined way, you believe the outcome is deeper?
Grimoldby: Can we talk about the process of going deeper? Can you tell me what that means for you as a performer when you are going deeper with this?
Virkutytė: When the technology enters, it’s putting another layer in it. There’s a picture, like a film or cocoon where the thing is happening, it’s portraying and expressing the deeper quality of what I’m doing.
Grimoldby: You think that’s encapsulated within the projection, this deeper quality?
Virkutytė: It helps a-lot, to bring it out. It’s not that easy within a dance to bring such deep layers.
(Virkutytė and Grimoldby 2018)
The reader may recall that the Albedo marked the emergence of the silver light or spirit of matter. “It is this "spirit," sometimes referred to as the "waters of life," which enables the neophyte to transcend through the realms of the psyche and to enter the angelic realms.” (Hamilton, 1985) The emergence of this “spirit” (through the medium of 'The Digital Double') allowed for the transformation of the performer, in the revelation of deeper layers within performance. 'The Digital Double' becomes a scenic language which is used to help enter the metaphysical aspects of performance.
(Grimoldby et al, (2018) Rosetta, Photo Credit Putinas Dainius)
Within his description of Lott and his Daughters Artaud wrote that the paining evoked a metaphysical quality “...since it affects the mind by a kind of striking visual harmony, intensely active in the whole work yet caught at a glance.” (Artaud, 1970, 23) Throughout this body of research I have stressed that the purpose of Artaudian performance is the revelation of an otherworldly metaphysical quality. This is serendipitous with the ideology that Alchemy is a two fold process of material and spiritual transformation.
During this section of the chapter I have attempted to demonstrate that the use of ‘The Digital Double’ can result in a transcendental experience; this is comparable to the Artaudian metaphysical principle within performance. I would suggest that this is an effective embodiment of Artaud’s stage language. The ontological relationship between performer and technology when mastered results in deeply interwoven experience helping the achievement of a natural, fluid and dynamic total image. This Gesamptkuntswerk enables the interlacing of the metaphysical within the external symmetry of performance.
Practical experience has led me to believe that 'The Digital Double' is an effective language in which to explore the Artaud’s alchemical theories, resulting in the revelation of the metaphysical. “This painting is what theatre ought to be, if only it knew how to speak its own language” (Artaud, 1970, 25) Hamilton writes of the Citrinitas that; “Inner knowing is not arrived at by study, reflection or deep thought; it is to be experienced as a direct revelation.” (Hamilton, 1985). It is through our practical experimentation with which I draw these conclusions surrounding the serendipity of Artaud’s methodology and that of the Alchemist. These ideas are brought together in alchemical marriage through this performative analogue of the alchemical method. It is at the conclusion which I find the final alchemical step, the Rubedo or Reddening.
33Dixon notes that; “'The Digital Double' is a mysterious figure that takes various forms and undertakes different functions within digital performance.” (Dixon, 2007, 268)
34 The essay focuses upon Artaud’s appreciation of the painting Lott and His Daughters. “The painting depicts the Old Testament story from genesis in which god destroys the town of Sodom for its corrupt behaviour” (Jamieson 2007, 17-18) Jamieson notes that the painting contains within it “...all the elements that constitute a Theatre of Cruelty...” (18) This is self evident within the annihilation of an amoral society through the metaphysical intervention of a shower of meteors, juxtaposed by the incestuous fornication of Lott and his daughters.
35 Virkutytė’s experience becomes that of Artaud’s “executioner tormentor” within the exploration of Artaudian ‘Cruelty’. Artaud writes that: “But a “theatre of cruelty” means a theatre that is difficult and cruel for myself first of all” (Artaud, 1970 73) As co-creator of Rosetta, Virkutytė’s placement within this theatrical experiment is at the centre of this Artaudian ‘Cruelty’.