BERGEN 1 BERGEN 2 BERGEN 3 BERGEN 4 BERGEN 5
The Teatergarasjen is a stark black industrial cavern converted into an artspace. We're going to see Bak-Truppen (literally "Retro-Troupe") in their latest show Homo Egg Egg - "a search into the history and myths concerning the Neanderthals."
The auditorium seating is steeply raked and the stage is empty, Three wide screens are mounted along the back. The lights dim and gradually we hear voices . But the murmurs and grunts are below us, beneath our feet.
As the screens brighten we realise this isn't some new refinement of sound design. The Back-Troopers are all wedged into the space under the seating, entangled in a clutter of vision mixers, microphone stands, tripods and camcorders that are transmitting their images to the on-stage triptych of screens. It's Plato's notorious cave - in reverse. Or in prime time...
This could be a new spin on the Reality TV format, ready to pitch to Fox-TV or BBC. " Gotta great idea for a show... real stone age guys trapped in a cave, fighting for survival..." But here the stone axes are replaced by broken laptops and all the dreck of techno-hedonism lifestyle choices, even down to discarded tubes of sexual lubricants. The cast - 4m, 2f - wearing thongs or bikinis, smeared in brownish makeup, crawl around (they don't have much opportunity to stand) and film their interactions, often covering different activities on different screens. There are frequent close-ups of hands clutching eggs, which carry hand-written messages in Norwegian.
Jez attempts a low-volume simultaneous translation. The Neanderthals had bigger brains than ours. They buried their dead. Several members of the cast have just taken Viagra. There is a certain frisson in the audience. Do we continue with a satire on media voyeurism or are we going to witness a reconstruction of a Paleolithic orgy? "This lot have a bit of a reputation for going to the edge," said Jackie.
But they don't take it there. Instead there's a bridge section- a speeded-up travelogue through the Municipal Museum of Neanderthal in picturesque Austria, apparently montaged from old tourist films and educational videos. A pedagogue grimaces magically as he points out features of interest on a waxwork of a Neanderthal female. It's all intercut with shots of the cast dressing and undressing in the woods.
We return to the live action, the seemingly futile subterranean grooming and grunting, mediated via jerky zooms and clunking mic stands. Time for Neanderthal music, which, appropriately enough, is yodelled to the plucking of a Tyrolean zither. We can't keep up any more with the triple-screen dialogue exchanges. But soon another pre-taped projection ripples slowly across the centre-stage screen. It's a struggling sperm on a mission. A doomed Neanderthal sperm that's never going to join the gene pool, never going to make that egg.
The show ends with a fast rewind to the Big Bang, a deafening blast of white noise. We stagger out , we drink, we ponder. We agree it's been quite an experience. Then we decide to try the bar at another arts centre, by the harbour. Long bands of pink light stretch across the sky. Our wives look quite luminous. We all smile at each other through the din. Jez explains the etymology of "skol" the Norwegian toast. It's derived from "skull" - the ritual circulation of the skull, foaming with mead, at the warrior's feasthall.
A while later we're feasting at yet another waterside arts centre. This one has a high chimney, was formerly a sardine factory. Soon the entire industrial infra-structure of Northern Europe will be one huge arts centre.
"The next generation of Prime Ministers will have body piercings and tattoos," sighed Jez, several beers ago. We're still discussing the vogue for tattooing and body-modification which seems particularly prominent in Bergen, a city of Goths and sailors. Or is it part of a global phenomenon, the body as information-matrix and/or designer commodity?
This is not a seminar topic. Alice's (ex) boyfriend runs a tattoo parlour in Kristiansund in the north, and she's now decorated with the sigils of the new tribalism. Jackie just can't understand it and Old Brother Paul is totally mystified. Why do these beautiful young people of the millenic cyber-age want to morph themselves into Tolkienesque rune-maidens? Why the need to revert to neo-paganism, when they could all be queens of the spaceways? If they don't stop this atavism, they'll end up in the Cryptozoic deep shit.
(The truth, of course, could be that our children are entering a New Age of intrusive quantification , gene-editing and algorithmic persona-modification. So the notion of becoming a simple elf princess or a stout troll is seductive. But Brother P is, as his wife is fond of saying, getting too pissed and rhetorical to see it right now.)
Bergen 3: Light Waves On The Fjords »»
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