Curating Experience with Sensory Overload
If anyone has ever told you that you over think things, then you and I have something in common. I analyze almost everything, sometimes at the expense of truly being present in my experiences. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between analyzing and experiencing as it pertains to audiences. Have you ever sat in a theatre and been so caught up in the act of analyzing what you’re seeing that you have trouble following the performance? Conversely, have you ever been so captivated by a performance that time fell away and you lost yourself in the simple act of watching? It is interesting to think about the dynamic between watching and analyzing; whether there is a threshold between the two acts, what control we have over our experience as audience members…
This weekend I saw Maud le Pladec’s piece “Democracy,” at New York live Arts and Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Both of these works made me think about the difference between experiencing and analyzing and how an artist can curate audiences’ experience. Maud le Pladec’s work was an intense experience of light, dance, drums, and energy. The show’s score was performed by 5 drummers on full drum kits, the dance was kinetic and driven, and the lighting was nothing short of intense.What struck me about Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit was the scale at which his work existed in. Most of the work on display at the Brooklyn Museum was on a large scale, almost in excess. For example, there is a great snake made out of the backpacks; each of which represents the life of a child taken by the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. Another work, “Ye Haiyan’s Belongings,” is a catalog of over 600 photographs of a woman’s rights advocate’s possessions, collected after she and her family had been driven out of their home by Chinese authorities.
Both these artists created work that assaulted the senses. In Maud le Pladeck’s “Democracy,” sight, sound, and light bombards the audience in such excess that you are at times paralyzed by sensory overload. Similarly, the scale of Ai Wei Wei’s work confronts the viewer in a way that forces us to engage in the act of taking it in; we have to step back to see it all, turn our heads, participate . These artists suggested to me that one way to control the audiences’ experience is to create in excess, bombard the senses, and exhaust the mind as it tries to keep up. These experiences pointed out the meditative power of excess.