Sayonara: Android-Human Theatre, The Arts Centre, August 24-25.
Alan Turing sidestepped one of the central questions in artificial intelligence, “Can machines think?” Instead, he proposed the influential Turing test: “Can a machine fool a human into believing it is interacting with another human?” In doing so, he not only produced an enduring challenge for robotics, but introduced the idea of android performance.
This collaboration between Osaka University and Seinendan Theatre Company brings android-human theatre to its most sophisticated realisation yet.
The android, Geminoid F, achieves spookily ethereal presence, although human actors need not fear wholesale replacement with hardware and subroutines just yet. Indeed, it’s worth going along as a reminder of how complex and intuitive an art acting is.
In the first scenario, the robot comforts a dying girl, musing on the nature of life, quoting poetry from Rimbaud to Japanese masters. After a brief interlude, the robot is recommissioned to enter radioactive areas around Fukushima, performing acts of reclamation too dangerous for humans.
Ghostly, shadow-limned lighting design adds to the uncanny atmosphere, and concentrates attention on the android’s facial features. These are programmed into a complex though not entirely convincing simulation of human social behaviour. The audience is torn between regarding Geminoid F as an entity and an object.
During the panel session afterwards, the robot’s creator, Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, alerted us to the legion of small, subconscious movements we make during a single conversation. It’s obvious there are still many advances to be made in developing humanoid machines. Yet Sayonara is more than a gimmick: it opens the door to new ventures between art and technology, and makes us reflect on the mystery of being human.
The Memorandium, Created by Penelope Bartlau, Barking Spider Visual Theatre, Theatreworks, Until September 1.
Through an eccentric hybrid of performance styles, The Memorandium explores memory and our relationship to objects. It’s a weird experience, burnished by nostalgia and delicate in a way that flees rapidly from the mind.
Entering Theatreworks by the stage door, we creep through a passage decorated with mementos and vintage clothes. We’re offered hot chocolate as we take our seats before Jason Lehane’s towering set, a mountain of motley treasures plundered from op-shops.
Strange keepsakes and relics of the unknown past leap into the performance from the outset. Penelope Bartlau’s interest in them is framed and spurred by the deceased estates her parents had to administer during her childhood, and she tells of those mysterious days as Leah Scholes creates ambient sounds on found objects, from the clacking of knitting needles to percussion on milk bottles.
Twice, selected audience members are called on to participate in a lucky dip, receiving random gifts they’re asked to connect with a personal memory. Audience responses are then worked into improvised storytelling sequences.
Bartlau’s own memory is terrifically sharp, and though she staggers ineloquently in places this may be deliberate. Her spontaneous narratives come to resemble the wild confabulation of some amnesia patients, who compensate for gaps in their stories by making themselves up.
The action shifts whimsically to two kinds of puppetry and Bartlau’s projected illustrations of a memory told in voiceover. There’s also an opportunity to record your own memories of the performance after it.
You get the sense that few elements of the show are strong enough to stand alone, but the precarious whole contains intimate delights among things justly forgotten.