The Alices (Walking) is a sculptural opera in the guise of an experimental fashion show about the breakdown between the natural and the technological and the melding of identities between machines and people. It is a performance about cloning, duplication, mutation and transformation, and therefore about death and rebirth and the ambivalent desire by human beings for eternal life.
The Alices (Walking) emerges from a piece developed in workshop and performed live at The Arts Club of Chicago on June 18, 2013 and curated by Janine Mileaf. It was produced with funding by The Illinois Council of the Arts and Ellen Sandor and was conceived of as an installation piece – a tableau vivant cum opera – which has at its center two works of art that both use and also comment upon the culture of high technology.
The first of these objects are the Nue Morte, a special porcelain dishes using custom-designed augmented reality software that allows a viewer to see a perversely erotic illusion: a naked woman lying across one’s food. Viewed through an “augmented” app installed on smartphones, the tossing and turning body of the Nue Morte evokes early Surrealist cinema, here overrun by “artificially intelligent” cockroaches – an intentionally paradoxical contradiction in terms.
The second work is a piece of conceptual software created by designer Alon Zouartez. Zouartez’s Spinabook ware takes an original text and legitimate plagiarism, substituting words with their synonyms to create a legal but unethical clone.
In The Alices, Claudia Hart has spun a short excerpt of Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland, to create a text that slowly devolves as it is repetitively cloned. After six variations, the excerpt comes to mean its opposite – a succinct demonstration of the perversion of truth that occurs when things “go viral” on our public media.
The composer Edmund Campion, co-director of the Center for New Music and Technology at U.C. Berkeley, composed a special score for the Hart’s spun Alices. Campion performed his work on the Arts’ Club Steinway with denouement vocalization by Mikey McParlane, countertenor and contemporary performance artist, using custom feedback audio-software designed by Campion. The music was accompanied by a living “performance sculpture” featuring six cloned Alices consuming augmented reality “live” projections: illusions that appear fantastically on the Nue Morte augmented reality dishes.
The performance began when the audience was invited in and served fantastic Alice-inspired cocktails and fantasy flowering hors d’oeuvres. It was completed by a fantastic dinner in which the audience was served salads made from wild flowers, tiny roasted pigeons, and ENORMOUS mushrooms complimented by the tiniest of baby peas.
 The Nue Morte porcelain dish is a work by Claudia Hart with augmented design by Geoffrey Alan Rhodes and produced by Michele Thursz / Seek Art.
The Alices (Walking) @Eyebeam
There will be five Alices in The Alices (Walking), in counter-distinction to the first act of this three act, three object piece, where there were six. The sixth Alice will ultimately appear in the 3rd act, and will be personified by Mikey McParlane who will be dressed in a wearable of his own design. The third act will be the denouement of the piece, in which McParlane, a countertenor, will sing an aria in which the libretto consists of the final spun, and most degenerated of the previously described spun Alice text.
The Alices (Walking) should be imagined as a living sculpture on a large pedestal, 24 feet x 24 feet by 2 feet high. The pedestal can be mounted by performers by means of staircase in the rear. The performance will last between 22-25 minutes.
Surmounting this enormous, stage-scaled pedestal will be Edmund Campion, seated at a grand piano, as well as 15 selected audience members, seated on custom, oversized, raised stools, fully prepped in the kind of behavior expected of them. The grand piano will have Ed Campion’s custom synthesizer attached to it.
The top of the pedestal will be carpeted with green shag carpet that includes a yellow-carpeted circuitous pathway, tracking from one irregular yellow “island” shape to another, totalling five – the “stations” of the Alices. This is the marked pathway for the walking Alices.
Each yellow carpet-island will have audio sensors and/or contact mikes beneath, so the Alices can step or stomp on them according to Ed Campion’s specifications. There will also be a stand holding a head-set at each yellow carpet-island. After the Alices have “walked,” and arrived at their station, sequentially, each will don their head-set so that they can hear Ed Campion’s audio cues, instructing them when to “noise” or not to “noise.” This, the noise component of Campion’s audio composition will therefore be carefully constructed, composed and mechanized.
Around each station will be 2 or 3 over-sized stools, with the selected “A-list” audience members seated upon them. These audience members should be considered part of the performance. There will also be computer tablets on each stool, loaded with the Alices custom augmented-reality app, awaiting their arrival. The stage set will also consist of soft, furniture-like over-sized mushrooms, upholstered with Hart’s Alices Augmented Fabric Collection of custom fabrics.
Each Alice will be garbed in a website dress. The website dresses will be cubistic and sculptural. They can also be thought of as “billboard dresses” or “times square dresses.” They were inspired by the Catherine Raben Davidson’s Show-Studio graphical interpretations of Givenchy Spring Summer 2014 Menswear collection.
Each of the floating panels that form the essential esthetic (see above) of the Alices Web Dresses may be conceived of as an element of cliche website design – such as banner ads and pop up windows. The forms used will take their inspiration from the kind of forms used in low-class web design. These projecting panels will be upholstered with Hart’s custom fabrics, covered with patterns that are actually algorithmic computer codes signaling the custom augmented app. When viewing these tag/patterns through one’s tablet or smart-phone, one will see strobing billboard signage, resembling TImes Square billboard ads but actually the libretto of Campion’s score.
These ads or libretto are the “spun” narrative created by computer plagiarising Lewis Caroll’s original Alice in Wonderland, performed and recorded by Claudia Hart and Mikey McParlane. This libretto, treated and adapted by Campion, will be the heart of his score. It will also be the billboard text seen through Hart’s augmented app, made specially for viewing the Alices Website Dresses. The only audience members who will be actually able to view these strobing billboard-like texts will be the audience seated on the stage who have been given computer tablets, loaded with the custom software.
The Alices Walking is a performance about spectacle, about looking, and about looking at others looking. It portrays a culture so addicted to their devices, that we can only bear to look at a world that has been filtered through them. It is a nod to Guy Debord’s classic Society of the Spectacle, as it has intensified in our computerized age. But it also goes a step further, the dresses express humans who are cyborgs, part machine and part human – they are a new brand of human who has been welded to his smart device, a device created in her own image, an Alice for our time.
As a result of this orientation, most of the viewing audience will only be able to see the select fifteen viewers on stage, looking at the spectacle. The rest will be the “peanut gallery,” the audience “on the ground,” as it were. For the most part, the viewing public will enter the staging area after the selected fifteen are already positioned on the sculptural pedestal / stage. They will filter in and be given a pair of old fashioned, 19th-century style opera glasses – the magical lenses made for viewing a spectacle developed during our last, industrial “analog” epoque.
These “lower” audience members will only be able to view the privileged viewers with the tablets, looking at the “empty” website panels, and perhaps only summarily catch a glimpse of the strobing billboard text, viewable only through the augmented app installed on the computer tablets. In compensation, however, this “lower,” “blinded” audience will be served fantasy Alices beverages and magical, phantasmagoric Alices hors d’oeuvres.