Contemporary Art is supposed to challenge us, but what is the responsibility of such art? 600 Seconds at The Blue Room Theatre left the audience with this question after Tuesday night’s show. Provoked by the idea of ‘spilt milk’, the artists presented a loosely-curated show that interrogated the nature of being human. Despite being given the same brief, each work brought something different to the table, thereby delivering a comprehensive survey of contemporary life.
Changing from night to night, the program weaved strands of various themes into a coherent but nuanced social critique. Conversations around motherhood, sexuality and identity were balanced by heavier topics, such as death, belonging and spirituality, thoughtfully integrating a range of viewpoints. Layered over this thematic multiplicity were varying levels of strengths and experience, over the seven ten-minute pieces.
The variability of adaptations of the two-word provocation was a testament to the artists’, and programmers’, ingenuity. Some of the artists took the theme literally, cleverly incorporating the spilling of food into their physicality, and using it to metaphorize an emotional state. Rachael Woodward’s Mr Bean-style piece, for example, involved her merely pouring an entire bottle of water onto the stage in reference to the theme.
The idea that art functions as a voice for the artist was celebrated and cultivated in the structure and delivery of 600 Seconds. Artists were given the opportunity to construct something on their own terms, without being forced to excessively consider the work’s existence alongside the others. This was a highly successful way of producing theatre, since it gave the audience snippets of conversations that were all entwined in some way.
The only pitfalls of displaying such an alternative style of theatre were in the specific choices made by the artists. At times, they ignored the audience and prioritised sharing their message, perhaps not considering that each audience member brings with them their own knowledge and experiences when engaging with art. To allow the spectator to exist on their own terms is what French philosopher, Jacques Ranciere (The Emancipated Spectator, 2007), calls becoming an active, rather than passive, participant. Had 600 Seconds opened up the space of the theatre to make the performances an exchange of dialogue, real change could have been encouraged by artists.
Patrick Gunasekera’s final gesture left the audience literally looking at ourselves in a mirror. It was a perfect ending to the entire program, which both pulled back from its audience while also turning its gaze towards us. Theatre has the capacity to facilitate successful communication, and the idea behind 600 Seconds recognises this as the responsibility of both the artist and the audience.
Words by Molly Werner