Ring a Ring O' Roses // Projects


Ring a Ring O' Roses

A weeklong durational installation, as part of Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death, BAC, London, 2007.

This event draws on ideas we began to explore in Aftermath. A white-painted room will be built within the black commissions space. The bare-wood of the outside of these walls resembles the back of a movie set facade. The gap between the fake walls and the real walls of the building will encourage the audience to imagine what/who might be walled-up there. The audience enter through a velvet curtain, a trace of Victoriana at the entrance to this brightly-lit space, the aesthetic of which will collide the contemporary with references to Poe's era. The central feature will be a "chandelier" made-up of a cluster of 80 lightbulbs with black fixtures.

The two performers, Uninvited Guests' Associates Simone Kenyon and Cath Dyson will wear Victorian mourning dresses with their faces covered by black veils. We will work with an SFX make-up artist to design the symptoms of a fictional plague or pestilence. These symptoms will be manifested on the performers' skin, will spread to the walls of the room itself and will also be made-up on our guests, the
audience. Posing in prone, consumptive postures, the performers will lift their veils or skirts to reveal plague sores, buboes and cutaneous hemorrhages, bubonic rings of roses.

Two or three audience members at a time, will share this enclosed space with Uninvited Guests, having an intimate experience, getting close-up and personal. The mourning women, the plague-carriers, will work tenderly on the task of making-up sores, which will produce fearful effects. The tenderness and intimacy of their actions and the revealing of hidden skin will be charged with eroticism: the appearance of the hemorrhages will be beautiful, attractive as well as repulsive. Over the week sores will proliferate across the white walls, starting from one point and spreading outwards to infect the whole room, as though the building is plague-ridden. The room will begin to bleed profusely from its pores and ooze pus. We like the idea of the durational installation growing over the week, that each person will witness a different moment in the spread of the fictional disease and the progress of the performers' infection.

The references are as much to contemporary horror, like Kubrick's 'The Shining' (in which the hotel lift bleeds) and the parasites in Cronenberg's 'Shivers'/'They Came From Within', as to Poe.

The audience will be offered bubonic sores and haemorrhages as gifts to carry out into the Punchdrunk world and the real world beyond. Thus marked with infection, they will be left to consider the fictional pestilence they might spread to passers-by and those they are close to. They will also bear a realistic sore to show their loved ones when they return from their night out at the theatre. After their intimate experience of being made-up by a performer, and witnessed by other spectators, we will have compacts to hand, with mirrors to show the audience member their fresh sore.

Within the fiction, the black-clad mourners have become death, personifications of Poe's Red Death or London's Black Death. But the event is also curative and caring. It is as though this is an act of remembrance, a memorial to those lost to pestilence, each make-up trace marking a departed soul, remembering them on walls or skin. As with Poe's Red Death, our fictional infection can be read not as a disease or sickness at all but as a mark of something shared inherently by all of humankind. In contemporary times, fears of plague have returned amidst the hysteria around imagined terrorist acts, for example see: http://www.cbwinfo.com/Biological/Pathogens/YP.html

Currently we have settled on the event being silent, except for the sound of making-up, the murmur of conversation between the make-up artists and between them and their clients, commenting on their work and asking for wound gel, wax, a spatula, powder or a mirror.

We like the idea of the muffled background noise of spill from soundtrack elsewhere in the building, "bleeding" through the walls. We considered playing a lieder from Schubert's Der Winterreise, or Death and the Maiden, or André Caplet “Conte Fantastique” for Harp and String Quartet, after Edgar Allen Poe's 'Masque of the Red Death', from a record or I-pod. We also contemplated the sound of a heart beat/blood flow from behind the walls. In the end we settled upon silence.