LAS Art Foundation
13 – 17 September, 2023
LAS presents the world premiere of the flute opera GORGON, the first live stage work written, composed and directed by artist Marianna Simnett. This newly commissioned performance will draw on Greek mythology to explore love, envy, power and empathy in the age of ma-chine learning. Unfolding through sound, projection and dance, Simnett’s ambitious stage debut will push the boundaries of AI as a medium within live performance.
The word ‘gorgon’ comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘gorgós’, meaning dreadful, which is thought to derive from the same root as the Sanskrit word ‘garjana’, describing a guttural, growling sound produced in the back of the throat. GORGON takes root in this etymology and the gendered way that it manifests in the Gorgon myth. In the story, Greek hero Perseus kills Medusa, the only mortal of the three Gorgon sisters, with Athena’s aid. Hearing the terrifying force of the Gorgon sisters’ anguished cries over her death, Athena invents an instrument to repro-duce and reap the power of their lamentation. Simnett’s performance transports this archaic tale of pain and power into a contemporary fairy tale.
The work centres on Greta, a girl working the night shift at a train station doughnut stand, and Gorgon, a shape-shifting entity whose piercing wail can shake the ground. One night, the drudgery of Greta’s job propels her into a vision of being a tyrannic corporate queen, presiding over an office at the edge of a forest. She becomes set on harnessing the power of Gorgon’s harrowing cry, and begins the pursuit of this inscrutable adver-sary. When a chorus of fireflies lures Greta into mimicking the Gorgon’s wail, the two come face-to-face. Greta’s tools prove incompatible with the world she encounters, and she is impelled to relinquish her pursuit of power, as her body and ego become subsumed to larger forces. Trans-fixed, transformed and tangled, Greta and Gorgon finally come to see one another’s vulnerability.
The piece will bring together an international cast of collaborators from the fields of classical and contemporary flute, performance, AI techno- logy, set design, costuming and choreography. Its innovative integration of AI will expand Simnett’s work with machine learning as a medium, initially developed in her 2022 video Blue Moon.
The projected character of the Gorgon will be generated by a custom AI model that has been trained on video footage of the artist performing as a range of non-human species, inspired by mimicry in the natural world. The performance’s 60-minute score, composed by Simnett, will include a chorus of flautists whose playing is transferred into AI-generated sounds in real time, based on data sets sourced from online archives and recordings of animal cries, weapons, Neolithic flute and human speech. The Holly+ voice model, created by artist Holly Herndon as a ‘digital twin’ of her singing voice, will also be integrated into the score as part of the work’s wider engagement with themes of mimicry and metamorphosis, agency and voice.
Simnett is among the most daring and rigorous artists working today, testing the boundaries of her subjects and media by posing difficult questions about desire, death, power, gender, the body and our rela-tionship to the Other. Grounded in references spanning feminist and posthuman theory, scientific research, pre-human technologies, Gothic literature and hypercapitalist culture, GORGON looks at the horror and beauty of society in transition, delving into the distress of bodies and systems unable to keep up with technology’s acceleration, and the tendency to channel this fear into the creation of monsters. As society grapples with the implications of the rapid advancement of AI, GORGON offers a timely commentary on how we meet the uncanny, the unwieldy and the unknown.
Marianna Simnett: GORGON is commissioned by LAS Art Foundation and presented at HAU Hebbel am Ufer (HAU2) as part of Berlin Art Week.
LAS Art Foundation
13 – 17 September, 2023
Commissioned by LAS Art Foundation.
Courtesy the artist, LAS Art Foundation and Société Berlin