Lee Serle: Multimodal
Director and choreographer LEE SERLE melds audience and artist in the interactive, immersive and participatory performance piece MULTIMODAL, occupying THE SUBSTATION.
MULTIMODAL guides randomly selected audience members through a series of physical, sonic, olfactory and choreographic experiences housed within The SUBSTATION’s various post-industrial spaces.
Those selected, contribute to the work’s unfolding content as they journey through BYRON SCULLIN’s visceral sonic experiences, physical movement spaces and immersive, scent laden installations from visual artist LIZ HENDERSON and LEE SERLE, eliciting memories and personal narratives throughout the performance ritual.
Performers DEANNE BUTTERWORTH, BENJAMIN HANCOCK, GEOFFREY WATSON and REBECCA JENSEN, together with eight guides, lead the inductees through the installation series – blurring the lines between performer and audience, and public and private space, as the ritual’s voyeurs (the audience) observe their performance induction from afar.
Images: Suzie Blake
Lee Serle: Multimodal
30 August – 04 September 2016
Director/Choreographer/Installation Designer: Lee Serle
Sound Artist and Designer: Byron Scullin
Installation Artist: Liz Henderson
Performers/Collaborators: Deanne Butterworth, Benjamin Hancock, Geoffrey Watson, Rebecca Jenson, James Andrews,Sarah Aiken, Jessie Oshodi, Matthew Hyde, Emily Robinson, Ben Hurly, Jacqueline Aylward and Arabella Frahn-Starkie
Costume Design: Shio Otani
Lighting Design and Production Management: Richard Dinnen for Megafun
Video Artist: Takeshi
"On preview night of Lee Serle’s Multimodal, I was standing around with a few friends in the foyer before the show. Slowly, the space was permeated by strange figures in colourful crocheted garments. One of them approached us and joined our conversation, before turning to one of my friends and coyly asking “how would you feel about… coming with me?” So began a sensual and mysterious performance work quite unlike any I had seen before.
In their program notes, director/choreographer Lee Serle and his artistic associates (Sound Artist Byron Scullin and Olfactory Artist[!] Liz Henderson) all talk about the form of their work, with little mention of the content; the work is not explained as being “about” anything in particular. It’s a refreshingly frank approach to experimental practice – these artists are entirely concerned with testing the boundaries of the forms in which they work.
Central to the work is the experience of eight randomly selected audience members. These audience members were plucked from the foyer before the show – like my friend was – and guided through a sensory and psychic experience, whilst the rest of us were guided into the performance space. We didn’t get to see them moving through that experience, but once they were finished, they were guided into the performance space and integrated into the performance. Their participation in the performance included contributing to the soundtrack, being massaged, being treated to various sonic experiences with different types of speakers and – in one notable instance – being interviewed.
It’s a strangely beautiful experience, watching fellow audience members being immersed whilst you sit back in your seat. I found myself completely engaged in their experience, almost to the point of feeling the sensations that they might have been feeling in their bodies. Of interactivity in his work Serle says, “for the most part the audience’s participation is passive, yet allows for varying degrees of interactivity depending on the individual.” I wouldn’t necessarily measure what I experienced by degrees of “interactivity”, but rather by degrees of “immersion” – it was a great surprise and thrill to find myself so immersed in the sensory elements of the work without being one of the audience participants.
The sensory installations that the chosen participants were guided through are also open to the rest of the audience after the performance, and this is where Henderson’s olfactory practice shines. In Henderson’s own words, “olfaction has long been derided as a lower sense in the hierarchy of the senses;… generally ignored in the study of aesthetics.” It’s a delight to find this lower sense explored with such attention and playfulness. Henderson concedes – or rather celebrates – that olfaction is extremely subjective, with different smells elucidating different emotions or memories for different individuals. But it is this subjectivity that the whole of Multimodal seems interested in.
Serle states that, with Multimodal, he is aiming to explore “the capacity for more overwhelming experiences”. My personal experience of the work was not one of being overwhelmed – some moments fascinated and delighted me, whilst other moments fell into a slower or more contemplative rhythm that weren’t as interesting for me personally. But I imagine that the sensory engagement of this work could be overwhelming for some. Either way, Serle and his team have created a work full of bold experimentation, in which any audience member should find moments of wonder and interest."
An experimental dance work to stimulate all the senses.
★ ★ ★ 1/2
"Our responses to artwork are always subjective. Where we choose to sit in the theatre, what kind of day we've had, the heavy baggage of our personal experiences and aesthetic preferences – all these things and more affect how we respond to the event in front of us, and account for the wildly differing opinions that are evoked in the face of art.
Although subjectivity is a given, Lee Serle's Multimodal is an exercise in challenging personal responses by presenting its audience with vastly different experiences. As one of eight chosen "inductees", I was taken into tiny rooms, heavy with the heady scents of aniseed and old roses, and watched looping films of dancers jumping, rolling and extending their limbs.
Later I found myself on stage, where my body became a kind of point of reference for performers to massage, manipulate and interact with, throwing themselves to the floor at my feet yet rarely meeting my gaze. Never permitted the anonymity of merely being in the audience, I became a participant and performer in the evening's expression of Multimodal, leaving with an experience coloured by my proximity to the work, along with a keen sense of discomfort that my unrehearsed and uninitiated role had been witnessed by rows of strangers in the dark.
Interactive and participatory performance is challenging to develop, execute and to experience, and it is a frame that fundamentally fractures the experiences of those in the room. With performances by Deanne Butterworth, Benjamin Hancock, Geoffrey Watson and Rebecca Jensen and installations by Byron Scullin and Liz Henderson, Multimodal threads together movement, sound, memory and scent.
At its core it challenges us to be more subjective, and increasingly conscious of that subjectivity. It is this relationship between the witness, the participant and the performer that Serle exploits, and Multimodal is an argument for the fluidity of those labels."
immersive installation turns audience into performers
★ ★ ★