SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read any further if you want to experience A Machine To See With, especially at the Brighton Digital FestivalÂ this September. Which of course you will be doing if you can.
A Machine To See With is an incredibly liminal experience and uses liminal symbolism and evokes communitas in a variety of manners. I believe that it is the manipulation of these which gives this work its affect and power.
From the very first instance you, as a participant, are directed to step out of the everyday and perform a very transgressive act, robbing a bank. You are told to ignore any other interruptions for the duration, you aren’t you anymore you are this new, different person living on the edge. Instantly you feel like you have crossed a threshold and you aren’t like everyone else, you are following a script, concentrating on fleeting instructions that wont be repeated and scanning the crowd sticking out. Feeling conspicuous hustling along clasping a mobile to your head.
The script purposefully evokes the sense of being in a film through describing the locations of cameras, the types of shot you might be in and the very fact that your eyes are a machine to see with. The participant is put in a film set as they describe the buildings around as just flats and the people as extras. You are put beyond just being inside a story to actually being in the filming of a film. The fiction of the robbery is mixed with the very clear reality around you.Â to It feels very much like being in a deconstructed film. The audio is somewhat like listening to a film script, complete with location details and scene direction whilst at the same time your eyes are the camera picking up the shots. When the script describes something and then you see it there is a frission; a subjunctive pleasure when the world of make-believe bank robbers IS the world around you.
The locations themselves are wonderfully liminal. Early on you enter a toilet cubicle to reflect. Public toilets have a great sense of taboo about them, they are places toÂ excreteÂ and leave, or hang around for illicit sex. They are not comfortable places to loiter. Even being asked to visit a toilet in a pub without asking is crossing a line. Using the top floor of the car park tower is brilliant. It is the meeting place between the ground and the air, another sky pier in Brighton. When I did the piece it was empty and very cinematic, another break from the everyday streets. It was an ascent into the heavens and standing on the edge of the sky. Although I didn’t get to enter the car myself (I was testing), the symbolism of entering a strange, parked car is very much breaking a social law, another transgressive act. One that harks back to Blast Theory’s use of the limousine in Uncle Roy. They use other highly symbolic urban geography, such as getting you to navigate back alleyways, stand on the edge of the car park, circumnavigate the periphery of the bank and just before entering the bank the lead stands on the edge of the pavement getting ready.
Your partner, and the pairing of strangers is very, very important. The two of you shouldn’t know each other, but you meet up to rob a bank. You are drawn together in a complicit, transgressive act. There is a sense of communitas, a breaking down of the regular rules of society, you are both here to commit a crime. In the performance you are meeting a stranger, you have no idea who they are, what their status is, but now you are both to be criminals, outsiders, the archetype of crime film bank robbers. You are playing out a modern myth cycle, that of the heist, the crime movie. In the same way that ancient rituals would often be accompanied by recitals or performances of myths, so in this you hear and enact a contemporary mythic journey.
The experience is totally entrancing. Although I was only taking part in tests and not the full performance I felt in a very heightened and agitated state. Very much on the edge. The tests we were doing are there to eliminate disjunctions and tweak the subjunctive nature of the piece to help it create an ‘as if’ world. The pleasure in hearing this piece as if you are in a script or the movie itself is very intense and enjoyable. The sense of being outside the everyday world and different from all the “extras” around you is palpable and fascinating. But I think best of all is the build up to the final crossing of the line. The whole piece is a 45 minute build up to the final, climactic entry to the bank. It is allÂ exceedinglyÂ well choreographed and my heart was thumping at the time I approached the bank even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, that I wouldn’t be doing it, and that I would be told to run before entering the bank. The climax of A Machine to See With is all about leading you to the edge and then yanking you back. It is a cliffhanger in a very real sense.
The final scene is also very rich, but I don’t want to go into detail here. But it again brings back Blast Theory’s fascination with strangers and again evokes the feeling of communitas and tries to get at authentic human relations. The piece ends rather abruptly in a place you really didn’t expect to be and in a state of mind you really also didn’tÂ expectÂ to be in.