Visualizing Borges

Last November I did the set design for the theater performance “Borgestriptych”, which is based on three short stories by Jorge Luis Borges. This Argentinian writer has always been special for me. I met his work for the first time in 2010 when I did my diploma project, graduating with a Master degree in “Design of original visual performance”. My work back then was based on the fantasy short story “The Library of Babel” – you can see photos and drawings here. Now, years after, it was nostalgic to work on his text again, but this time with different means of expression.

By the words of the author of the play (and the director of the performance) Yasen Vasilev: “The play draws inspiration from three short stories by Jorge Luis Borges but also from the life and general oeuvre of the Argentinian writer. Four performers are four different versions of Borges, metamorphosing into his many characters who are ultimately the same person constantly talking to himself. In the world of “Borgestriptych” library and universe are one and the same and the spaces and their dwellers are entirely built of quotes.”

“Borgestriptych” was produced for the first time in English at Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Shanghai in 2014 and now in Bulgarian in 2016 at DNK – The National Palace of Culture, Sofia as part of the 8th (infinite!) edition of ProText platform for performance readings of new dramaturgy.

The ProText format is an interesting field for experimentation and exercise. Its production is something between a completed theater performance and a staged reading. A team of director, actors and set designer have about a week to rehearse and build a set. Then there are only 2 or 3 shows with an audience and that’s it. The aim is to present new dramaturgy in more attractive way. I like challenges and also I like to make stuff in a short time range. Thus I can focus on the most important without wasting any time (just because there is not any). And I love deadlines – without them I could work on something forever.

The writings of Borges are so rich in material for the imagination. In “Borgestriptych” we had to create a neutral environment in which the characters and the spaces can change rapidly with each other. The idea for the symmetry was also important as it is related to the eternal search for the universal truth, something very defining for Borges. My decision was to transform the whole stage and the actors into a white canvas and to divide the different spaces and characters inside through video projection. We used a square-shaped stage floor and two projectors to fill it (which also gave interesting symmetrical shadows) and two screens against each other with two mirrored projections. So with that set I programmed anything in the software and I did a fast and dirty video mixer to control the whole environment.

То differentiate the locations of the different scenes I used pre-composed layers with textures and transitions between. To show the points of view of the characters in the play, I placed few camera devices which were used by the actors in real-time. Each device had different place in the space – there was a mobile phone camera, carried by one of the actors, а LeapMotion camera in the corner, а Kinect camera behind one of the canvases. The video signals of all devices were captured and mixed together with the other textures. I also wanted to mount a camera on the top of the stage to blob-track the moves of the actors and to project colors on their bodies. But I didn’t had luck with the drivers of my capturing device, so I left this idea for the next time when there will be more time to test. Anyway this set was already complex enough for only a few days of programming and I left it like that. I just did more a pretty simple UI to switch between scenes and devices in Perform Mode.

_screen2

So there it is our “Borgestriptych” in ProText. I think the result was pretty satisfying for our team. I was a bit surprised that the director let me do whatever I want and аt some point everything went very technical. It’s always risky when you have too many hardware and software to think about, and this time we had 4 projectors, 3 live cameras and 15 different scenes to switch during the performance. Plus the testing time was pretty short as I already mentioned. Yet everything went good and it was a lot of fun. What I actually think and try to do in general when I work on a video installation in the theater is that the video should happen in real-time as the performance itself. In that way the projections become an equal partner of the actors and they can use it as a tool for expression. Of course there are different levels of interaction but yeah – you get the idea. I’m wondering how I’ll re-create the world of Borges 5 years from now – might be very analog again or AR/VR/MR or even something between both approaches…we’ll see!

Camera: Ivan Nikolov, Aleksandar Ivanov
Edit: OpnnProductions

Photographer: Zdravko Yonchev

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