In Black Box

Photo: Meri Ekola

Meri Ekola | 20.9.2020

The black box setting has been the context where the work has been created during my time in Oblivia. I have heard about the early adventures in hangars and other alternative spaces to create performances in the group’s history but never participated in them. “There you get so much for free”, as Annika would put it. “Structures, compositions, atmospheres, everything is there already”. Black box, on the contrary, is an impersonal black hole that sucks in itself all the energy and lightness. But it is as well the perfect framing where you can concentrate on what is done, “the magical framing” I hear Annika’s words. 

When I stepped in Oblivia in 2009, I adopted the essential principle of the group: the work should be created on an empty stage without any set. An empty black box stage felt back then like a big challenge and I still find it not easy to relate my expression with light to. Light as an immaterial medium comes to existence only through the resonance with the material properties. Apart from the performers it is only the venue’s architectural parameters that give support to the light in an empty stage. 

I have learnt to see black box as an ideal space to get into dialogue with the act of performance, a space where the performative situation lingers in between the actual and the imaginary by nature. Since theatricality is the mere backdrop for Oblivia, the setting is often underlined and the awareness of the hierarchy between the stage and the audience is shown. An attempt to bring the stage “here and now” exists in order to reveal the persona of the performer and to allow the recognizability and humanity gain space. The notion of reality can be changed into a staged one in a glimpse of an eye.

Many of Oblivia’s pieces especially from the Entertainment Island and Museum of Postmodern Art series have dealt directly with the potential of imagination inside of the theatrical construction. The performers, the light and the sound as staged elements have been put together to construct temporal illusions in one moment and to dismantle them the second. The darkness of the black box enhances the impact of the light making every gesture meaningful. I have struggled to keep the lighting engaged with the mundane quality of an empty stage in an interesting way, not being too dramatic from the start.

Over the years the material appearance of light has become a distinctive element of Oblivia’s stage. Different kinds of spatial arrangements of lights have been giving visual structure for the empty stage. Almost in all of the designs I have brought light inside to the performance space instead of counting on lighting the stage only from the ceiling rig. Light sources placed visible on stage in abstract, often geometrical, sometimes asymmetrical constellations have occupied the stage together with the performers. This has also been a way to bring the light as a medium in focus, to shift the perception from immaterial to actual physical one and to acknowledge the essential expressive role of light. 

How to give a visual identity to the piece while working with no set? What are the aesthetics of this empty stage? How to create a space of transformation, where a shift to imaginary can appear? I face these questions in every new creation process with Oblivia. The black box stage does not directly give an answer but when the lights go off it offers a chance to start from zero.

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