(In a Forest of Signs)

How to explain opera as a dead hare page

“How To Explain Opera As A Dead hare” employs an art-form that has come to signify both social status and the extent of an individual's cultural capital. My initial plan was to stage opera lessons as a form of busking - playing upon the perceived division between folk-based musical forms – folk, pop, punk - and the cultural positioning of opera as an intellectual, upper-class privilege.

Starting with Schoenberg's Moses and Aaron (1932) - an opera whose plot revolves around the difficulty of explaining complex ideas to large groups of people - I sought to juxtapose this work with another that explores that same theme, Joseph Beuys’s How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). Both works critique methods of pedagogy, and both strictly divide the actor from the spectator: in Schoenberg’s work the people are unable to understand the word of God until it has been dumbed down into a series of spectacular tricks; in Beuys’s the audience is literally locked outside of the art gallery whilst the artist explains the art on show to the more receptive body of a dead animal. In order to reference both these works, and to critique their sentiment, I decided to become Beuys’s dead hare via the wearing of a mask, and to explain the plot of the opera, line by line, upon a chalkboard.

As with the other Religious Excursions, I was keen to explore the temporal aspects of the action - in this case, the historic transition of opera from a popular to an avant-garde form. To do this, I subjected my performance to various rules borrowed from works that I perceived to be benchmarks at either end of this operatic spectrum: Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (1874), and Mauricio Kagel’s anti-opera Staatsheater (1971). I extended the length of the performance - and the accompanying recording of Moses and Aaron - to 16 hours, so as to match the length of Wagner’s work. I then interspersed my protracted explanation of the plot (which, due to the use of chalk, took several hours to write out) with actions borrowed or inspired by the Staatstheater score: sitting/standing, reading, dragging a chair, playing the harmonium, and so forth. The performance itself was broken down into sections and undertaken over the period of a week outside an art gallery, with the ‘dead hare’ appearing every twenty minutes or so to write another part of the plot upon the chalkboard.

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