Dark collaboration: four artists, four disciplines, one show
‘Visitant’, a work by composer Trevor Knight, visual artist Alice Maher, Butoh dancer Gyohei Zaitsu and musician Áine O’Dwyer, is more than the sum of its parts
Gyohei Zaitsu in Visitant
Alice Maher: ‘It’s not like Trevor [Knight] gives me an idea and I go away and design it. It’s a parallel journey and we completely trust each other.’ Main photograph: Aidan Crawley
Many artists might wish to collaborate, perhaps driven by an aesthetic itch that needs to be scratched, or a need to break their artistic solitude. According to composer Trevor Knight and visual artist Alice Maher, true collaboration isn’t just agreeing to embark on a common journey: it needs mutual respect and a genuine openness to other creative forces, however unsettling they might appear.
The pair have been working together since 1999, and their latest performance, Visitant with Butoh artist Gyohei Zaitsu and musician Áine O’Dwyer, opens at Project Arts Centre tonight.
Project brought them together, when Knight approached then artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail with an idea to produce Wassily Kandinsky’s experimental theatre work Der Gelbe Klang (Yellow Sound ).
“The original score by Thomas de Hartmann was lost, and I was interested in writing a new score, but I needed to work with a visual artist,” says Knight. “Fiach said, ‘I know just the person’.”
Maher was in residence at the Irish Museum of Modern Art at the time, and Project provided space for the pair to work together. Kandinsky’s ideas provided a springboard for their ideas, in particular the relationship between colour and sound, and synaesthesia.
“After a while we decided to forget about Kandinsky and just work together with our ideas,” says Maher. So instead of
they produced their own work,
The Sky Chair
. Other works followed, such as
The Devil’s Spine Band
, and Knight composed music for some of Maher’s videos, so the pair have developed an artistic methodology.
“We always work together in parallel towards something,” says Maher. “It’s not like Trevor gives me an idea and I go away and design it. It’s a parallel journey and we completely trust each other.”
“I think what frequently passes for collaboration is actually interpretation,” says Knight. “Two people agree on an idea or concept and then one paints about it and the other musicalises it.”
Working in the same physical space has helped the pair develop their aesthetic relationship, whether at Project or the Piano Room at Annaghmakerrig. “It’s like being in an urn and sharing the same physical and psychological space,” says Maher.
For Visitant that space includes Butoh dancer Gyohei Zaitsu and multi-instrumentalist and singer Áine O’Dwyer. The dark emotional heart of Visitant lies with Gabriel García Márquez’s short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings , about a decrepit angel who falls to earth and is kept in a hen house by a peasant family. Eventually, they cash in on his peculiarity and begin to charge locals to see him.