MID-STAGE, 4 CHAIRS: A THRONE MADE OUT OF PAPER, A GREEN VINYL BEANBAG CHAIR, A CAST ALUMINIUM REPLICA EMECO U.S. NAVY CHAIR, AND A PINK PLASTIC ‘TAM TAM’ STOOL.
A WOMAN SPEAKS TO THE AUDIENCE, SHE IS NOT SEEN, ONLY HER VOICE IS HEARD:
In the beginning there were no chairs.
chairs are ad hoc, circumstantial things:
We find them where they are, use them and move on –
A fallen tree or a rock – part of the world around us;
we make chairs with a gesture: when we sit on a tree or rock it becomes a chair.
The oldest manufactured chairs in existence are Egyptian and they date from 3,000 B.C. Made of wood, painted and encrusted with jewels, these are the property of the Pharaohs.
In societies that govern by consensus, chairs are not used to denote power and status; everybody sits on the ground.
By the 18th Century, in Europe, chairs are seen as equalisers.
Offering a chair to a visitor, regardless of her social standing, is such an ingrained convention that the last words of Lord Chesterfield on his deathbed are ‘give Dayrolles a chair.’
At this time, a chair depicted as lying on its side or upside down
in a drawing or painting, signifies social upheaval, civilisation in disarray, chaos.
a tool, which gives ease to the legs and comfort to the spine,
has been, over the centuries, redesigned, adapted, repaired and improved.
We human beings have not outwardly undergone such radical changes. But in our minds we have the power to do so.
If we can think of chairs as tools and tools as extensions of ourselves, then let’s allow our thought to have an ethical as well as utilitarian, dimension.
So, for the time being, and for the purposes of this performance, let’s make no distinction between aluminium, polystyrene, vinyl, paper, flesh, blood and bone.
A FOLLOWSPOT ILLUMINATES THE TRHONE.
This throne is made of magazines, catalogues, manuscripts, junk mail, bank statements, books, receipts, newspapers, notes to an abandoned master’s thesis and rejected grant applications all balled-up and glued together.
This throne is more of an idea of a kind of chair:
It would not do to actually sit on it.
But then, all these chairs began life as an idea, and since we are talking about ideas, please feel free to conceive of yourself sitting comfortably in any or all of these chairs; it is your mind that will put you there and support you.
Try the beanbag chair: THE FOLLOWSPOT MOVES FROM THE THRONE TO THE BEANBAG.
Invented by a team of Italian designers in the late 60’s, the first beanbag chairs are made of leather and have a headrest.
This one is fashioned out of vinyl and does not have a headrest.
It is manufactured in China. Still, it is very comfortable, and, like the original, is stuffed with small, foamed polystyrene pellets.
Polystyrene is discovered in 1839 by Eduard Simon, an apothecary in Berlin. He distills the resin – called styrol – of the Turkish Sweetgum tree into a sticky substance that hardens without oxidation.
About 80 years later, German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger theorizes that heating styrol starts a chain reaction that produces macromolecules. This leads to the substance receiving its present name, polystyrene. In 1931, I.G.Farben begins manufacturing polystyrene hoping it will be a suitable replacement for die-cast zinc. I.G. Farben hold several patents integral to the industrial-scale manufacture of polystyrene; they also hold the patent to Zyklon-B.
Several billion kilograms of polystyrene are manufactured every year. During the war in Vietnam, scientists at Dow Chemicals find that adding polystyrene to Napalm makes it burn much hotter and more sticky, thereby making it difficult to remove from burning houses and children.
Chairs are like us in that they have backs, arms, legs and feet. Chairs are extensions of our own bodies – tools.
The beanbag chair is a very adaptable tool in that it can assume many shapes and has proved to have many uses outside those usually reserved for chairs: Children with sensory-integration problems respond positively to sitting in beanbag chairs, and doctors recommend bean- bag chairs for patients recovering from back surgery.
In the main, Chairs provide rest and support thereby facilitating further work or relaxation.
This is what is meant by ‘tool’:
Where a tool meets the body, the body is extended further into the world.
The telescope extends our eyes into space, a rock, when thrown, concentrates and extends the force of our fists out into the world, and when an edge is developed, a rock becomes a crude knife enabling our hands to cut wood and flesh. Fire is a tool, too. It offers light for seeing into the darkness and heat for cooking and metallurgy.
Speaking thereof, here is a replica Emeco 1006,THE FOLLOWSPOT MOVES FROM THE BEANBAG TO THE EMECO CHAIR.
also called The US Navy chair. It is made from cast aluminium and is very popular with the designers of cafes and restaurants.
Aluminium is the third most abundant element in the world – after oxygen and silicon – and the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust. About 8% – by weight – of the earth’s solid surface is Aluminium.
Because of its strong affinity with other elements, aluminium is rarely found as aluminium, rather, it is found as an ore. Bauxite – a ferruginous aluminium hydroxide – is the most common aluminium ore. While relatively easy and inexpensive to dig-up as bauxite, aluminium is very energy intensive to produce.
During the reign of Napoleon the 3rd, aluminium is more prized than gold. Now, it is estimated that there are over 80 kilograms of aluminium in the world for every man woman and child.
The Emeco 1006 is commissioned in 1942, by the U.S. Navy, for use on their warships: the contract stipulates that the chair must be strong enough to withstand a torpedo blast to the side of a Destroyer.
It is rumoured that the seat of the Emeco 1006 is modeled on an impression formed in clay of Rita Hayworth’s naked bottom.
An original Emeco 1006 chair costs about $500 and is made in the U.S. out of 80% post-consumer recycled aluminium.
This chair is a reproduction made in China, it costs $80.
A stool is a chair without a back.
This is the Tam Tam stool.
Designed by Matteo Thun, in 2002, it is made from injection-molded polystyrene.
The Tam Tam stool is modeled on The Sika Dwa – The Golden Chair – of the Asante People of Ghana.
THE FOLLOWSPOT MOVES FROM THE EMECO CHAIR TO THE TAM TAM STOOL.
The Asante have carved out of wood variations of The Sika Dwa for over 300 years. This style of chair is more than a piece of furniture: it is an attribute of office to be used by leaders at all levels of society.
At the Asante Kingdom’s founding, all the clan leaders are gathered and The Sika Dwa is summoned down from the heavens by a high priest and alights in the lap of Osei Tutu – the man who is to become the first king of the Asante people. Since then, The Golden Chair has been the symbol of Asante Federation. The Sika Dwa bears the nations identity: clad in pure gold, it is kept in a place known only to the king and his closest associates.
In 1896, Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, the British governor of what the British call the Gold Coast, demands to sit on the Golden Chair. This outrages the Asante, who are already openly hostile to British attempts at ruling them, and they begin to prepare for war.
The British welcome this response because they are interested in provoking a conflict with the Asante as a pretense under which the Empire may take control of Asante gold mines. In 1900, after several years of cross-border raids, and covert hostilities, the War of the Golden Chair is engaged. It is the 5th and final war between the Asante and the British Empire.
The Asante, because of their involvement in the slave trade, are better armed than most African nations. Still, they are no match for the British Army.
Beheadings, rape, torture, and the destruction of property are tactics employed by both sides. The British lose just over 1000 men, while the Asante suffer around 2,000 men, women and children dead.
Thoughts, acts and words make the world.
Violence un-makes the world.
Violence destroys agency and reduces communication to the expression of mere power.
The ‘Tam Tam’ chair is offered in 7 colours, Green, blue, red, white, orange, grey and fuschia. The manufacturer has embossed an explanatory text on the underside of the seat, it reads: ‘Tamtam tribal archetype – tamspirit power is the dream of colour – tam earthmother rhythm tamtam.’
Civilisation itself is a vast artefact; civilisation is both the made world and the ideas that make the made world:
These chairs and these words, are all part of this made world, a world we make together.
THE FOLLOWSPOT GOES OUT. THE STAGE IS DARK.
LIGHTS COME UP ON 4 NAKED PERFORMERS EACH HOLDING A DIFFERENT POSE.
THE POSES ARE DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN, EVERY 3 TO 5 MINUTES THE PERFORMERS MUST REST.
ONCE RESTED, THEY GO BACK TO THEIR POSE.
AFTER 20 MINUTES THE LIGHTS GOES OUT.
THE STAGE IS DARK.
THE FOLOWING WORDS ARE PROJECTED ON THE BACK WALL ACCOMPANIED BY SOUND.
we take them off the street wake them as they sleep
drag them from boats
out of classrooms and factories he liked my cooking
we tie their hands shackle their feet her smile made me smile
we bind their arms cover their eyes put them in cars trains planes trucks she liked cats
crushed together we drive them away asking questions demanding answers leave them naked chained to a wall she was an architect
bound to a chair
stuffed in a closet
in a room filled with sewerage
with rats with insects
he made me laugh
we scrub their bodies until they bleed
shave their heads
give them new names clothes
he loved to sing
throw them down stairs
kick them in the ribs and the stomach
hit them with
a cane a club a hammer a gun
we burn them with cigarettes and torches
he was a painter
put electrodes on their teeth
rectums and genitals
in a room too hot too cold
tell them to stand
she was dancer
make them kneel hit them when they move when they don’t move
when they answer
when they don’t answer
tell them their friends and family are watching
are standing on a chair
a rope around their neck
he spoke to me in french
we whip them until their knees buckle
tear off their fingernails
drill holes in their teeth
she was a doctor
brand lacerate scrape at their skin
ask them questions demand answers
she was dependable
grind salt shit sand
maggots into their eyes
into their cuts
kick at their bruises
he was a teacher
hurl them into the wall spinning
stamp them into the ground
club them with chairs books
she read books in the bath
record their cries
photograph their cuts
poison their food
she had a crooked smile
crush their feet and fingers
make them dig a grave
eat shit our shit our spit
he smelled like a forest
burn their hands
feet genitals mouth
puncture their skin with needles knives forks glass sticks
he was my husband
beat their legs buttocks
arms with chains rocks
make them sing songs
he liked to hold my hand
rape them with rocks glass
fists knives sticks
show them videos of their children playing
their wives working
their husbands shopping
their parents waiting
she was my daughter
we pretend to be doctors
give them medicine
bandage their wounds
he was my son
flood their ears
with noise feed
them rotting meat
deny them light
food water warmth
leave them standing
sitting kneeling hanging
the cries and shrieks of others loud
their hands tied
she was a student
legs broken eyes infected
in a tub of ice water
we put plastic bags
over their heads
loud noise shatters
we force them
parade them naked
tear at their flesh with pincers and sticks she loved to cuddle
tie them to the ground
feed them rocks
again and again we ask
they tell us not to hurt them
they beg for mercy sleep
cold water insects down their throat up their nose rectum vagina
we kick slap hit whip burn beat demand question lie
sleep solitude society
we promise that this will never end we take them off the street
wake them as they dream
drag them off boats
in chains tie their hands
bind their arms cover
put them in trucks trains planes crushed naked chained tied to a tree parents
stuffed in a box
on a bench
in a stadium
unable to move
crowded bodies sewerage
rats insects wire brush
bleed shave heads
cold down stairs kick
stomach ribs face burn
teeth rectum testicle kneel naked beat move don’t
answer they answer
friends family lie dead
standing on a chair rope
neck whip buckle drill
shit sand maggots
eyes mouth ears cuts kick
bruises hurl wall spinning
stamp grind club
hammer record photograph
poison crush dig drink
eat shit spit burn
hands feat heads
tear skin needles forks legs
buttocks arms chains rocks
vagina sing rape fists sticks
knives children wives
husbands parents doctors poison wounds contagion hang
cut tear testicles
ears noise rotting food water
standing sitting kneeling
broken eyes infected bags
head blood shatters eardrums
under water flesh pliers parade naked demand tell hurt
beg alone sleep
cold water rats insects
nose ears anus penis
vagina hit kick cut
whip burn beat
THE THEATRE GOES DARK, THE SOUND FADES AWAY.