by Inesa Vėlavičiūtė
In the light of the pivotal Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the spirit of change-making, a grandiose and environmental awareness-charged project has been taking giant steps across the streets of Scotland, bringing together conservation and art to dramatic effect.
Against the background of COP26. Edinburgh-based visual theatre company Vision Mechanics has assembled a stunning 10 metre tall puppet STORM, commenting on the devastating impact plastic and other pollutants bring to the seas and marine life. Emerging from the depths of the ocean, Storm’s plea is loud and clear. However, Storm does not exist in a vacuum; the performance’s meaning shape-shifts in response to the diverse personal perspectives brought along by each audience, demonstrating how the enduring appeal and value of this mechanical mastery can be encountered in different ways.
In Glasgow, a free-ranging crowd scatters all over the street and its sidewalks, passionately strolling alongside Storm in a parade, creating an inviting visual impact and presence. Known for taking theatre to communities, Vision Mechanics encourages audiences to become participants and cooperate in the creation of their art projects. Through the physical arrangements of keeping eye contact between the puppet and the audience, and by having her kneel down, the crew-puppeteers facilitate an intimate interaction between the two, enabling the oceanic heroine to “speak up” for the voiceless in a wordless language. The puppet becomes a member of the audience, and the people – both spectators and makers of the scene. Connecting both as individuals and as a society establishes a sense of solidarity; and a cheerful celebration and appreciation leaves the lungs inflated with the onrush of energy and excitement.
Such close proximity of the audience to the larger-than-life artwork in Falkirk, however, results in a slightly different outcome. Awash with rain and awe, mesmerised by the roar of the sea, the plastic-armoured crowd greets the eco warrior wearing single-use face masks, holding plastic carrier bags and transparent plastic umbrellas, discounting the estimated 10 million tonnes of plastic floating in the oceans. Such paradox to the production’s focus on sustainability leaves one with a question of whether Storm’s pilgrimage can actually foster the powerful bond between the natural world and each and every individual within the audience, as it sets out to do.
Despite the challenges littered throughout its ambitious journey, the Storm has risen, showing no signs of abating. In her call for urgency to preserve the vibrant Blue Planet, the Sea Goddess invites the audience to have a difficult conversation about the political and ecological issues of our time, highlighting the interdependence of environmental and human destinies.