Silicon Sensorium (Phases 1 & 2)
Purcell Room, 17 & 18 December 2003
Probably the best thing about Darren Johnston's multi-media melee, Silicon Sensorium, is that it is short. Twenty five minutes in each half, which thankfully isn't quite long enough to get bored. Earlier this year Johnston founded Array, an artistic collective working in scenography, design, electronic sound, computer generated imagery and performance, and this is their first product. While the idea of sound/video/dance collaborations always appeals to me (and to the funding boards), in this case, the product of such creative cahoots turned out to be a dud.
Consciously 'techno', the theme is computers and cloning and the effect is aptly soulless. Composer Tom Jenkinson, better known as Squarepusher, provides an ear-drilling electronic soundtrack and the first half takes the form of a film. A real-life nuclear bunker is the backdrop – an atmospheric warren of long dark corridors, sinister machines and banks of computers – peopled by (literally) faceless scientists in white coats and a robotic cyborg kept captive.
In the second half, our cyborg (Johnston) is on stage, trapped in a transparent pod, watched by cameras from every angle. He wears a monochrome body suit and a shiny white mask in a glum expression. He slowly finds movement in his limbs, mundane motions, but doesn't get as far as creating character or exploring the space. There's one great moment where Johnston moves to the front of his pod, right up to the glass, and his masked face stares straight out at the audience. It's a startling confrontation and almost the start of something interesting. Almost.
While it's essential that young artists are able to experiment with new ideas and forms, simply working with 'multi-media' or ' experimental technology' is no longer enough to form the basis of a performance. Array need to find some substance for their work or a more effective way of communicating their ideas before the final phase of Silicon Sensorium is completed next spring.