A blindfold applied before the start of any performance somewhat hampers the critical gaze. One minute you’re a potential audience member, the next you’re in Guantanamo. But it’s by the seaside. And gentle hands are touching yours, guiding you across a pebble and sand landscape as your own weight makes you stumble and slide. The noise comes at you from all sides and there’s a woman’s voice checking off body parts and their weights: brain 100 grams, upper lip 20 grams. Then blindfold off, headphones on, lie down, look up …there’s light above … blindfold on and you’re stumbling again and as you sit, the cold weight of the world on your shoulders.
Touch Laboratory 'Weight' is an immersive piece of work resulting from the artist's month-long residency at the Folkestone seaside. She offers participants the 'experience [of] the concept of weight from physical, artistic, psychological and philosophical perspectives'. The reality of this intense hour in a room is an immersion in the world of the senses and sense deprivation, that at times can be hard to take.
With immersive theatre under scrutiny this experiment-installation-performance at one point made me feel like the coyote in Joseph Beuys' I Love America and America Loves Me. Was I performer, participant, part of the installation, or just an unwitting subject of an experiment I didn’t quite understand?
A previous day at the Normal? Festival was given over to discussing autism, a condition that is often accompanied by hypersensitivity. Weight‘s assault on the senses was introduction to the feelings of overload that unexpected touch can bring. Cold heavy objects were tied to our bodies whilst all the time we are being watched. With new research suggesting that there could be a relationship between a lack of a normal sense of touch and more complex behaviours resulting in anxiety, Weight created numerous opportunities for participants to experience how each of the five human senses can be overloaded.
The show’s link to the town around it was explicit, and the performers’ careful engagement with each of us was evident. It was an intense and moving experience. But the acute sensory assault of participating in Weight could be overwhelming for anyone unprepared for the vulnerability of the human condition that this work exposes.
- Audrey Green Oakes
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
Autism and Touch - Spectrum News
Immersive Theatre Growing Big Quickly - The Stage
I Love America and America Loves Me - Joseph Beuys