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An Immersive Hallucination with Massive Attack, Adam Curtis, and Punchdrunk in the 2013 Armory Season

by Allison Meier on February 21, 2013

Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack (via ocad123/Flickr user)

Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack (via ocad123/Flickr user)

With a fantasy of suburbs and excess from Paul McCarthy, the Robert Wilson-staged The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, and Matt Charman’s play about the chess-master IBM computer Deep Blue, the 2013 Park Avenue Armory season is going to be a theatrical one, to say the least. But the most sensory overload may come from the (tentatively titled) Massive Attack v Adam Curtis.

The project includes Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack and documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, and will involve performances from Massive Attack and film to look at the past 30 years of politics and their defining powers, with “breathtaking moments of illusion together in a hallucinatory ride through the dreams and the hidden realities of our strange, anxious age” (as proclaimed by the press release). This may sound a little too ambitious, but among the collaborators is Felix Barrett, the mastermind behind Punchdrunk, the British theater company which has produced such highly detailed and transformative works as the highly popular, ongoing Sleep No More in Chelsea that has Shakespeare’s Macbeth fragmented through six floors of a 1940s film noir environment. His participation, along with set designer Es Devlin (who has done some mind-bending designs for opera and theater, as well as the 2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremony and the monumental sets for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne tour) and London-based, spectacle-focused, art and design practice UnitedVisualArtists, makes it all seem possible.

The Armory will host the US premiere of Massive Attack v Adam Curtis this September, and before arriving it will be staged at the Ruhrtriennale International Festival of the Arts and the Manchester International Festival, which is where Alex Poots, the Armory’s new Artistic Director, was the Founding Director. The 2013 season at the Armory is his first to oversee.

“What’s interesting about him is that he really loves to get artists from different genres and then throw them together and let it rip,” said Rebecca Robertson, the president and executive producer of the Park Avenue Armory.

Park Avenue Armory drill hall

Park Avenue Armory drill hall (photograph by James Ewing)

Poots previously worked with Adam Curtis and Felix Barrett on It Felt Like a Kiss at the 2009 Manchester International Festival, which used archival footage to haunt the floors of an unused office building to explore how power worked, and similarly Massive Attack v Adam Curtis has power as its central theme. ”Adam is obviously super interested in the power of illusion and the illusion of power,” Robertson said, and both Curtis and Del Naja are concentrated on “this notion of hallucination.”

“This is a group of artists, some of whom Alex has already worked with, that he’s brought together, and they have this notion that they’d like to create this experience of how images fool us from this political point of view,” Robertson said. “Why it’s such a perfect marriage for us is that we have this great, big gorgeous drill hall, and a lot of the work we do is often called immersive, in that the audience decides how they’re going to interact with the art. We’re also interested in finding that intersection between high art and pop culture.”

According to Robertson, the artists have already visited the cavernous space of the 19th century Armory, with Felix Barrett having spent a whole week wandering its halls (he came to the Armory as a first choice for staging Sleep No More, but they couldn’t give Punchdrunk an extended run). Robertson said that like Ann Hamilton with her recent The Event of a Thread, which ”was an artist deciding, making her decisions as she worked in the space and having it all come together,” there will be some experimentation as the project goes forward, but it will be part of the Armory’s greater goal in encouraging “these big immersive productions where there are no rules.”

Massive Attack v Adam Curtis will be staged at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) from September 28 to October 4, 2013.

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