In the late 60s Claes Oldenburg created a series of proposed colossal monuments for New York and London. These were absurd, outrageous, impossible sculptures. A war memorial the size of a building that blocked the whole of a major Manhattan traffic junction. Giant pool balls rolling down fifth avenue. A series of enormous toilet floats bobbing on the tide of the Thames. A hidden reef as an immigration memorial near Ellis Island into which boats arriving to New York would crash and sink, building into a enormous elephant’s graveyard of rusting hulls and abandoned cargo.
In their scale and brutish, vivid simplicity they become more than just proposals. They are invisible installations. Once they have been dreamt and proposed, their non-existence is no barrier to their ability to transform the city. Once you’ve imagined a series of enormous pool balls rolling back and forth down fifth avenue they are always there. Oldenburg’s fantasy leaks off the page and into the real. They are a frame through which to view the city. They are Oldenburg Spex, allowing you to see (as he does) the city as a cavalcade of shapes and forms; as an alluring, absurd, chaotic, erotic fantasy of a place.
I was reminded of this in Ant Hampton’s Peachy Coochy slideshow the other day. A journey through a performance described in a series of photographs – some taken by Ant, some that have simply fascinated him for a while. This built into a document of an impossible performance. Like Spectacular it offered up the strange paradox of an absence of theatre (the idea of something that has already happened, something that is over, something that you have missed) providing a space that is full of theatre. Like Oldenburg, these are invisible shows – no less real for their non-existence. They exist as a way of looking at Ant’s photographs or of Forced Ent’s empty stage. And when theatre becomes a way of seeing rather than something to be seen, then the limits of what theatre can be disappear over the horizon.
Ant’s impossible show was tantalising, beautiful, funny – yet flooded with a sense of loss. We are torn between the being-in-the-now of this imagined show being created in front of us, and the being-in-the-photographs of a moment missed, forever lost. Photographs always speak of passing, of death. They are a memory of the past existing in the present; reminding of the death of that moment, of it’s nonexistence. And yet here those photos are being harnessed in the manufacturing of a life and an event; they are conjuring something into existence. It’s a story told by ghosts (or a ghoulish skeleton with a microphone).
What happens when this haunted storytelling tells stories about real places? How does that change the way that people look at that city? Can we populate the real streets with ghosts? What kind of spectacle (or Spectacular) can these ghosts put on for us?
I want to create an imaginary show for the streets of London. A story told through the streets with a cast of thousands. With music and lights and fucking enormous finale.
I am going to propose a colossal show.
Does anyone else want to?