“From the foregoing it becomes apparent that theatre will never recover its own specific powers of action until it has also recovered its language” (Artaud, 1970, 63)
Antonin Artaud, (1986-1948) theatre maker, playwright, actor and visionary, conceived of the theatre as a tool for the salvation of an ailing society. Artaud believed that the theatre of contemporary Paris is quite inadequate for such a sacramental function. His frustration lied with the current deployment of psychologically driven discursive theatre within contemporary Paris; as he humorously remarked in writing to the Director of Commedie Francaise ““Enough comings and goings in your state brothel. We look above tragedy, the cornerstone of your poisonous old shed, and your Moliere is is a twat.” (Artaud, 1925, 34). Within his theatrical ideal, Artaud, desired a theatre which was driven through gesture, scenography, and movement culminating in “the idea of a kind of unique language somewhere between gesture and thought” (Artaud, 1970, 66). The theatrical model and analogies Artaud deployed in order to explain this theatre are alchemical; that is to say, concerned with the process of transformation on a base and metaphysical level utilising a physical operation.
Within recent digital practice a new form has arisen, the mediation of the human body into a digital entity existing simultaneously alongside of a human counterpart; this phenomena is regarded as as 'The Digital Double'. 1 I postulate that 'The Digital Double' is an effective tool for realising the theatrical ideals of Artaud, in the union of scenography and movement. Within the course of this research I shall attempt to determine the validity of this hypothesis through a practical analysis of the Artaudian methodology and that of Alchemy in order to inform an understanding of 'The Digital Double' as being an alchemical tool within performance. This research entails the construction of a conceptual framework defining the theatre of Artaud and 'The Digital Double' as being alchemical in order to place this scenographic phenomenon as an effective development of the theories of Artaud.
The research undertaken is framed within the model of practice as research, and I shall be undertaking a number of practical experiments working alongside dancers generating performance artefacts prominently featuring 'The Digital Double'. Within this research method there lies the development of a curious conceptual framework, that of the researcher technologist as Alchemist. As the generator and mediator of the digital content on stage the researcher technologist (or Alchemist) is afforded a degree of live manipulation and control of performance, and engenders a state of mastery and manipulation akin to the work of the Alchemist at his still. I would also argue as the primary victim of Artaudian ‘Cruelty’ was ‘The Producer’ 2, that a degree of theatrical intensity is reached by the technologist as they ‘conduct’ the performance. Furthermore a degree of dislocation is reached and the performer technologist temporarily transfers their attention to the stage space. (See Popat and Palmer 2007).
I have chosen to conduct interviews with the performers of my practice. In this research the primary subjects of the Artaudian theatrical model are those directly involved in the production of this practice. As I am conceiving the role of technologist as Alchemist it becomes even more important that I prioritise the immediate experience of the technologist researcher of this paper; as they are subjected to this Artaudian transformation. The performers, similarly are subjects of the transformation becoming a central part of this investigation. While I acknowledge there may be shortcomings in omitting the responses of the audience; it becomes possible to explore the praxis as process rather than analysis of final product within this choice of research sample.
The postulation that the theatre of Artaud is alchemical has been discussed at length by Demaitre (1979) in a systematic juxtaposition of his methodology alongside the alchemical method. However this system does not account for the contemporary practice of digital theatre. Artioli (1984) utilises alchemical language in order to elicit a greater understanding of Artaud’s paper on Van Hough, ou le suicide de la soceite and demonstrates the fundamentally alchemical nature of Artaud’s notion of art; but again, there are no reference towards contemporary digital idioms within theatre. Dixon (2007) conceives of 'The Digital Double' within the realms of Artaud’s ‘Double’ and does reference the work of Troika Ranches The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkratz (2001) in following an alchemical narrative. However the nature of 'The Digital Double' itself is not presented as being alchemical; the focus of Dixon’s alchemical exposition is within Troika Ranches reference to alchemical literature and imagery. Dixon does however briefly note Troika Ranches conception of the magic alchemical nature of sensory technology in dance. “Troika Ranch have elsewhere described how the sensory dance technologies they design and employ are ‘the magic of our time.’ and the audience should perceive this aspect of performance as magic, just as Alchemy was viewed in the fifteenth century” (Dixon 2007, 256). I hope to begin reconciling these two fields of research in order to establish a new understanding of contemporary adaptations of Artaudian theatre.
References have been made to Corpus Hemeticum (commentary by Yates 1964) and The Kyballion (Three Initiates 1908) in order to elicit a greater understanding of the esoteric philosophical literature which would have driven Artaud’s theatrical ideal. Such literature also helps engender an understanding of the epistemological view of the Alchemist, while informing an understanding of the philosophy of Alchemy. These texts shall be used to adapt aspects of Dixon’s digital double within the realm of Hermetic esotericism referenced within the realms of Artaud’s theories of ‘Plague’, ‘Cruelty’, and metaphysics. This research demonstrates a rethinking of the Artaudian methodology as Alchemy, within the practical framework of a series of digitally driven theatrical experiments, formulated by the phenomenon of 'The Digital Double'.
A full literature review chapter has been omitted within this work as I have favoured a self- contained introduction of literature and critiques drawn upon through this body of research. In following this literary method I aim to provide a navigable reading experience for the varied subject areas which we are drawing upon. I feel introducing all literature sources outside of their context within this research may result in an experience lacking the necessary imbrication of theory and practice.
This research begins with an outline of the working methodology. The first key notion established is the nature of this study as being practice as research (Nelson, 2016). This chapter begins by exploring the nature of Nelson’s practice as research, choosing to avoid the traditional binaries of theory and practice by exploring the notion of praxis; “Theory imbricated by practice” (Nelson 2016, 3). Additionally rather than approaching this study with key research questions in mind, I have chosen (in accordance with the nature of Practice as Research) to determine significant insights regarding key subject areas. The nature of Practice as Research brings about an alternative model of knowing, tacit knowledge. The concept of tacit knowledge is explored via reference to Polanyi’s (1966) model The Tacit Dimension. In a practical understanding of Artaud’s theories, I believe a certain perspective is developed which is not achievable through a purely literature based discussion. Polanyi’s tacit knowledge helps engender an understanding of the role of subsidiary theatrical elements formulating a theoretical model; within the formation of this model lies the ‘tacit’ intuition of reaching such a conclusion. Within the methodology I justify the choice of tacit exploration by examining Artaud’s distaste for literature instead choosing to “live his philosophy” (Artaud, 1970, 3). The second section of this methodology is devoted to exploring the research methods deployed, interviewing of performers and subjective analysis through the conceptual framework established within this research.
Chapter one introduces the subject of Alchemy. An entire chapter has been dedicated towards this introduction as there is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the actual objective of the Alchemist within their laboratory. To elucidate this mystery I shall provide the reader with an extremely brief history of the development of western Alchemy focusing upon the core tenants upon which it is founded. I shall explore the philosophical system of Hermeticism and understand how Man’s position within the Hermetic epistemological system is vastly different to that of Christianity. Man is imbued with a divine creative spirit and elevated to the position of brother to the Demiurge God. In his participation of the alchemical method Man is enacting both a physical and metaphysical transformation in his pursuit of spiritual transcendence. Over the course of this chapter I aim to explore why Artaud would have been fascinated by such a philosophical system, and begin to establish a framework from which his theatrical methodology can be compared with this esoteric pursuit.
Within chapter two the focus turns to providing an understanding of the theatre Artaud hoped to achieve. Within this chapter a discussion surrounding Artaud’s distaste for Parisian culture is juxtaposed by his cultural ideal within the Tarihumaran people. In understanding the Tarihumaran ideal, the trajectory and mission of Artaud’s theatre becomes clearer. The Artaudian theatrical model is discussed alongside the essay ‘On Balinese Theatre’ . Within this investigation of Balinese theatre I discuss Jamieson’s (2007) literary double of this subject, noting that Artaud’s review is in actual fact a blue print for his theatrical ideals. Through an exploration of the Balinese performance I am able to adequately explore Artaud’s concepts of metaphysics and the theatrical mediums in which the metaphysical would be evoked. The theatrical direction of Artaudian performance would be shaped by a single figure, ‘The Producer’. Within this chapter I shall explore how ‘The Producer’ becomes akin to a dramatic demiurge within the Artaudian drama and crafts performances of mythic proportion.
Chapter three considers the methodology of Artaud alongside the alchemical art form. I shall examine Ann Demaitre’s (1972) essay which provides a systematic juxtaposition with Artaud’s methodology and the alchemical method. Additional reference shall be made towards Hamilton’s (1985) consideration of the alchemical method alongside a Jungian psychoanalytical framework. It is my aim to engineer a conceptual framework of the alchemical nature of the Theatre of Cruelty, exploring the key Artaudian theories of ‘Plague’ and metaphysics. This chapter shall help cement the role of Artaudian ‘Producer’ as Alchemist. In identifying the Artaudian methodology as alchemical we are able to place 'The Digital Double' within this conceptual framework and
determine the Artaudian nature of this scenographic phenomenon. This chapter culminates in inviting the reader to consider the realisation of Artaud’s Alchemy, and the transformative alchemical role any scholar of Artaud inevitably initiates when engaging with his theories.
Chapter four introduces ‘The Digital Double’ and provides a contemporary analysis of its Artaudian properties. I shall utilise the taxonomy presented by Dixon (2007) as the baseline for this commentary surrounding 'The Digital Double', and provide my own working definition for ‘The Digital Double’ within the working confines of the practical research undertaken within this work. I move onto to explore the linage of the double and its history spanning many atavistic cultures and the homeopathic qualities imbued within. I shall explore the four categories of Dixon’s ‘Digital Double’ utilising the classification of; ‘Alter Ego’, ‘Emanation’, ‘Mirror’ and ‘Manipulable Mannequin’. Alongside this discussion is an analysis of the examples (present within Dixon’s taxonomy) and further commentary exploring the Artaudian application of this phenomenon. In engaging with this taxonomy I am afforded insight as to where the practical experimentation of this thesis sits.
Chapter five explores instances of practical application of the ‘Digital Double’ against stages of the alchemical method in order to initiate a discussion of Artaud’s theories in light of Alchemy. The role of interaction is discussed utilising Kwastek’s (2015) Aesthetics of Digital Interaction; in particular I note the principle of ‘Vicarious Interaction’ and justify the analysis of the performers and technologists experience within the context of this praxis. Within this chapter the emphasis is placed upon establishing 'The Digital Double' as an alchemical chimera; a composite creature born of technology and movement. By initiating a discussion surrounding its alchemical properties I am able to deepen an understanding of the alchemical nature of Artaud’s theories as well as further support the assertion that ‘The Digital Double’ is an effective embodiment of Artaudian scenographic language.
Within this introduction I have provided a clear insight into the nature of this research as a phenomenologically driven study surrounding the Alchemy of Artaud utilising 'The Digital Double'. The process undertaken is driven through the establishment of an Artaudian alchemical conceptual framework from which this praxis is sat and resonates with the literature consulted. I hope to provide significant insight surrounding the alchemical nature of Artaud’s methodology in addition to establishing 'The Digital Double' as viable tool for contemporary adaptations of the theories of Artaud. Finally I must emphasise the importance of the subjective insight of the researcher, within the accumulation of subsidiary experience culminating in the tacit recognition of Artaudian theory. I shall now consider the working methodology and elucidate the nature of this tacit mindset.
1 The term ‘Digital Double’ refers to Dixon (2007). Dixon presents a taxonomy and practical analysis in order to explore 'The Digital Double' as a theatrical device. We shall return to this taxonomy in detail during chapter four.
2 See Artaud’s Letters on Language (1966, 75-87) in which Artaud describes the nature of his ‘Cruelty’ and determines that the “executioner tormentor” would also be the primary subject of ‘Cruelty’.