To say that the announcement from David Lynch that Twin Peaks was returning was met with excitement is something of an understatement. It was, as is to be expected, met with rabid levels of hysteria – or at least as rabid as those cool enough to adore the show would willingly articulate – and we’re still a good year away from seeing it on screen. This year is the show’s 25-year anniversary, and to mark the occasion, something very special is afoot in Berlin.
It’s called The Shells – Ausflug nach Neu-Friedenwald, and it’s an immersive theatre performance inspired by Twin Peaks in design, tone and setting; but taking a feminist slant to the direction.
“There seemed to be a distinct disregard for the women on Twin Peaks to be granted the complexity and strength their male counterparts were endowed with."
“It all started with the frustration with which we were confronted time and again when talking about Twin Peaks and especially its dead protagonist Laura Palmer,” say the project founders Jos Porath and Kirsten Brandt. “There seemed to be a distinct disregard for the women on the show to be granted the complexity and strength their male counterparts were endowed with. There were potentially feminist moments of course, most famously when Bobby, Laura’s ex-boyfriend, declares that ‘We all killed Laura Palmer’ at her funeral, hinting at something shared, maybe societal or even systemic that is rotten in this seemingly idyllic small town where violence against women is an integral part of the place’s make up.
“But what Twin Peaks hints at, we have centered. We feel like a work of art that is up to date and culturally as well as artistically relevant must provide points of view that are situated in the here and now. To us, that includes taking a closer look at who inflicts violence, who suffers it and what kind of social climate encourages it."
Within the “theatre” space, the aim is to showcase that for all its idealised, wholesome, nostalgic “all American” values, the town is not all smiling diner waitresses and neat picket fences: like most places in 2015, it’s rife with the often-oppressive conservative conventions. “The production engages primarily (though not exclusively) with the sexist gender conventions that are part and parcel of this type of cultural conservatism,” Jos explains. “Puritan notions of witch hunting, Freudian pathologisation of ‘hysterical females’, ‘gentlemanly’ chauvinism, homophobia, domestic abuse and victim-blaming, as well as slut-shaming and violent expressions of unreflected male entitlement manifest in members of the different generations that make up the fabric of the community.”
Many of the performers in the production have been involved with collectives and companies including Punchdrunk, Secret Cinema and You Me Bum Bum Train, and The Shells will be just as immersive and viewer-driven; with those coming to see the performances actively participating in, and in some cases, even steering the plot. Navigating the 500m2 of the “town” (which will features a diner, nightclub, town square and motel on the seventh floor of a jobcentre-turned-arts space), they will be making decisions as to how the characters are steered within the loose overarching plot.
For The Shells, our Laura Palmer is 17- year-old Cecila Fitts, and the viewers of the performance will become tourists in the town of Neu-Friedenwald where her murder took place. From the images and film clips we’ve seen so far, it’s shaping up to be articulated with a deliciously Lynchian aesthetic. The directors say that the visual cues are – like Twin Peaks – taken from a collage-like assemblage of references points, skewed towards “suburban dystopias” including The Virgin Suicides, American Beauty, Stepford Wives and Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Other cues including Surrealist classic Meshes of the Afternoon, Gothic horror and Synecdoche, New York. “What these references have in common is a more explicit engagement with the pervasive hypocrisy festering in suburbia,” say Jos and Kirsten. “Particular attention is paid to motifs and symbols that have come to signify thresholds to what lies beyond the scope of the rational and ‘real’: curtains, mirrors, television sets, hall- and doorways.”
“We definitely feel frustrated with the trend leaning towards art becoming more and more consumable; that passivity, the lack of risks and accountability expected of the audience."
“Every action that is undertaken or refrained from has consequences, and so people will find themselves constantly negotiating how to position themselves in a universe where the line between audience and performer is in constant flux,” say Kirsten and Jos. “We definitely feel frustrated with the trend leaning towards art becoming more and more consumable; that passivity, the lack of risks and accountability expected of the audience. The Shells is a performance that wants to be topically and circumstantially uncomfortable, interactive and challenging. It triggers moments of self-confrontation that stay with you. And that is maybe what is most important to us: to provide an experience with art that isn’t over when the metaphorical curtain falls, or in our case, when tourist season in Neu-Friedenwald is over – it continues to engage.”
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