Director's ground-breaking animated play comes to Cork

Doireann O’Malley tells COLETTE SHERIDAN about a new piece of work which runs at the Granary Theatre in Cork this week
Director's ground-breaking animated play comes to Cork

Scenes from Conversations On A

DOIREANN O’Malley, a visual artist based in Berlin, who has made a number of experimental films, is directing a new piece of work, Conversations On A Crosstown Algorithm, which runs at Cork’s Granary Theatre from December 15-17.

This 3D animation play, said to be ground-breaking, was co-commissioned by the National Sculpture Factory and the Cork Midsummer Festival and is based on a research project commissioned by the Berlin Artists’ Research Programme.

The work uses motion capture, a cutting edge technology. It’s a process of recording the movement of people - human actors - and using that information to animate digital character models in 3D computer animation.

“It’s basically two characters who are stuck in a dystopian casino/data centre,” says Doireann.

 “All their data and their images have been uploaded into servers lying around the casino. The audience will look at a screen that is within an installation in the theatre.

“In the first act, it looks very like a theatre play. In the second and third acts, the characters transform into the ideal versions of themselves. They’re having this long conversation, going through their traumas, their desires, their apprehensions and dreams.”

The female character is a trans-woman who always wanted to be a female tennis player, but is troubled. She keeps talking to the other character, a 60-year-old gay black man, about a nightmare where she is being chased down a tunnel.

The play, explains Doireann, deals with “ideal versions of femininity and the pressures of just wanting to have a normal life ... It’s kind of like a dystopian take on the idea of endless transformation and self-betterment.

“The trans-woman’s character explores what it means to be female and what it means to live a perfect representation of either a male or a female. It’s about wanting a certain type of life that isn’t accessible to the trans-woman.”

Gender identity is a big theme for Doireann, who identifies as non-binary. “I’m very interested in how gender identity connects with different disciplines like psychoanalysis and new materialism.

“I try to use different ways of exploring gender identity. It’s not just all about the body.”

Platform capitalism is also dealt with in the play. Explaining this, Doireann cites the example of facebook selling all its data - people’s data - and how this exposed the use of social media. Social media “is a smokescreen for the selling of people’s data. The idea that platforms such as facebook are a social platform is a trap in order for companies like this to generate massive amounts of data that they sell.”

Doireann is critical of social media and how it becomes “involved in politics, not just taking people’s data but aiding certain countries in their election campaigns as well as censorship. It’s all about surveillance and making money from it.”

Doireann’s teenage years were spent in Cork, followed by emigration to Berlin, a city that is affordable for artists. While there is plenty of funding for artists in the German capital, Doireann says: “It’s quite competitive. But there are different types of funding and a lot of opportunities to collaborate with people. The two animators I’m working with are artists who I met on a research programme. I see working with different people as a way of redistributing the funds and creating the work together.”

Living in Berlin “allows me to explore how I want to be seen and how I feel in my own gender which is non-specific, neither male nor female. It has allowed me a lot of freedom. I’d like people to untangle a lot of the constructions that have been placed on them to be a certain way. It even comes down to how they look, their hair and presentation. It’s body politics. Even in Ireland, there’s a lot of people exploring their gender identity who are trans and non-binary.”

Ideally, says Doireann, the exploration should result in people not being “fixed by expectations from society.”

Work on Dioreann’s play began in 2020, just before the pandemic. “I was planning to make a virtual reality performance piece, mixing virtual reality with real performances. But when the pandemic came into play, it became very difficult to produce anything live.”

The two characters in the play start out as strangers to each other but become very open with each other. “They’re almost giving each other therapy.”

There are other pertinent themes such as the destruction of the environment.

“The characters keeping seeing shimmering elements and fire. There’s an explosion. It’s a metaphor for people who are stuck within their screens on social media while there’s a climate catastrophe happening around them.”

The play is performed by Mathea Hoffman and Juan Carlos Cuadrado. Doireann says that the dialogue between the characters “soon reveals itself as one part of a larger systemic virus.” An intriguing play for the times we live in.

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