Edinburgh Fringe 2012
As part of the Buzzcut (Glasgow’s performance art festival with a punk-diy ethic) season in the summerhall programme Murray Wason presented his latest solo work ‘Automaton’. The show explores the pro’s and cons of Automaton (a self automated machine or robot) which consequently comments on the flaws and triumphs of being a human. Murray Wason creates a light hearted atmosphere throughout, presenting research and creative portrayals of the story of the robot and humans relationship to it. This contemporary work uses new technology, audience interaction, physical movement, lyrical text and even puppetry. It is a thorough piece and a great achievement, that it thought provoking and emotionally engaging.
As part of the Buzzcut (Glasgow’s performance art festival with a punk-diy ethic) season in the Summerhall programme Murray Wason presented his latest solo work ‘Automaton’. The show explores the pro’s and cons of Automaton (a self operated machine or old-fashioned robot) which consequently comments on the flaws and triumphs of being a human. Murray Wason creates a light hearted atmosphere throughout, presenting research and creative portrayals of the story of the robot and humans relationship to it. This contemporary work uses new technology, audience interaction, physical movement, lyrical text and even puppetry. It is a thorough piece and a great achievement, that it thought provoking and emotionally engaging.
In summerhall’s beautiful demonstration room, Murray Wason welcomes us into the playing space which is full of cardboard boxes (cherry bakewell packages and egg boxes), sticky tape and scissors – we are instantly filled with excitement. ‘You have 10 minutes to build your robot’ he announces and we all get to it. Whilst engrossed in my own creation I can hear Murray asking audience members what they plan to do – ‘Mines going to have massive ears!’ I hear through the speakers. He comes over to me and tells me I have the only egg box in the room, I feel very privileged. This initial interaction with Murray sets an excellent tone for the rest of the piece, he is approachable, energetic and given us a way in to the subject matter instantly. We have all created our friend, our invention, and place it to the side of the stage and take our seats.
The structure of the piece relies on a large projection that states 11 stages. stage 1 being build your own automaton, which we have successfully achieved. stage 2 is named internal mechanisms and with a small pico projector (performance artist’s new favourite tool) Murray animates our inventions by projected moving cogs onto the queer faces and bodies. ‘That one is mine’ the lady next to me whispers. He then neatly progresses this action to focus on his own internal mechanisms, the human structure, projecting bones and organs onto his body. Here begins the comparison of robot and human, by firstly stating the similarity – that we are both complex structures of internal cogs and wheels.
Wason uses exceptional physical movement that is both adventurous and controlled as he effectively is reborn and discovers his limbs, like a robot being switched on for the first time. As a performer his ability to be comic but not let it over ride the main focus of the action is commendable. Films are played for us, including a dated toy robot advert and even a warning from 1989 about the imposing global warming of our planet. By including these media snippets Wason merely introduces bigger ideas to the concept of robots on earth, such as them potentially out living us. There is a myriad of layers that you as an audience can pick up on and mull over, such as medical automatons that help us survive. Wason has obviously done his research, but the strongest focus of the work is human’s ability to make anything a companion. This is demonstrated effectively by building a automaton out of wood and cable ties, the creation is pretty shoddy, but this adds comic effect and also great humility as this pile of sticks becomes a character.
Wason’s wooden automaton becomes the centre of attention in a later stage of the piece named The automaton conference. We, the audience, are welcomed as other scientists and inventors attending a conference and about to conduct a emotion test of the wooden automaton. Wason hands members of the audience slips of paper and asks them to read them out one at a time. The slips are stories that instantly create a swell of emotion within us, they are nostalgic, or full of rage, or empathy – they include being part of a protest or getting a 10p mix up of sweets with your granddad. Each time a story is read out, Murray leans into the wooden Automaton, as if to hear it’s response and states plainly ‘Automaton does not compute this emotion’. The repetition and poetic quality of the text makes this a very effective and moving sequence, as you cannot help but notice your own bodily reaction as involuntary and joyous. The robot becomes a sad character that cannot feel emotion.
At times i felt overloaded with information and feel the show would have benefited from a tighter selection of material. There was also a problem with acoustics in the theatre and so a lot of the recorded sound and text was lost, which was a shame. At times i felt like Murray may have been using qoutes from elsewhere and that other people voices where being used, i can guess but feel unsure, i would have appreciated a programme to refer to afterwards. Murray’s style of performance fitted well into the atmosphere that Buzzcut had created, a rough and ready, throw-you-all-in-and-see-what-happens approach. The audience where responsive and comfortable throughout and left in high spirits.
The final scene is outstanding – using the pico projector Wason projects a burning fire onto his chest. ‘There’s a fire in my heart that burns’ he exclaims from a knelt position as the fire crackles upon him. This lyrical ending is enchanting, it is a sombre moment and a life confirming action. By making a show about robots Wason has ultimately made a show that makes you feel the fire within you and want to keep it burning.