I believe that each act in our lives is an act of accidental or considered curation. Curation is a selection process and the end result is that meaning is made – whether accidental or intentional. There is meaning in what we choose. Or meaning that we don’t choose (which, is, actually in itself, a choice).

Meaning is made, regardless.

Ontroerend Goed and Sydney Theatre Company joined forces for the Sydney Festival to present A History of Everything at The Wharf 2 Theatre. A company of young theatre makers (both Belgian and Australian) decide to embark on creating this dual-hemispherical reflection of history in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

And of course, there is failure inherent in such a project – there is no way EVERYTHING can be encompassed in one show. And the choice here, is to either accept the failure and delight in it: or the choice is to scrutinize the failure and question it.

I will, for the sake of discussion, not follow suit with my blogging/responding/reviewing colleagues – all whom delighted in it, it seems.

You can read them here:
John McCallum
Lenny Ann Low
James Waites

I will present an alternative response.

Deep in the realms of human experience, there is an innate awareness that emerges (I think in teenage years) that we are completely alone. At that point, belonging becomes everything – as goths and punks emerge with heavy make-up and a trembling sense of disconnection. Wa are absolutely and utterly alone. Alone in action, and opinion and life trajectory. No-one will live the life you will live. That uniqueness is awe-inspiring and confusing and sometimes very solid and sometimes easily crushed and completely overwhelming. Sort of like trying to track a history of everything.

It is at this point of identity formation – the teenage years – that curation or choice- becomes intense, self-aware and paramount to daily function. It’s high stakes. Choice is branding. Choice is everything.

On a giant map of the world the history of the world is played out backwards. And so here we are watching a backwards clock tick – we watch clever conceits fill the stage.

A group of people tell a history of the world. Despite there being seven bodies contributing to this performance (and that’s not including director nor designer) with a variety of background and nationality, but what we are presented with, is “A” history. Single. History. The 7 identities dip into the fast back-spinning timeline – but not significantly – only momentarily. And despite some attempts – we are safely nestled in the history of the western world (a fairly male focused history it is too) with momentary glances at the east. This history is dominated by war. Not medical advances. Not philosophical thinking. We are watching a fairly clear trajectory of a homogenized, western consensus history.

As such, it’s fairly dull.

Dramaturgically, we know where we start, and we know where it ends – and what is revealed in the interim is nothing new. And the journey is not particularly surprising or exciting nor is the way in which it is presented. After all the effort and the interest – what we are left with are two theories. Of us: evolution. Of the universe: the big bang. And for me those ideas are very contemporary (less than 200 years old). Such contemporary-ness roots us in the now – therefore reminding us of the performers context. BUT the performers contexts are still not fully exposed – we see only slithers of self. And as a result this history is fairly pedestrian.

Another failure for me is the linear nature of the dialogue. It is a form of curation – a linear structure which ignores multiplicity. Histories do not wait – they are formed and re-formed and re-written. The objective attempt to track history is impossible beyond one’s own life experience – plus, objectivity in reportage is always tainted by the teller’s individual perspective. The tellers of this history seem to make sense of things through lining up events as though countries were like a line of dominoes. To do this to history, is to deny the natural cacophony of humankind. We are a non-linear, non-causal mess – and history makes it look like there was a plan – but there wasn’t. And there still isn’t.

Other visual dramaturgical problems include the timing of when the signs which read “war” were taken away after being placed.

The timing of some events being enacted took precedent over other events – the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima – but the reality is that all events are of equal importance – therefore they should be at equal pace. I suggest the a break neck speed is probably more effective.

For example –
Big Bang theory

Why I felt this show failed, and failed within it’s own “knowing failure” is that it did not reach beyond our (the audience’s) expectation, or beyond our understanding or our knowledge. This was a fairly safe list of events with only faint glimmers of unique and individual contribution from individuals. “This is when i was born” etc.

Devised work and this style of theatre making has an opportunity to be utterly unique and surprising. It is a difficult task – sometimes impossible to manage all the information, all the ideas, all the input. but when it is achieved – it is stunning – like nothing else you’ve ever seen. But the truly amazing work that is made is when we as an audience are elevated – or encouraged to be illuminated. This aimed at show-casing the performer – not showcasing the idea.

Versions of “everything” will always differ. My version, my timeline, is different to yours. My notation, my interests are different to yours. It is curated.

And that is why History is an art not a science.

History is completely subjective. This show was not. And yet it was.

But it failed to be as subjective as history is, even Herodotus had his prejudice, and that speaks to and of the time he lived in. Surely that is what the “youth” can offer us? It could have been a great view of “history” and “everything” specifically relevant to those who were making it – in their context and time. But this felt like history built on consensus, not uniqueness. And that doesn’t really interest me because it is without conflict (not war, I’m talking conflict) and histories conflict. They must because they are subjective. If they don’t conflict, there is something wrong, there is something missing – personal perspective, personal opinion – risk.

The content of this production is nearly completely without risk. personal or artistic. And this lack of risk gives it the over-riding impression of high school improvisation classes.

Contrast to this:

My favourite touchstone about art and evolution is Kaufman’s film, ADAPTATION. Which succeeds in examining the failure of tracking a “flower’s” story. Wrapped up in this piece of meta-film is the struggle with writing – how to encompass the simplicity and yet the complexity of things: of flowers, of people, or sex, of story, of success – all in the one film. It’s about art. It’s about story. It’s about self.

Here’s some segments I was thinking about whilst i was watching A History of Everything:

I can get that from the internet if I Google “key things that happened in history.” but I can’t get what those unique artists wish/dream/worry/understand/value of the history of everything according to them At THIS time. At THIS moment. As they understand.

BUT… This show needs to be applauded and appreciated for the attempt – for the attempt at an inconceivable, forever impossible and imperfect task. The Sydney Theatre Company is also to be applauded for it’s risk takng/bravery in programming such an audacious and ambitious project. Artists must have the freedom to try the impossible… and I think this is a brilliant notion: more artists should attempt the impossible. More artists should bravely face inevitable failure. More artists should be asked to interrogate what they know of the world and where they are and where they are from.
But there needs to be more.