Samuel Beckett Not I. Theatre production. & Tony Oursler’s Installations.

Billie Whitelaw's stage performance in Samuel Beckett's Not I

Tony Oursler video installation.

I am very interested in Samuel Beckett as a writer and I have seen a number of his plays performed and watched a number of his plays turned into short films. Not I is a particularly relevant example for me visually as there are aspects of the disembodied mouth that feed through to some of my own ideas about how I might present ideas in this module. I am looking at video and thoughts of performance and I have been exploring video as a medium that seems currently appropriate for this.

I find Billie Whitelaw's performance as overwhelming as the words themselves and as she says Beckett manages to convey the core inner scream of the writing into a parallel visual work. Not I was a play but Beckett was very cinematic in terms of its staging and I see similarities in the seperated mind and body that would later be part of Tony Oursler's visual installation works. I think this is a good example of cross fertilisation between art fields in the culture, particularly when the artists involved are dealing with philosophical theory and with art as intelligent thought and reflection about the human condition rather than as an aesthetic response.

Tony Oursler combines overlaid projections with other physical objects like dolls, furniture and organic manufactured forms effectively using a series of images and sounds to bring to 'life' the otherwise inanimate objects. This is usually in the form of a speaking mouth, close up eye or other distorted facial features. This is reminiscent of Beckett's Not I produced for the stage in the early 1970's .Tony Oursler's work exhibits the narrow space between madness and reason and thus like Beckett he is reflecting the human dilemma and the dichotomy of mind and body. Beckett took his influence from Caravaggio's painting the beheading of John the Baptist so it is a good example of what Paul Muldoon one time professor of poetry at Oxford describes as the end of the poem. Muldoon's meaning here was to highlight Robert Frost's dictum that 'the way to read a poem in prose or verse is in the light of all other poems ever written'. My point here would be to say so to across all art forms, painting, theatre and installation art in this case.

Samuel Beckett of course was possibly the greatest writer since Shakespeare so I am not comparing Ousler's view of the world with the depth of Samuel Beckett. I just find it interesting to note how various artists spanning many decades find visual paths that share core similarities despite in essence them being different art forms (literature and installation art) on the surface. This probably is part of a deeper argument for where I feel art must be to remain relevant. That is it finds its roots within reflective thinking about the self and ones subjective perceptions whilst also managing to convey a universal sense of commonality. It may be like Ousler, presented in the form of waking nightmares or be like Beckett as woman alone in the void with her suffering but each must also leave a trace of all of our humanness to solidify its real meaning.


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