Review by Liam Jones
Documentation by Chris Boyd
For the past couple of decades philosophers have spoke a lot about posthumanism, what it is, and the role of objects in the world. While these debates have been ongoing, it is the artworld that has took seriously and done something with objects. The Happy Jug is an example of this. Both the eponymous jug and the stage setting of three rock sculptures place objects at the centre of the play. The Happy Jug is a multilayered and transdisciplinary play. Nathan Jones’s script is influenced by the debates surrounding the posthuman and objecthoo. Besides the script though, there is the soundtrack from Kepla that crescendos and fades over distorted images ranging from David Cameron to riots, and the Jones family with their happy jug.
What I want to discuss though is the themes that arise from the play. These can be broken into two categories: objectivity and the posthuman. Throughout the play these themes intersect in various ways and create a kind of meaning that some, at least I, can take from it.
Michael Fried, in his essay Art and Objecthood, claims that the survival of the arts depends entirely on their ability to defeat theatre. Fried’s problem with the encroachment of theatre on the arts is that art loses its objecthood through the necessity of its relation to a subjective viewer, the audience. The Happy Jug dismisses the theatricality of theatre, the necessary link to a human audience, in favour of an artistic event or intervention.
If the classic role of the audience is to apprehend a play, shaping the actions on stage into a coherent and meaningful message, The Happy Jug does its best to prevent this. The play tortures the audiences sensory perception of it. With images distorted onto misshapen rocks, flashing barely long enough to be seen, and the sound by Kepla almost negating the lines of script being spoken, the play makes us question how much we rely on sensory experience to create meaning and sense of things. The audiences pleasure and understanding of the play is thus secondary to the work itself.
What makes the play a ‘posthuman drama’ is that the objects are not anthropomorphised in the play. What role then do the various objects play? They act as reflectors and as nodes in a network. As the play moves from scene to scene the sculptures stay the same, static, unmoving. In this sense, the sculptures are a material substratum for the interaction of images, sounds and words.
In her book The Posthuman Rosi Braidotti notes one aspect of the posthuman turn in both science and the humanities is ‘panhumanism’. She states panhumanism “indicates a global sense of inter-connection among all humans, but also between the human and the non-human environment, including the urban, social and political, which creates a web of intricate inter-dependences” (2013:40). What the play does so well is to explicate this interconnection between objects and humans. It is in this sense that we can say that the happy jug is an actor in the play. We can call the jug an actor in the performative sense of the term. As well as this we can use the notion taken from Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory. John Law writes that Actor-Network Theory “tells that entities take their form and acquire their attributes as a result of their relations with other entities” (1999:3). From this it is evident the nonhuman actor is a catalyst for the writing of the play whilst also signalling the network of affects, feelings, and relations that make up the everyday. We can say the jug is happy because of its relation to others.
Sound also plays a major role in this play. Rather than the play being a performance by actors, human or non-human, consciously performing, the sound highlights the flow of energy that vitalises objects. As it pulsates the dialogue become almost inaudible. In doing so it drowns out the meaning of those words as the audience tries to grasp at it. This not only has a jarring effect on the audience but makes us question the role humans play in determinig the meaning of things.
The play highlights a crisis of the human in the anthropocene. There is a line, paraphrasing Mcluhan, that says ‘the tumour is the message’. If the tumour is the message then what is the meaning of the message? For me, it declares the utter contingency of humans. What this means is that as much as we try to argue for autonomy, free will, and the determination of the world via humans, humans themselves are beyond the human. To clarify, there are actors beyond the human. This is the plays posthuman message.
DETAILS OF EVENT
Sound, concrete, voice and animation-mapping star in
THE HAPPY JUG
Thursday 27th August, 2015
a post-human drama about brain trauma, thing theory and the general election
premieres 8pm at 24 Kitchen Street.
Tickets available by donation https://
monoliths interpose themselves
to create a grippingly weird, heart-wrenching
theatre piece. a psycho-drama of high personal and political stakes
did the anointing of a totem change the past?
what anaesthetises the social body?
can you reprogram flesh?
a hyper-modern ensemble of verbatim dialogue
intra-diegesic voice and bass treatment by KEPLA set to motion-tracked
video composition by SIMON JONES and CHRIS BOYD
and MADELINE HALL’s concrete and plaster
as dramatic focal points, enacting
speculative philosophy and
…a small tube of superglue
in NATHAN JONES’ text
like a lucky charm sits inside its chest…
Also featured print and vide works by Sam Skinner with cgi and additional editing by Chris Boyd