_ART: Terra Nova Release: 2011

Terra Nova is a live art project, a combination of a theatre performance, a visual experience and an immersive adventure.

Central in the performance are key contemporary issues raised by recent neurological research on consciousness, issues that are directly linked to CREW's years of exploration of immersive technologies.
Who are we? What is the 'self'? How do we perceive this 'self'? Is our body to be trusted as an interface between the reality and our self? How can we 'construct'our state-of-consciousness? How malleable is the individual? Where does manipulation start?
Director Eric Joris and writer Peter Verhelst are greatly inspired by the discourse of neuro-philosopher Thomas Metzinger (D) and draw a parallel between current explorations of our brain and the dramatic quest of explorer R.F.Scott and his race to the south-pole at the beginning of the 20thcentury. Combining state-of-the art technology in omni-directional environments, contemporary theatrical set-ups and visual effects, they 'immerse'the audience into a mesmerizing narrative.

Terra Nova is accessible for a group of 55 visitors at a time and lasts about 1h20'.  The project will be performed twice a day.

 

B A C K G R O U N D

Terra Nova addresses key issues raised by neurologists and philosophers today. Modern philosophy of mind and cognitive neuroscience together are about to shatter the myth of the self. Thomas Metzinger, a German neuro-philosopher is an important contributor to this debate. In his latest book 'The Ego Tunnel', he argues that there is no such thing as the self.
Everything what we call the 'self', an acting and thinking me, is in fact a constant firing away of neutrons in the brain. There is no core that guides everything, no little man pushing the buttons. The disenchantment of the self is a fact, says Metzinger.
Consciousness is mainly a biological phenomenon. The brain makes a representation of the world, based on sensory impressions. There is no direct link between the world and the consciousness; what is being experienced is always a simulation, a virtual appearance. In other words, using our body (eyes, ears, touch etc) as an interface, the brain makes a simulation of the world . This simulation is so perfect that we do not realize that it is an image in our head. We are hardly aware that the image of the world in our head is being modelled by an interface, our own body. One can say that the interface becomes transparent, invisible. Next, based on this simulation (our first person perspective on this world) the brain generates an inner image of the self as a whole, thus creating the conscious self-model.
Today, man not only has a deeper understanding of how our brain creates consciousness, he is also rapidly developing ever more sophisticated tools to alter the contents of subjective experience. Scientists can literary influence and control the chemistry in our brain and therefore also our consciousness and actions. Stimulating certain parts of the brain can, for example, trigger religious experiences or help to control epilepsy attacks. Our sense of self, our spatial understanding, and the feeling of embodiment can be manipulated and even controlled. Using new kinds of medication, we can even enhance cognition and fine-tune emotional layers of self-consciousness.
This raises a number of serious ethical questions. Is there such a thing as the soul? What about free will, personal autonomy, or moral accountability?  Or, as Metzinger puts it, should we not start thinking about what we consider to be valuable forms of self-experience, about what we feel is a good state of consciousness?
Today we are only at the beginning of a development that can have an enormous social and cultural impact. The way Metzinger sees it: "There has been considerable progress, but as far as our conscious minds are concerned, we still live in prehistoric times. Our theories about consciousness are as naïve as the first ideas cavemen probably had about the true nature of the stars."

How does all this link in with CREW's performing arts practice?
In The Ego Tunnel , Metzinger examines recent evidence that people born without arms or legs can experience a sensation that they do in fact have limbs and how we can actually feel a human touch in a rubber hand placed on a desk in front of us. Similarly, he reveals how the state of our experiential self changes when we become lucid while we are dreaming, and how our sense of self can even be transposed into a three-dimensional computer-generated image of our body in a cyber space simply by using virtual reality goggles, creating a conflict between the seeing self and the feeling self.

CREW's experiences with immersive technology environments, explored over the last 7 years in performances and interactive installations, have triggered a few of the exact same questions that are being raised by neuro-physiologists and neuro-philosophers today. Do we really see what we think we see? Am I really where I see I am? Is this me or is this someone else's body? Am I here or not here?  Etc etc. Parallel to the developments of neuroscience and initially unaware of its recent findings, Eric Joris has created artistic experiences that literally invite visitors to explore not only the newest in omni-directional virtual environments but also the effects of these environments on their sensorial perception, sense of presence, consciousness and brain. We can say that CREW has developed a configuration that allows the visitor to experiment with a new phenomenal body. Thus, the esthetical experiences offered in CREW performances such as Crash (2005) , U_Raging Standstill (2006) , EUX (2008) , W (Double U) (2008) , Line Up (2009) and C.A.P.E (2010) are at the same time also quests into the visitor's relationship to reality and to simulations of that reality. And more than that, they are explorations of the fascinating world of his own body and mind...

 

T H E   P E R F O R M A N C E

Terra Nova is an environment that offers the audience a mix of visual, auditory and sensorial impulses in different degrees of intensity and coming from various perspectives at the same time. A narrative guides them physically and mentally through the experience. Central to this narrative are both the functioning of the brain and the metaphor of explorer R.F.Scott's trip to the South Pole.
The concept is developed by multi-media artist Eric Joris. The text is written by Flemish writer, playwright and poet Peter Verhelst. The story board and stage direction are in the hands of Eric Joris and actor and director Stef De Paepe.

Terra Nova is accessible for 55 visitors at the same time.  During the performance, the group will be split up into 5 smaller groups of 11 persons. Each group will be taken through a sequence of several scenes, some of them text-related, others taking them into the world of 'immersion'. The order of these scenes is different for each group. At the end all 5 groups (55 spectators) come together in one and the same final scene.
The spine of the performance is the poetical text of Peter Verhelst, pronounced by actor Robby Cleiren. The text evokes the thoughts and state-of-mind of Robert Falcon Scott during his dramatic adventure in Antarctica.
Moving from the more theatrical scenes into the 'immersive'experiences, the audience will literally 'step into'Scott's brain and move through his imagery. During these immersive scenes, CREW's ground-braking omni-directionnal film-environment will create a parallel world for each of the spectators, a world that is both drastically real and full of fantasy... They become the participants of a bizarre expedition, taking place on the inside of their own brain, and they are thus transformed into the true protagonists of the event...

Eric Joris will also work with the French artist Woudi Tat and his interactive device: the 'Skin Slider'. Tat's device allows to install a physical dialogue amongst actor and spectator and adds yet another physical and auditory layer to this unusual encounter with the audience.

The theatre experience offered by Eric Joris and his artistic collaborators is fragmented and multi-layered. It refers to the way that we perceive our world today: a networked mediated society offering multiple, simultaneous perspectives on the world and its events; creating a wide scope of realities, rather than one.

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