In March and April of this year The Light Surgeons, a UK-based art collective, will tour their “live cinema” collaborative project SuperEverything* across the UK. The multimedia show will explore the culture of Malaysia in a series of audiovisual performances that incorporate documentary footage, along with performances from traditional Malaysian musicians, and the Heritage Orchestra.
To create the piece The Light Surgeons, audio visual artists Tim Cowie and Christopher Thomas Allen, shot over six terabytes of footage in Malaysia and collaborated with musicians and artists from across the globe to create an experience that blends Malaysian culture with digital techniques, “It’s a very unique blend of traditional Southeast Asian music and modern electronica which echoes the juxtaposition of old and new in the visual subject matter of the project.” say Cowie.
It’s a highly technical undertaking, with a gauze screen covering the front of the stage and a screen at the back to give the visuals an added depth and allow the team to create multi-layered video effects. Additional depth is added with lighting, which creates shadows from the performers and musicians, while a projected Twitter feed will show reactions from the audience. Add to this the quadraphonic sound coming at the audience from all angles and you have a multi-sensory assault that will bewitch the audience for the show’s duration… and beyond.
As well as blending old and new cultures, the show’s also about merging disciplines. The team set out to create an experience that is worlds away from going down to the local multiplex on a Saturday night. “SuperEverything* as a show exists somewhere between a documentary film, an art installation, and a music concert,” says Christopher Thomas Allen, founder and creative director of The Light Surgeons. “It’s a hybrid of cinema, music, and digital art, which I think allows us to explore the subjects in the piece in a very different way to perhaps one of these mediums alone.”
In this way, The Light Surgeons create an immersive experience for the audience where images and sounds are layered on top of one another to create what Allen calls: “An audiovisual collage, kind of oral tapestries with multiple voices that interact with poetic documentary material that is manipulated as different layers of meaning. This approach immerses the audience in sort of cloud of information—it’s still a linear journey, but the way it is presented allows them to find connections and draw their own conclusions from the piece.”
The aim of the peace isn’t just to transfix people with stunning imagery and sounds, but also to move them into thinking about Malaysian culture and global culture at large. The way the piece aims to both entertain and engage the grey matter is reminiscent of Koyaanisqatsi, which Allen cites as inspiration, along with the cut-n-paste aesthetic of 90s hip-hop and electronica. “I love the way it totally transports you and creates this incredible micro-macro view of the world without any spoken narrative. It really brought home to me the power of cinema to transcend language,” he says. “I wanted to find a way to bring the power and wonder of cinema together with the collage and improvisation of hip-hop culture.”
But mostly, SuperEverything* is a film about the people and places of Malaysia, presented in a way that does justice to the multifaceted nature of an incredibly diverse country and its population. One aspect of the culture that had a direct influence on and is featured in the show is the shadow puppetry of Wayang Kulit, a form of traditional theater that is an ancestor of modern film and animation. The group included it in the show not only because of its importance to Malaysian culture, but also because it shows the artistry of the puppet masters, their skill and knowledge when it comes to their craft. “By including the tradition of Wayang Kulit as a subject in our show, we are interested in making the audience think about what they are witnessing,” Allen says, “and perhaps make them consider the anthropological context of cinema with the hope that they will view the performance as a continued evolution of these traditions.”