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Opera, dance and industrial design in Harrison Atelier's latest show at The Invisible Dog

by James Thorne
on 07 February 2013

Opening tonight, 7 February 2013, at The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn, "Veal" is a multidisciplinary performance that marries unlikely traditions from opera to industrial design. Thematically, the show plays off of the notion of the "industrial animal," looking at the process from artificial insemination to life in confinement and finally to the overwhelming cycle that is modern food production. Design collective Harrison Atelier created instruments and projections with choreography by Silas Riener and a musical score by Loren Dempster for the three-day run.

We recently had the chance to walk through the space with Harrison Atelier founders Ariane and Seth Harrison, who were able to elucidate the underlying intent of the show. "It's not gory, it's not sensationalistic—it's much more about extracting different kinds of aesthetic experiences," explains Seth. The pair created the experience around the theme of the industrial animal, restructuring the idea as theater to create an immersive experience for the audience.

Entering the front space, visitors are greeted by three metal cages, which are strung from top to bottom with piano wire. The wire is segmented with frets that take the form of white discs, symbolizing the embryonic industrial animal. The structures are essentially reimagined lyres, and can be played with bows in a very non-traditional manner. Beyond the lyres is what looks like a herd of foam quadrupeds, the cavities of which have been filled with bagpipes. These two instrument groups constitute half of the musical arrangement, which will be joined with percussion and operatic singers during the performance.

On the rear wall, a green projection shows feed, bacteria and other 3D-modeled pieces falling through space, representing the cycle of excess that informs food production. Behind the wall is a dance arena over which hangs a dynamic red light installation, representing the algal bloom or "red tide" that occasionally results when unconfined animal waste makes its way into nearby rivers.


"There's this sense that the technologies used to create the industrial animal are really sophisticated, but the algae reproduces in a very primitive way," says Ariane, hinting at the performance's progression. Throughout the show emerges a contest between technology and nature, and Seth admits that the performance hearkens back to the myth of Marsyas and Apollo. In it, the satyr Marsyas contends that his flute could best Apollo's lyre, but in the end loses the contest and his life.

For a design group, Harrison Atelier is surprisingly comfortable in the realm of performance. "Architecture as object is one history of architecture, but it's not the only one," says Ariane, who teaches the subject at Yale. "We think this has always been part of design—it's just not the part that's most developed. It's certainly exciting to work with live people, music and performance."

"Veal" will be show at 7:30PM on 7-9 February 2013, and reservation inquiries can be made directly.

Images by James Thorne

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