08 September 2012

"Soap is even better to watch than television"

(image source: http://update.waopa.ch/?jw_portfolio=mathilde-monnier-fr)
Last night the jury saw Soapéra, a dance-installation by Mathilde Monnier at the Salzlager in Essen. It was one of my favourite nights with the jury so far, filled with unpredictable moments that would only happen with a group of kids in the space.

When we entered the theatre, the whole ground-level stage was covered with a giant circular mass of foamy bubbles--see the photo above. A soap machine was still spilling soap onto the pile from overhead as the audience entered the space. The lights dimmed and we sat, watching the mass continue to grow. It slowly started to move, gently bobbing up and down.

Over time, this action (or lack thereof) was becoming one of those moments where the (adult) audience (or at least me) began to ask themselves: What is this? what is it supposed to mean? what do the bubbles mean? what is it referencing? and so on. We've been trained to ask ourselves these and other questions when looking at art, to think critically about the conceptual framework behind it.

The kids? Maybe some of them were thinking the same things. But mostly, they were thinking: BUBBLES. And so, when the first mass of soapy foam gravitated towards them, the kids knew exactly what they had to do--reach forward and grab those bubbles. You know, see what they feel like, blow them into the air, at each other, put them on their head, and smush them into their clothes. After all, what else do you do with bubbles? They were so fascinated by this mass of foam (schaum) that one of the kids said before the show even started: "Soap is even better to watch than television."

At first, the audience didn't know how to react to the kids' behaviour. You could see the incredulity in their eyes: Aren't we not supposed to touch the art?! Isn't this a stage project, not an interactive one? Shouldn't we not break the audience/stage barrier? Yet after the kids laughs became louder, their bubble blowing higher in the air... their giggling became contagious--and the whole audience started to giggle too. Something shifted in the room when it became clear how much fun they were having, and it was one of the most memorable parts of the performance.

It's moments like these when you see how the children can challenge an audience--and these moments are what the project is about. With all of our (adult) critical, conceptual thoughts that arise when watching contemporary art, all I could think was: Thank you kids, for reminding us all--sometimes art is better when we break the rules about viewing it. Because there ARE different ways to view art then only the ways we are trained to.

Bubbles can be art, but sometimes, they can just be bubbles.