marcos lutyens 'the hypnotic show' at the guggenheim

‘The Hypnotic Show’ is an intimate experiment that takes place in the mind, both individual and collective. The site-specific work responds to an ongoing cognitive project between Marcos Lutyens and Raimundas Malašauskas since 2008.  Since then, it has manifested across several countries and venues, now taking place at the Guggenheim Museum. During several performances, the work will explore how image and sense of place can be depicted through alternative modes of narrative, serving as an imaginary ending to the exhibition.

Lutyens talks to Nia Nottage about 'The Hypnotic Show', his exploration of hypnotism as a medium, and his investigations into consciousness and social dynamics through his work

I like to consider myself like a conduit: a clear, empty tube that connects different levels and layers of reality with as little interference of the ego as possible.

Marcos, could you first give us a description of who you are and what you do? Why have you chosen performance as a medium for your work?

Marcos Lutyens: I work with different kinds of media including performance art, though the common thread is an interest in consciousness and blurring the boundaries of the self.I especially like the medium of performance as it bypasses the rather cumbersome reality of using objects (such as sculptures or paintings) to act as intermediaries between artist and visitor.

Performance art, as I practice it, is immensely versatile and can adapt to infinite scenarios and locations, as well as engage directly with the emotions and imagination of the person coming into contact with it.

As an artist I also like to consider myself like a conduit: a clear, empty tube that connects different levels and layers of reality with as little interference of the ego as possible.

What led you to do this current performance with Raimundas and specifically as a part of the Tales of Our Time exhibition? How was this project conceived?

Marcos Lutyens: Raimundas and I have been working on this Hypnotic Show project since 2008, when we met in San Francisco.  Since then the Hypnotic Show evolved its manifestations across many different countries and venues across the world, including at the Centre Pompidou, Documenta in Germany, Artissima in Italy.  We are doing a version, for instance, next week at the Fundación Cisneros in Venezuela. For the Tales of Our Time, the curator Xiaoyu Weng invited us in to help close (while perhaps opening up?) the exhibition at the end of its 3 month duration at the Guggenheim.

The Hypnotic Show is often based on text written by guest artists or writers, and in this case, we grounded our flight of the imagination in seven mixed-reality catalogue texts penned by Chinese and Taiwanese writers.

I noticed that Rai is a curator, not an artist, which is kind of a formal choice for performance art. Do you often work with a curator or. if not. what was your experience working with one this time?

Marcos Lutyens: The Hypnotic Show is always a collaboration between myself and Raimundas.  We don’t conceive of ourselves as having fixed roles, such as artist and curator, but rather concepteur and hypnoteur, or friends that operate in a vapor-like boundary that lies beyond standard job-descriptions.

As an artist who presents work at major institutions, what kinds of people (other artists, gallery directors, curators, production agencies etc) do you usually find on your team?

Marcos Lutyens: I am constantly excited to collaborate with all kinds of people inside and outside of the realm of art. Even a passing conversation can lead to a string of operations that could lead to a large-scale and evolving project.  I also think that collaborating with people that have knowledge beyond your own sphere opens up the creative possibilities exponentially. I have been especially stimulated by working with neuroscientists who generally have a keen understanding of consciousness, but who, at the same time, encourage the possibility of a more poetic investigation of the mind.

Speaking of collaborations, what is your relationship with Velvet like? Has it been helpful for you as an artist to work with a production company? Could this perhaps be the way of the future for performance art support?

Marcos Lutyens: It has been very stimulating working with Velvet, in part because of the allure of Australia, but also teaming up with the creative movers and shakers there. A lot of my work is multi-disciplinary and quite complex, so working with a production company allows one to embark on projects that are technically and conceptually more involved and ambitious.  Likewise, the ability to cross-pollinate and work to support other creators/directors at Velvet is gratifying.  I have especially been having a very creative rapport with Jeff Darling and Jason Rogers for quite a few years now.

In terms of performance art funding, if one works in a collective it is much easier to pull together resources, which help to attenuate out-of-pocket costs. A good example was a VR project we have been working on, in which various team members chipped in in terms of advice, physical help, skill sets, etc.

That actually sounds really nice, being able to attack big projects because you know there are people on your side. But let’s bring it back to Hypnotic Show. How did you first start working in sensory experience?

Marcos Lutyens:  I came to sensory experience through an interest and immersion in shamanism in Mexico.  Perhaps, it would be better expressed initially as extra- or ultra-sensory experience, in other words, encounters that go beyond the every-day.  Later, I found hypnosis to be a medium that allowed for a relatively controlled access to these same states of mind, in which there is heightened awareness and hence a focus on the inner senses. Still later, I began working with synesthetics to explore how heightened sensory experience is native in this group of people, as well as in children under the age of five. 

“The idea of not having an apparent program was our response to our brains being over-programmed, as well as the condition of museums which become over-stratified and structured."

Do you seek to accomplish a sort of higher consciousness or a deeper penetration of art by implanting your installations subliminally? Or do you think this is possible?

Marcos Lutyens: In the Hypnotic Show, the underlying idea is to curate exhibitions of infinite scale and temporal dimensions directly into the mind, but there comes a point in the process, where even the idea of ‘art’ is left behind, and the process becomes a vehicle of expanded consciousness.  Part of this effort stems from the realization that our sense of reality is extremely limited, not so much because of our lack of knowledge, but rather because of the inability of our brains, as organic processing units that have not developed much since stone-age times, to comprehend the multiple dimensions and states of superposition that science tells us exist. Our brains, if they are to adapt to this expanding scientific knowledge, must exercise themselves in order to intuitively comprehend the full scale and scope of existence.

During the performance you had an audience member choose a color based on a sound in order to pick the narrative we would be led through. In your pieces, how do color perception, sound and consciousness relate?

Marcos Lutyens: This exercise which stimulates what I call ‘par-auditory’ vision, is an attempt to cue the visitor in to the relationship between sound and colour. As kids, we are innately attuned to these inter-sensory correspondences, but for most of us as we gain adulthood, the pruning process in the brain starts to sever these neural connections and leave the different sensory centers detached from eachother.  I extended the idea of ‘par-auditory’ vision from Surrealist writer André Daumal’s practice of ‘par-optic’ vision in which he supposedly could see colours through his fingertips.  A lot of people have the mis-conception that we only have 5 senses, but clinically we have over 20, and as many as 33. Imagine if we could cross match some of these: my work really just scratches the surface on this front. Although I am working on inductive spaces that accelerate multi-sensory cross-over.

With an installation of the mind it seems that each person would leave with their own particular experience of the performance, one that is perhaps difficult to explain. Going into each performance do you have any specific intentions as to the space you would like to create for people individually? Collectively?

Marcos Lutyens: I once heard a Tibetan saying that talked about how special experiences should be savoured, ‘like sugar in the mouth of a mute.’ There is a certain sense of mystery in what exactly people experience in each session as the journey is so internal, and if one attempts to describe the mental encounters, they may just collapse into a flattened stutter.

That’s not to say that I don’t get quite a lot of feedback, either just after the performance, or else written to me or in subsequent conversations, sometimes years later.

These descriptions are what I based my book ('Memoirs of a Hypnotist') on: feeback from several thousand visitors while I conducted 340 performances over 100 days in Kassel.

In terms of the exact expectations for each performance, there is sometimes a sense that the process of hypnosis involves control, mental or otherwise, so I deliberately allow for choices of different hypnotic pathways and narratives to be chosen intuitively by the visitors.  I also don’t rehearse or practice the inductions, but leave my unconscious mind to run the scripts from simple visual scores that act as narrative waypoints.

And lastly, about memory.  Hypnotic Show gives the audience a lot of dialogue that is not directly explained. When we walked into the auditorium at the beginning of the performance there was a group of people on stage in the middle of what seemed to be a reading group discussing a text about Hong Kong. You and Rai led us on a walk where you both discussed the architecture of the Guggenheim. At no point were we given a program or an explanation of what was happening or what we were supposed to “do”. We never knew how close we were to the end to know the important parts to remember and without this context no part had reason to stand out above any other. So were we supposed to remember the conversation we walked in on? Which sounds poetic in itself. Was it there to teach us to examine what we overhear and make it relevant in our lives in general? How does a performance like this reprogram our sense of value and discrimination when it comes to seeing art when we’re given a context but not “told to remember”?

Marcos Lutyens:  I think you may be riffing on a line of the hypnosis induction which suggested that visitors could choose to remember what they liked and choose to forget what they wanted to do, though at some level of mind we have access to all the experiences we have ever been through, just that some memories remain more accessible than others.  Again, the suggestion of choice was the important aspect here.

I liked the possible mis-direct that the Hypnotic Show was only going to take part in the quite conventional theater space, in front of a golden curtain, rather than actually include the whole museum as an inductive dérive.  I think it may have come as a bit of a surprise to visitors that the performance opened up to the whole museum space, including the famous spiraling rotunda.

We wanted to create a kind of indefinite envelope that included the overheard conversation at the beginning, but also involved the flowing structure of the building, as well as the more formal type of lying-down hypnotic induction in the middle of the visit. The words and themes of the initial  conversation were then woven into the hypnosis induction, while at the same time, the participants on stage were in a post-hypnotic state while in dialogue.

The idea of not having an apparent program was our response to our brains being over-programmed, as well as the condition of museums which become over-stratified and structured.

There were also other subliminal cues along the way, such as a count-down of re-mixed Arabic numerals in mandarin fonts in the entrance ramp-way by artist Yi-Ping, as well as a special gift at the end of the visit, of a specific smell in an envelope inside an envelope created by smell-artist Sissel Tolaas.

Marcos Lutyens
Interview by Nia Nottage 
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