EUGLENA comes to Bristol or Where (the Hell) am I?
I was 6 or 7 years old, I think… in my school’s courtyard… lots of voices… children, par-ents, teachers, who knows… I have here what could be called a personal photographic impression from that day…
Please imagine therefore a courtyard filled with sunlight… The impression of intense and pleasant; the warm luminosity is helped by the celebratory voices all around me. There I was, stood by a sort of ledge…
But the light-filled drowsiness in the courtyard is abruptly cut by a lady who tempera-mentally approaches me. She says to me, in a very self-assured (in the sense of distant) and imperative, loud voice: ‘You MUST come and join the THEATRE club’.
Discreet waves of morbid shyness were put in motion to ruin my serenity… undertones of fear emerged… as the darkness coming from the left corner of the photograph could suggest…
The whole thing ended with me very swiftly making an escape home, which was not very far. But despite my timely subterfuge and the fact that I have never subsequently set foot in any way in that THEATRE club, the words of the lady in the light stayed with me as a kind of prophecy in silliness and brightness.
4 years later… I was at my first Biology class… our Biology teacher… someone that I had never seen before… And there I was… again sliding into my smooth old-paralysing sense of morbid shyness. This could again be imagined as a photographic impression of the atmosphere in that Biology class.
We are on the second floor of the building… and well into mid-September – A heavy and cloudy day! – with the tops of the very tall poplars being violently moved by the autumn wind, in front of the windows. Our first lesson was about Euglena.
These two episodes have – it seems – profoundly influenced my life. In preparation for this article, I was randomly looking for something written on sight (eyesight that is!). That was how a piece of most – for me – enlightening and useful information and mentioned in the study Sight Unseen: An exploration of conscious and unconscious vision, by Melvyn A. Goodale and A. David Milner, emerged.
‘To observe its environment, the cell contains an eyespot, a primitive organelle that filters sunlight into the light-detecting, photo-sensitive structures at the base of the flagellum; allowing only certain wavelengths of light to hit it. This photo-sensitive area detects the light that is able to be transmitted through the eyespot. When such light is detected, the Euglena may accordingly adjust its position to enhance photosynthesis.’
Something common, I thought – irony here included – between the primitivism of this microorganism’s sense of sight and my understandings back then, in childhood. And re-luctantly present now, when I am in Bristol as an artist and as a researcher in theatre. Same sense of shyness, of immobility in the profound strata and an almost complete meltdown of the vital forces – like a deep hibernation or inside faint. Personally, I never felt a particular interest or passion towards Biology. But here I am, attempting to fulfill the prophecy and also behaving like Euglena.
The question ‘Where (the Hell) am I?’ is and is not be a meaningful one. It was 3 1/2 years ago when my Bristol story began. For these years however, any actual sights, citations or sites of the city and its arts scene have been received by me as something akin to the photograph below.
The same visual impressions of my childhood when I was failing to adjust my ‘inner eye’ to the realities of the moment are repeated in Bristol. Here is a boat – shady and foggy, indistinctive and upsetting. That is – at the moment – my image of Bristol. Instead of asking myself why this is happening, I went on to realise these photographs, in a style that probably has negatively hit you already.
The photographs are deeply stupid. ‘Artistically’ they are null and quite vulgar if you ask me, as they are painfully amateurish. They do however, give – to me at least – that fake sense of melodramatic detachment of the photographic eye, a sense of erroneous lens, dictated by randomness, by the non-aesthetic and the carelessness. The technique is not a personal invention, obviously. It is widely known as ‘lens whacking’ – in the hands of the best photographer in the world the results would probably still ooze a cheap roman-ticism. And to top it up for you I have chosen as a refreshing interlude a distinctly wise and instructive piece of poetry, that I came across whilst asking myself: Would somebody in this world ever want to write a poem about people and Euglena? Answer: Yes, they would! Here’s how it goes:
Instruction from on High – Benjamin Prior
Be a Euglena in the darkness,
Wiping your tail,
Or a paramecium of pygmy hairs
Rowing in the unseen.
Expect less form the world
Always assume […]
You will be surprised at the divinity of the commonplace.
Co-joining the whacking with the poetic in a double bladed tool, I am trying to vindicate what I define as a certain fake-ness in my glance towards Bristol as a place to live and as an arts scene. This might be why, in the following two photographs, I have chosen to sit on the exterior of buildings, as if a superficial, as if a faker.
Bristol Old Vic has been the first theatre I have seen and been into in Bristol. As such, I hold a kind of fond memory of it. I remember the first performance seen there – Moliere’s Misanthrope – in that impressive performing space (this is a quote as I have not felt that impressed at the time). Having trained as an actor, the thought of working for the theatre you are in at a certain moment usually crosses your mind. Here’s another reason why I see the building only from the outside – because I am not sure if I would ever could or want to perform there.
If I read about how the theatre presents itself, I can be persuaded to attempt to hope in some sort of collaboration:
‘Our mission is to create pioneering twenty-first century theatre in partnership with the people of our energetic city; inspired by the history and magical design of the most beautiful playhouse in the country.’
But I am in so many ways foreign to this theatre’s history: I am coming from such a dif-ferent country and culture. I am foreign to the ‘magical design’ since there is an involun-tary clash between the features of ‘the most beautiful playhouse in the country’ and my own memories or image of a most beautiful playhouse in a country. I could not possibly fake the fact that I have no sense of shared history with this place, as impressive as it may be – any shared historical or cultural memory simply isn’t there.
‘We are led by artists who see the world with distinctive clarity and whose ability to ar-ticulate what they see allows us to understand and engage with our world afresh, whether that be through our 350-strong Young Company, our many outreach and education pro-jects or helping ascendant artists by nurturing the spark or seed of an idea into some-thing fully-formed.’
Here is another strong reason for why there would probably be no place for me in this theatre – I could hardly imagine the cohort of artists of ‘distinctive clarity’ welcoming a myopic, an Euglena-like in their midst. …Me and my eyespot… What kind of artistic clari-ty would I be able to extract and exert? Certainly not more than the dystrophic and unin-teresting shades in the photographs of Bristol Old Vic…
Where should I sit myself then? Don’t you think I’ve correctly positioned myself under the window – like a cat watching a fly and waiting to kill it? Most probably, the photograph shows me as a burglar craving to enter illicitly into the historical sanctity of the theatre building. So you see what they’ve done? They’ve let me study here at Bristol, given me a chance to share the city’s theatrical splendors, offered me resources and what do I do? I am showing myself as a predator – I want to get in through the window! And to give a poetic twist to this my waiting game, I have attempted a haiku alongside my photograph-ic impression of Bristol Old Vic. Here’s how it goes:
A theatre’s yellow facade…
Window to the Sun
I climb my slick robber’s rope.
I have often cited other people when thinking that a building can be a curse on its dwell-ers, particularly in the case of these old, historic buildings. Doesn’t a building carry in some way the memories – inside its walls and bricks – of the old ways, the old deeds. The memories are doubtlessly deceitful, phantomatic… discreetly flowing through the walls and corridors. My view is that the link between us contemporaries and the building as a citation of the past is forever broken – it is whacked. So when we think about the history, the pioneering, the magic, we must be adding in some of our own incomplete, foggy sometimes, whacked wished-for histories, wished-for magic… Aren’t we not the inven-tors of the facades of these buildings? Aren’t we all waiting for something to happen, for someone to show up at the window? And if so, can you see the advantages of being THE outsider, THE vagabond looking for a bit of rest, for a bit of squatting? Like in this next photo of me, at the Arnolfini.
Arnolfini is an ex-iron foundry turned into tea warehouse turned into contemporary arts centre. In this photograph, I have somehow stopped at the door because of my fear. And I have stopped at the wrong door – as this is not the ‘official entry’ into Arnolfini – the of-ficial one is a glass door. I have played at the Arnolfini’s in a Dutch director’s piece. De-spite this, my feeling is that I’ll be better off left in front of the wrong door. Probably, this is the door for deliveries to Arnolfini’s restaurant, which is located to the right of the photo. I’m standing here and fulfilling the prescription:
‘Sitting on the quayside with a drink on a sunny evening is a quintessentially Bristol ex-perience. Arnolfini’s Café Bar serves a menu of Mediterranean inspired, locally sourced food and Fairtrade tea and coffee.’ (Arnolfini website)
I am sitting here, on the quayside, since three and a half years ago, dreaming to sneak in through the backs of the waiters, cooks, bartenders in remembrance of the old times when into the building raw materials were being brought: metal and tea. It is a long time to sit in front of a building – three years and a half – but I could stay more – I could in fact remain in that spot for pretty much my whole life, if I were to be living in Bristol for as long (I doubt this perspective however). On second thought, I might be looking at this door even after I will have left Bristol. By the end of my life I would have given up the en-tire time allocated to me looking at this door.
Unfortunately, according to citations I am in front of ’one of Europe’s leading centres for the contemporary arts, presenting innovative, experimental work in the visual arts, per-formance, dance, film, music and events, accompanied by a programme of learning and participation activities.’
This sounds discouraging. The institution is frightening, not so much through architec-tural excellence but through a sense of rigor and efficacy. The door is tall, the bricks are heavy, unrefined, effective, lasting. The windows, which are not seen here, (and for a good reason) are small and square, reminding me of a fortress. Here’s then a dear haiku to Arnolfini:
Fortress, as strong as ever
Has many windows.
I stare still at your door.
Here is the burglar in me talking again – the intruder who will not and WILL NOT want to go about things as one is expected to. Arnolfini is host to so many art forms it has such a tentacular being that I thought better to stay out, to stay safe.
‘Euglena is a protist that can both eat food as animals by heterotrophy; and can photo-synthesize, like plants, by autotrophy.’
The period of photosynthesis for me (which basically means sitting in the Sun) is now ending, judging by all signs. Even the present article is such a sign. I am afraid that somehow against my will, I will have to attempt to find a performance or theatre building that I want to step into. Do not be put off in any way by the blackness of this photograph representing the future. It is not by any means funeral and morbid. It is meant to signal a moment of passage and remembrance. This photograph is a precious memento:
…of all the times I could not go in
…of all the places that I could not climb onto or break into
…of all the moments when I haven’t been able to see
…of all this period of time that I have been resting in the Sun
This is a memento of all the outsiders who are sometimes the happiest.
by Bogdan Florea.
Photo concept: Bogdan Florea
Photographer: Olu Adeola