In Solitary Confinement

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A twenty three hour long performance and digital media installation created and played out in the confines of a two by three metre area, combining technology, creative fiction and endurance. RIMA, is a performance that explores from an autobiographical stand point, both the physical and psychological effects of solitary confinement, and one which inhabits both the physical and virtual worlds. Julie Vulcan, who alongside Ashley Scott have created RIMA, spoke with Jessi Lewis about the project

With this work seemingly being one which is, experimental, what do you hope it achieves, what are your objectives within the 24 hour time frame?

For the audience we hope that it opens people up to the different ways a performance work can be experienced. The extended timeframe invites an audience to have a prolonged engagement with the journey. The usual pattern would be to meet up with friends, attend an event, then go out for a drink or go home. In this case after you leave the performance space you have the option of coming back the next day and sitting with it or you can follow the story on twitter or on the website. You might decide to check in online to see what is happening after dinner or over your coffee the next morning. We are interested in the idea that the audience understand that the performance is not over when they leave the room, it still goes on, and that subconsciously it is still going on for them.

Inevitably the context of the work informs our objective to make visible a world that is out-of-sight out-of-mind. We hope to provoke questions about what this actually means right now in the world we inhabit. When we mean the world, not just globally but here in Australia. We hope that this small gesture might encourage people to ponder what controlled isolation might mean for them.

On a practical level the work has improvised elements. There is a stable technical core including the program systems and text ideas, however, when we perform we are experimenting with approaches and responses to these limits. It’s an ongoing process of refinement. So for Ashley this might be about how he sequences and mixes the soundtrack in relation to what the sensors and the text fragments are telling him. For Julie it might be about discovering new ways of occupying the confined space through different actions and tempos and in response to Ashley’s soundmix.

What was the stimulus for creating this work?

When we first started talking about what this work might be we were interested in the tiny shifts and details of everyday life – such as a shadow or light beam on a wall or an inconsequential sound that somehow attracts your attention. The mental responses are also part of it – the memories that are excavated or the fantasies that are invented in association with these elements.

Imprisonment and exile provide scenarios where the range of sensory experience permitted to a person is restricted and their world reduced to a narrow chunk of stimuli. Within this world, memory responses are often out of step with the outside world a person once inhabited and are remixed with a whole lot of new associations.

Fictional and autobiographical writings by political and civil prisoners, exiles, recluses and even monks abound with this kind or limitation: a throttling of the variety of information that reaches the eyes, ears and skin of the subject. Sometimes that’s the point of self-imposed confinement, to reduce the ‘noise’ of the lived world. However, the political dimension of this is that sensory confinement can be a punishment or a way to put people and ideas in some kind of cold storage.

We make a point, when we talk about RIMA, that during extreme times of change it is often the educated, the artists and the mavericks who are silenced – meaning there is a fine line. It is an inevitable topic that is especially obvious in the writing or twitter fiction within RIMA. It’s very pertinent to the world at the present time and the society that we live in.

How does the connection with the out side world, through digital information sustain itself over the duration of the performance?

From the moment we start the performance at 1pm on Saturday until we finish at midday the following day, the space is live. This means the sensors in the space are picking up the environment and responding to Julie’s actions. This affects the text that gets chosen and posted on twitter @squidsilo or on the webpage. Overnight when the venue is closed to public there is a live image webstream – a bit like a surveillance camera – that can be checked into. The audience has multiple possibilities of engaging with the work. Some people might choose to come in and continue to follow the text online after or vice-versa. Others might choose not to experience it live but instead follow the text and livestream remotely. Afterwards the text remains on the twitter feed and people can revisit the words like a diary.

What has your research into the psychological and physical effects of solitary confinement uncovered? 

It is well documented that healthy subjects spending just 48 hours in sensory deprivation can experience severe anxiety, extreme emotion, paranoia and hallucinations. In addition, within this same timeframe, the side effects on brain function impair the capacity to remember and associate by up to 35%! This draws into question many of the dubious circumstances people are held, in order to illicit a statement. We can see how quickly the truth can be skewed and ultimately be vulnerable to manipulation.

What we do know is that the more time someone spends in solitary the higher possibility they will become neurotic, angry, depressed and suicidal. The very notion of solitary is to break down a person’s sense of who they are. It profoundly changes them cognitively as well as psychologically. Even if we like to spend time alone we are ultimately social animals and solitary is one way of breaking the fabric of what it means to be human.

The most heartbreaking accounts of time in solitary, abject conditions aside, recall the deep craving for human touch. Solitary confinement has been labeled a human rights violation.

Do you feel art has a keen ability to push messages or agendas in a way that other forms/media is unable to?

Definitely. The nature of art means that to a large extent there are no rules, it is fluid in terms of how it finds new ways to express ideas or engage people. This takes us back to the ‘experimental’ in your first question. In a way it’s strength is surprise. When we become habituated to something so do our responses. When we are introduced to something new that we don’t quite understand or that brings into question how we actually feel, this is an exciting place. It opens up a world less about expectation and more about inquisitiveness, which is a more empowering motivator. This can stimulate us to look further, change our attitude or question our position. Because of this, maybe there is a tendency for us (as artists and as audience) to approach this thing called ‘art’ with a more open heart and mind and in doing so surprise ourselves when something resonates, shocks or spurs us on to think differently about the way we are in this world now.

In terms of RIMA we are not presenting according to a well-known structure as in, for example, a TV drama. There is no clear coherent order to the text, the performers activity, the soundtrack, at this point it is uncertain and dependent on a number of stimuli. However within this is an exciting world of possibility. Likewise, we are not looking for the audience to have a proscribed reaction rather we offer a series of images and ideas that will coalesce in each person individually and as such give their own response agency.

RIMA is taking place at Arts House, 521 Queensberry St, North Melbourne, from 1pm on Saturday the 30th of July, for more information click here

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