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Vanitas: an app to die for – Precinct

Article in Precinct 19 July 2017

An app that lets audience members experience Melbourne General Cemetery like never before? Victorian College of the Arts Lecturer in Theatre Robert Walton explains more. 

By Robert Walton, Lecturer in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts

This weekend (20–21 May 2017) at the Melbourne General Cemetery, artist Jason Maling and I will test the latest edition of our transmedia app experience Vanitas.

Blurring documentary with fiction, Vanitas is a reflective thriller about life’s great mystery: death. Experienced through their own smartphone and decrypted through the secret language of flowers, each visitor will embark on a self-guided walk through Melbourne’s oldest modern cemetery. Alone.

Intrepid audience members will listen to the app as they wander towards a rendezvous at the centre of the cemetery. It’s a meditative experience that asks you to listen deeply and look closely at the world around you. In Vanitas, not everything is as it first appears.

Rachel Ruysch, Vase with Flowers, 1700. Wikimedia Commons.

A vanitas painting portrays collections of objects symbolic of the certainty of death. We were inspired by a painting from 1700 by Dutch artist Rachel Ruysch called Vase with Flowers (above). Ruysch’s floral vanitas depicts blooms just passing their best, on the cusp of wilting or being eaten by bugs. Her mysterious painting, like all vanitas pictures from that era, reminds us that all living things fade, and that our objects will outlive us and become the last traces of our daily lives.

In much of Australian culture, death remains taboo. For a variety of reasons, we are unable or unwilling to talk about it. In fact, we often go about our lives as if death is a fate that will not befall us personally. Australia also has the second highest uptake of smartphones in the world.

Hence, we have made a smartphone app as a vanitas for our own times. The interface itself is based on Ruysch’s painting with each flower representing an episode in the story. Like the flowers in the painting, you are drawn to some episodes first and then chance upon others along the way. The shift between guided and random order allows the audience to weave their own connections with the threads of narrative we present.

The story mixes documentary, autobiography and fiction and is told wholly through remixed audio fragments taken from interviews with a variety of experts on the themes of vanitas, flowers, life and death. We find out about the secret language of flowers, witness a cremation, and talk to botanists, historians and professionals from the death industry.

We are lucky to have Southern Melbourne Cemeteries Trust in our city; world leaders in forward thinking about the future of our cemeteries. Those we have worked with from the Trust’s team have been great collaborators and have helped us to understand how death practices have evolved over the last century and how they might develop into the future.

What is clear is that Melbourne General Cemetery in Parkville is a place of extraordinary national importance. It is a haunting museum and art gallery of lives past, like the shadow of the city itself.

And, with 300,000 people buried there, it’s certainly the biggest venue I have ever played. But the dead are what you’d call a captive audience.  On the whole they are very well behaved bunch; they don’t give much back. They seem to be enjoying the show so far, yet we live in constant fear of a standing ovation.

The audience on the weekend can expect a meditative experience exploring themes of death and transience. Ticket holders can arrive any time between 10am and 4pm on their chosen day.

Audience members will be asked to come with a fully-charged smartphone (Apple or Android) with an Australian mobile number, email address, access to the internet (there is no WiFi in the cemetery) and headphones. Once booked, they will be sent an email with information on how to download the Vanitas app before coming to the cemetery.

Vanitas was commissioned as part of In Your Hands – a new series of artworks and installations that invite audiences to create experiences mediated through hand-held technology – by Arts House through the Australia Council’s New Digital Theatre Initiative. Tickets are available from Arts House. Admission: $10

Sign up for the Faculty of VCA & MCM’s free monthly enews.

Find out more about Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts. 

Banner image: Jason Maling and Robert Walton.

A smartphone thriller told through the secret language of flowers.Created by Robert Walton and Jason Maling 20-21 May 2017, Arts House & Melbourne General CemeteryMore dates in the pipeline!

Vanitas at Melbourne General Cemetery

20 & 21 May 2017

Book Now

The latest edition of Vanitas will get its first public outing at Melbourne General Cemetery very soon.

Booking is essential.

Come visit us in Australia’s most historically significant cemetery.

robertwalton-livesinterrupted-poster2

Lives Interrupted – Lecture and Classes at University of Wisconsin Madison

If you are in Madison on 7 November come along to hear about my research into how phones are shifting our perceptions of everyday life, theatre and our relationships.

I’ll also be visiting classes with undergraduate and postgraduate students. Looking forward to connecting with emerging artists in Madison.

Lives Interrupted: Rethinking theatre and smartphones through transmedia dramaturgy

Live theatre and funerals: the two places survey respondents report that it is inappropriate to use your smartphone. Dinner tables, classrooms, bedrooms, rock concerts and almost all other aspects of public and private life have been colonized by a device less than a decade old. Understanding why smartphones remain taboo at live theatre events reveals what is special about both media and how they function as stages of remediation in our lives.

Set within wider trans- and ‘spreadable’ media discourses and the thawing of monolithic media ownership through fan culture, this paper begins to draw parallels between developments in theatre and other media that have had to move ‘over the top’ of existing communications infrastructure to enter a digitally networked culture. If theatre is the original transmedia art form where all the signifying elements of the stage work in parallel but in proximity within an overarching mise-en-scène, then can it provide a model for understanding experiences of performance distributed across media channels more broadly?

This talk is part of an ongoing practice-led research inquiry into possible ‘transmedia dramaturgies’ of performance in proximity to smartphones. The research has already led to Vanitas a hybrid event deployed over smartphone apps, installation, real-world locations, phone calls, SMS and email that premiered at the 2016 Festival of Live Art in Melbourne.

A smartphone thriller told through the secret language of flowers.Created by Robert Walton and Jason Maling 20-21 May 2017, Arts House & Melbourne General CemeteryMore dates in the pipeline!

Vanitas Premieres at Festival of Live Art

2-11 March 2016

Vanitas, my new ‘smartphone thriller’ launches tonight at the Festival of Live Art at Arts House in North Melbourne.

More Information

Confirmation Presentation 1

Lecture: Transmedia Dramaturgy – Theatre, Smartphones and Networked Performance

Confirmation Presentation – 4pm 16 December 2015 – Art Auditorium, VCA

Please join me at this public lecture followed by a discussion.

Do hybrid media performances require a transmedia dramaturgy?

The aim of this research is to examine the dramaturgical, philosophical and aesthetic capabilities of performances deliberately expanded to spread across and be experienced through the everyday technologies of a ‘networked culture’.

I will present an overview of key literature and focus specifically on the findings from a series of experimental performances delivered on smartphones over the year (The Asphodel, Still Life and Dark Telephony). I will introduce the first prototype of the Vanitas project, presented at Arts House in November, which was deployed across an app, voice calls, SMS, webpages, maps, an installation and Errol and Victoria streets in North Melbourne. I will conclude by laying out some of the challenges of researching in this field and outline my plan for completing this research over the next two years.

Performing Mobiles Presentation

Lecture: Performing Mobiles – Smartphones and Theatre

Performing Mobilities a Performance Studies International Fluid States conference Sunday 11 October 2015

My current research investigates how performances are created and experienced by mixing live action in physical venues with networked communication systems like email, telephony, apps and social media accessed through smartphones. While most theatre performances occur within established venues at explicitly stated times, this research investigates how experience and understanding of performance might change when accessed through smartphones outside of traditional theatre settings. Informed by Henry Jenkins’ idea of ‘spreadable media’ (a concept that challenges ‘legacy’ media to find ways to spread across the new channels afforded by networked culture) I aim to establish how a decentralised, multi-platform performance might be constituted.

Please contact me if you would like a copy of the paper.

Dark_Telephony

Dark Telephony

9-11 October 2015

Prototype Performance – Performing Mobilities – Between RMIT and North Melbourne

Throughout 2015 Robert Walton and Jason Maling are developing a responsive time-based narrative experience that moves across media, bodies and technologies, between public and private spaces. Dark Telephony is controlled by call-centre technology and will be mediated by an interactive telephone system via individual mobile devices, social media and its human avatars. In this iteration the Dark Telephony system will manifest a live performance for a small group of participants. Part call-centre horror story, part spectral encounter with oneself, the work exploits the uneasy relationship we have with automated disembodied telephone systems. It plays on that vague sense that our mundane communications are not all they seem and an all-pervasive and non-locatable ‘other’ might actually be tracking and directing our movements. Participants will literary ring in to be wrung out.

More information on Performing Mobilities website.

Simon Wilkinson ‘Transmedia Immersion’ Interview & Q&A – ACMI – Melbourne – Part 2

Simon Wilkinson of Circa69 in conversation about transmedia immersion. Recorded at ACMI [Australian Centre for the Moving Image] – Federation Square, Melbourne 10:03:15 Presented by Federation Square as part of their Creative Programme, Hosted by Robert Ellis Walton [VCA]

Simon-Wilkinson-1264x380

ACMI Events: In Conversation with Simon Wilkinson

Simon Wilkinson In Conversation

Tuesday 10 March | 6.30pm – 7.30pm | ACMI

THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT

Simon Wilkinson is a multi-award winning and internationally renowned artist whose interactive, transmedia and immersive works cross over into performance, installation, theatre, video art and elaborate interactive multi-platform narratives.

This forum event, presented by Fed Square’s Creative Program and hosted by Robert Ellis Walton [VCA] will include a presentation by Simon Wilkinson on the most recent developments in interactivity, multi-platform, virtual reality and technology-based arts; followed by a discussion and audience Q&A.

This event is followed by a free performance of Beyond the Bright Black Edge of Nowhere in Fed Square.

FREE but reservations essential BOOK HERE: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/beyond-the-bright-black-edge-of-nowhere-forum-tickets-15970880333

For more information about the event: http://fedsquare.com/events/beyond-the-bright-black-edge-of-nowhere


 

Immersive Transmedia Storytelling in Theatre and Performance

A workshop for artists and researchers led by Simon Wilkinson of Circa69

1:30 – 5:00pm | Thursday 12 March 2015 | Federation Square Board Room

FREE but registration required as spaces limited.

The workshop will cover the psychology of attention with respect to audience immersion, the principles of multi-platform storytelling for live work plus a look at current and emerging technologies including oculus rift, leap motion and kinect.

THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT

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