In at the Deep End
Dugald Ferguson and Klaus Kruse of
‘immersive performance collective’
reflects on the making of Cart Macabre
“For if it is true that the mind can transform the body it is equally true that structures can transform the mind.”
Walter Gropius, founder of Bauhaus
In the Beginning…
Living Structures, a multi-disciplinary collective of young artists, was formed in 2007 at Dartington College of Arts during the conception of the immersive installation performance Cart Macabre. The piece was conceived by Klaus Kruse (artistic director of Living Structures) whilst completing his Masters, and developed with core members Verity Standen, Daniela D’Emilia, Ula Dajerling, Hannah Standen and Dugald Ferguson in collaboration with over 30 contributing artists, puppeteers and performers throughout a series of three residencies.
Residency one was Dartington College of Arts (DCA), where we built and devised.
For the second, we inhabited Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) whilst we rehearsed and refined the material.
At the third we added finishing touches and performed it at Shunt
Dartington College of Arts – Building and Devising
We spent our time at DCA between workshop and studio wrestling into existence eight carts that could comfortably hold four people each – with removable walls, window slots, ceiling access and doors – through which we started to devise installations and scenes that could be witnessed from inside.
Our approach to creating a soundscape as an arch over the piece meant that songs forged in the furnaces of Klaus' psyche had to be harnessed by Verity, whipped into multiple harmonies, and then taught to collaborators – often with accompanying intensive singing lessons.
The Carts were built collaboratively, with 1328 bolts holding together 40 2440mm x 1220mm sheets of ply, an acre of blackout fabric, reams of wire and stage string, an army of snapped drill bits, and the Thames worth of black water-based paint.
We commissioned visual artist/puppeteer Charlie Scullion to create a series of shadow puppets that would inform our process and be refined in their turn as the development of installations and themes emerged. This led to the idea of taking the audiences’ possessions (coats, wallets, keys… contents of pockets bagged and labelled) and animating them, using conveyor belts and suspension.
As the installations themselves grew it soon became apparent they had some very specific needs:
[Design: place following list in a box or whatever in a ‘handwriting’ font, so it looks like a shopping list]
48 cow thigh-bones (salvaged from the local abattoir, scraped, defatted)
The enlarged image of a vagina progressing from open to closed
1244 words to 7 original songs
A climbing harness
A sack of onions
Sheets of Latex
A bakery of bread
155 moth puppets on fire
Four magnets from a microwave
The skin of six pigs and their lungs
160 litres of water
8 naked bodies, chilled
4 industrial rolls of polythene
A cart-sized seesaw
The hands of a virgin
8 wall-sized logistics maps
And some more bolts
Living Structures are infamous for creating work that bursts the frame of any commission/event we are invited to. The work that we have created under the most basic of circumstances is absolutely beyond our means, both in terms of finance and workload. We are only able to pull this off because we suffer from a severe delusion of grandeur which forces us to dedicate ourselves entirely to building towers of Babel.
Battersea Arts Centre – Live-in Rehearsal and Refining
BAC was an extraordinary, very hard and utterly necessary part of the making process. For one month 20 of us slept in one room relatively harmoniously, cooking for each other on an industrial level and working intensively for most of the time in the Victorian splendour of this venue’s Great Hall. The beautiful architecture and objects the building had to offer really enabled us to develop the themes of thresholds, death and purgatory waiting spaces as through concentrated scene study and more cart drilling we successfully explored Cart Macabre’s potential for site specificity.
During this residency we were operating without our original puppet master. Try as we might we just couldn’t achieve the subtle nuances of movement needed for the two shadow rats mating delicately in the corner so we flew our puppet master in for a couple of days. We also felt that 20 people in one room weren’t quite enough sleep-wise. Charlie arrived like a bastion of light bearing paperclips, straw, cardboard, gaffa-tape, wire and kebab sticks along with 50 extra moth puppets ready to burn for the show.
Perhaps some of the most intensely site specific moments of this residency came when late at night and exhausted one would stumble down the long echoing corridors ready for bed having dedicated another day to delving deeper and refining our experience of death and the afterlife in some form only to be confronted by all the gentle and prolific sounds a vast, old building has to offer. These noises coupled with playful tales passed on to us by some of the more… playful BAC staff of ghosts who had roamed there for many a long year tended to make one feel isolated and not a little bit confronted with one’s own mortality.
Cart Macabre utterly fails in its attempt to create the experience of nothingness for its audience and through this the piece explores our incapacity to imagine our own absence.
[Place following poem/lyric in box w/ different font]
I can’t quite imagine how it would be not to be
Would it be like a darkness with nothing to see?
A space without any surface or taste
The dooming wasteland of nothingness
Imagine a wasteland where there is not even waste
Shunt – Performing
The final residency at Shunt was a big success for us thanks mainly to Luke Cooper who had come to see one of the BAC showings and soon after programmed us into Serena Bobowski’s and Gemma Brockis’ month-long curation of events. The aesthetic and underground feel of the Vaults perfectly suited our thematic needs, whilst Cart Macabre’s newly discovered site-specific abilities thrived on the spatial compromises we had to make and the festival feel of the venue.
The soundscape that had been developed from original song had progressed to include incidental noises from the carts and unexpected spillage from installations. Darren Perry was recruited to refine these sounds and apply them to accompany the movement sequences of the carts.
Klaus had a great idea of adding long, white, wheelbarrow-stretchers as the way of getting the audience into our space which we feel was effective for both the full length version of the piece and also for the shorter version we had created to show later in the evenings. This required us heading out to the bar area and picking up willing yet unsuspecting audience members from their drinks and taking them into the pitch black space.
We want our audience to experience true adventure. In order to do this we see it necessary to remove them from common grounds and to create spaces in which exists an unfamiliar gravity and different law of nature. Our performances communicate with the spectator in such a way that they may comprehend these cognitively as well as through the pores of their skin.