(For the first installment in this series covering the FoolishPeople’s ritual performance craft see – Entering the Theatre of Manifestation – Unveiling the FoolishPeople)
“There was a time when I found the concept of possession alien, exotic and dangerous. We Westerners have come to see possession a something akin to what we find in movies likeThe Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Serpent and the Rainbow and many other movies that feed the fear of the unknown taking possession of us. But these movies speak solely about the possession and obsession that might happen by the intrusion of hostile spirits upon ones being.”
– from The Mystery of Possession, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold
Possession is an odd phenomena. Portrayed in the media as rare and uncertain, observed more carefully the basic elements of possession can be used to understand the underlying nature of our conscious experience. We are possessed by our self identity, a phantom, so easily unmoored, an accretion of habitual responses and memory that we cling to with such intensity we often miss the benefits of taking on another type of personal agency. Especially when we begin to realize that possession does not end with the body, or with the self, but exists within a web work of wider relationships and environmental memories.
FoolishPeople make a game of possession, they play with it, and fool’s play is a serious games to engage in. Whatever the internal driver we want to assign for possession, the state seen symptomatically involves changes in action and self perception radically altering how we interact with and experience the world around us. To invoke these changes willfully, to court the disassociation and potential permanence of alternate personalities and memory sets, is a very potent artistic tool.
When we hear anecdotes of internal experiences they can be easy to dismiss, perhaps the more telling evidence of this power is its ability to affect those who choose to follow the FoolishPeople into their explorations. Breathing the atmosphere of the Theatre of Manifestation is enough to open people to altered states of consciousness. Tereza Kamenicka, who entered the FoolishPeople’s world as a Core Member in 2006, mentions, ”sometimes it actually happens that audience members start following each other thinking that the other one is a performer or a plant. Sometimes it opens something, and people get drunk on the feeling of the magic or creativity around them, and it does influence their behavior.” Possession and ecstasy are closely tied, especially in the context of FoolishPeople’s work.
Lucy Harrigan, another integral player in FP’s world, found herself at the center of this restructuring of identity and action while interacting with an audience member who stepped into the narrative during A Red and Threatening Sky. She was tied to a bed, possessed within a truly trying performance, when an audience member, emboldened by ecstatic catharsis, was lead to comfort her while she struggled in captivity. These fluid boundaries between fiction, fact, performance and living memory open up interesting therapeautic avenues that react almost as exorcism on the unresolved ghosts of those participating in the Theatre of Manifestation.
Going into the project John Harrigan knew A Red and Threatening Sky was going to be one of their most focused and intense efforts. He states this very plainly while reflecting on the event on FoolishPeople’s website, he also opens a window into how personal this work can become:
Love. A vicious, bright beast and one of the most interesting forms of idea/deity we’ve worked with. I barely survived love’s rawest essence with sanity intact.
In March I was rewarded, I married Lucy, FoolishPeople’s producer and performer.
It was with the power of this intent that the audience became so engaged that some of them became possessed by the spirit of the performance and entered the narrative on a level that shares in the intensity of the piece. As he describes in the following recording, Harrigan experiences this from the very beginning of any project, communicating with and opening up to the sense of place spirit is central to building the integral soul of any FP production:
This artful exorcism extends to broader cultural memories as well. One review of Cirxus, a performance enacted by FoolishPeople in 2009, mentions that:
“…Cirxus is perhaps less interested in the facts of the case than in the allegorical potential of nuclear disaster as an event that, by dangerous radiation, prohibits access to the evidence of its own happening. The ruins of a nuclear site have a special sort of status: the only life that remains is that which is left in objects, or that which objects remind us of.”
The performance summons memories of nuclear holocaust, a fear which shaped the culture of the late 20th century, and which has been largely forgotten in the midst of additional fears such as economic collapse, terrorism and climate change. FoolishPeople allow us to talk once more with these ghosts, to rework them into our own cultural memory, and to see how the shadows of Hiroshima still loom large in the subliminal ebb and flow of society.
Here we find ourselves in an interesting matrix of influences, in an artistic experiment that provides deep insights into how we relate to the world, and in turn how the world relates to us. By opening the act of theater beyond acting, into possession and manifestation, the entire process takes on a vitality that unbinds the creative act from temporal or spacial boundaries. The theater becomes an alchemical alembic where poisonous manifestations intermix with pure until the final act reveals the next stage in the experiment.
These methods bear some semblance to the theoretical archaeological techniques developed by John G. Sabol, Jr. and the C.A.S.P.E.R. group:
“Theatrical ghosting is the common thread and process that opens a link between one “living” ghost and another already physically dead. In this ghosting, the performance of past memories are recalled and shared. The behavior of the investigator (as participant in his/her internal ghost culture) and the ghost (as observer in her/her external ghost culture) resonate with one another, creating a “ghosting” (a mutual understanding) link from past to present that results in communicative behavior.”
– from Bodies of Substance, Fragments of Memories: An Archaeological Sensitivity to Ghostly Presence, John G. Sabol Jr
Sabol’s work uses these techniques to understand how we interact with history, place memory and what ways that becomes active in the present. FoolishPeople’s work activates this further through rituals that deeply embed the personal narratives of the participants into this invocation of past and future memories. Although both Sabol and the FoolishPeople are more careful than to provoke paranormal claims, the interplay that occurs between the performance narrative, place history, personal history and audience immersion provides an open ground for unexpected revelations and breakthroughs.
“We are the ghosts within these remembrances and memories as our experiences are recalled, and a symmetrical connection between past and present begins to percolate. We re-live our past cultural behavior through resonating moments that link us, through our contemporary performances, with those uncompleted (and still sensed) past events. This is a form of “theatrical ghosting” and a performance odyssey that takes us through the ghost culture of our life. There is nothing worse…or better…than this journey. Within these time and space travels we have already met the ghosts we seek out in our investigations, without even acknowledging their existence and continuing presence. An important consideration in these travels through space and time is whether we can tell the difference between internal ghosts, and those that are external and foreign to our own personal feelings and cultural values.”
– from Bodies of Substance, Fragments of Memories: An Archaeological Sensitivity to Ghostly Presence, John G. Sabol Jr.
One of the keys to FoolishPeople’s work is that they weave these interactions into their performances, keeping in touch with the additional layers of meaning and interaction that can be evoked in an immersive setting. As Craig Slee, FP’s Writer and Creative Content Director puts it, they are ”well aware that everything in the world is connected. Thought, word and deed can cross distances, and that everything is in flux. Everything we do has an affect, and we understand that stories and narratives are a form of navigation – a way of carving a path through existence.” Throughout the process one of the ways that the group is able to maintain this awareness of connection is through living 24/7 under the influence of their role in the performance. Allowing the integral spirits of the piece to work through them inside and outside the performance space.
With each experiment they’ve stretched the boundaries of this immersion, breaking into a new level with their upcoming feature film experience,Strange Factories. Premiering at the Cinema Museum in London, the work will engage the historic resonance of the museum itself as part of the integral place dynamics that attend FoolishPeople’s work. Housed in the former Lambeth Workhouse, which Charlie Chaplin spent time in during his childhood, the museum was a first choice for Harringan who felt called to the site even before learning of its full historic presence.
Here the spirits of the cinema will speak from photographs and memorabilia gathered from every era of film making, teased into revealing their secrets through the gate of the active screen and the interaction of FoolishPeople’s live ritual during the screening. From the very foundations the sweat of past residents of the workhouse will warm with the crowds anticipation, perhaps a few drops from Chaplin shivering beneath the feet of an unwary watcher. When the FoolishPeople “ invite you to enter into the heart of English Dreaming” who can tell what’s to come?
Willing sacrifices to the creative fires, those who invite you in to the Theatre of Manifestation have already loosed the bonds of reality for a time. As the rooms of the Cinema Museum slowly slip under the influence of the spell, all media outlets will become pathways back to Strange Factories. The web of nostalgia woven from the associations primed within the collection stretch out through the culture to every aspect of the visual arts. Every warmly held memory of City Lights, or the Little Tramp, will begin to tremble every so lightly as the projector lamp begins to hum.
When the potent cinematic ritual of Strange Factories takes possession of the Cinema Museum beginning October 26th, 2013, it will be with the weight of the building’s history and the museum’s collection behind it. The Core Members have been immersed in the ritual since the films conception in 2011. One can expect, based on FoolishPeople’s previous invitations to the Theatre of Manifestation, that this will be an entrancing evocation and potent personal examination of the art of possession and storytelling.
Your memories and self perceptions are already in some sense borrowed, and the forces that will be rearranging them as Strange Factories begin to take possession of familiar cultural cues are thoroughly professional and experienced, having undergone the procedure themselves. Just remember, they’ve been living this story since before it was written, and the spirits of our collective culture don’t disappear when the film ends and the screen goes dark.
FoolishPeople actively engage audiences through immersive theatre, live cinema, ritual and independent film. Spectators must choose their own journey without guidance, which challenges their habitual way of watching art and entertainment in a passive manner. FoolishPeople have been commissioned by the BBC, ICA and Secret Cinema, and have produced work for conventional theatres, galleries and site-specific venues.
David Metcalfe is an independent researcher, writer and multimedia artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, The Revealer, the online journal of NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, and The Daily Grail. He writes regularly for Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Modern Mythology, Disinfo.com, The Teeming Brain and his own blog The Eyeless Owl. His writing has been featured in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized 2011), Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color & Music (Alarm Press, 2011) and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (North Atlantic/Evolver Editions 2012). Metcalfe is an Associate with Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild. For more information on Santa Muerte, and the sanctification of death in the popular faith traditions of the Americas, check out http://skeletonsaint.com, a collaborative project hosted by Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, David Metcalfe and Liminal Analytics.
(This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com)