Faceless : Dead & Desirable
Unreasonable Films @ Experimental Art Foundation
7:00pm, Fri 12 Mar 2010
I’ve been to see some stuff in the EAF before; in most Festival years (including this one!) there’s usually a part of an art exhibition in there. But when I walked into the bookshop that cunningly lies between the entrance and the gallery, I discovered a couple of dozen chairs set up in the bookshop itself; a woman took my ticket and gestured me towards the seats.
I park my arse and look forward; there’s a medium-sized TV screen flickering static, and a masked chap standing beside it holding a laptop, the empty black screen facing us. Only his eyes are visible, and they point forward dispassionately.
After a minute or so I feel decidedly creeped out, and I begin to lament my early arrival.
I begin to read the text on the sheet of paper I was handed on entry; it’s a rambling treatise on the lack of private spaces in this age of social networks, written by Fiona Sprott. It manages to be both academic in tone and alarmist, all whilst raising some interesting points… but by the time I’ve finished reading it, another half-dozen people have trickled in, and the overhead lights are suddenly switched off, leaving us illuminated by the flickering static on the TV screen.
The performance proper begins. The TV plays a series of scenes that are almost voyeuristic in nature, broken up by more static; the laptop begins to display pointed messages in bold fonts. There’s unsettling electronic music in the background, and the masked laptop holder continues standing there… unmoving, failing to break the forward stare. The laptop-displayed text is, of course, the meat of the performance; first- and third-person accounts of cyber-assault, with some recollections having horrific physical outcomes – stalkings, rape, murder.
Now, a lot of the ideas thrown around by Faceless aren’t exactly new; if you’ve been socially interactive on the Internet at all, you’ve probably been subject to some of the behaviour discussed… or know someone who has. But the cold, clinical manner of the delivery – the anonymous staring man, the crisp clean lettering of the laptop, the pale blue light of the incessant TV static – gives the message an almost otherworldly feel… as I mentioned before, it feels voyeuristic, especially combined with the TV images awash with static. The physical ramifications mentioned thus feel like a distant inevitability; and that, when you realise you’re thinking it, is shocking.
Performances like this are why I love the Fringe. Faceless takes a serious topic and presents it in an unusual way – giving the audience the chance to make of it what they will. I approached the subject matter with a know-it-all’s disdain, and was seriously slapped by the delivery of Faceless – and I love it for being able to do that. This was a deeply profound performance.