DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In 2015, the term “privacy” is practically a joke. Online activity and phone calls can be monitored. Facebook and other companies mine and sell personal data and spending habits to advertisers. Google knows your exact location.
It is an issue not just for privacy advocates, but also artists. The idea of where personal space begins and ends in the digital world is the subject of The Institute of Memory (TIMe), a 90-minute multimedia performance by Lars Jan and his company Early Morning Opera.
TIMe is an intersection of theater, film and new media technology. The show from the Los Angeles-based company will have its world premiere at REDCAT on Thursday-Sunday, May 28-31.
Mark Murphy, executive director of REDCAT, the avant-garde performance space in the back of Walt Disney Concert Hall, said Jan has found a new way to approach theater and tell a story. In other words, don’t expect to sit back and watch a conventional narrative with actors talking on stage.
“Lars is exploring some personal and also universal themes and using some interesting new 3D mapping technology to do it,” Murphy said. “That is an experiment worth supporting.”
REDCAT and the CalArts Center for New Performance commissioned the project in partnership with contemporary art institutions in Boston, Portland, Ore. and Poland.
The production features two performers, original music, advanced 3D imagery, an LED-lined set and a collage of text outlining the evolution of privacy and personal memory. It is filtered through the lens of Jan’s estranged, privacy-obsessed father, Henryk Ryniewicz.
“He wouldn’t tell me where he was from, if he had any family,” Jan said of the man who became a father at age 57. “He had different birth places on various documents. He was an enigma.”
Jan said he spent “a few hours a month” with his father from the ages of 4 to 14, then lost touch. Years later, when he knocked on his father’s door in Boston, he learned that Ryniewicz had passed away.
Trips to Poland
Jan, who lives in Echo Park, got support on the show from the Polish cultural events website Culture.pl, which helped him conduct research into his father’s life.
Jan would come to learn that Ryniewicz had been a Cold War intelligence operative with ties to the CIA as well as a McCarthy-era anti-communist speaker. Before coming to the U.S., he fought for the Polish resistance in World War II.
Jan took two research trips to Poland where he dug up records that shed light on his father’s past. He found files on Ryniewicz that existed through government surveillance, as well as military and medical records, photos and letters.
Some were stored at the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw, which offers public access to archives once kept secret by the Nazis, who used Polish informants beginning in 1939 to spy on their own family and friends.
“My father was very much a creature of the 20th century,” Jan said. “He was taught to hold on to his personal information with extreme vigor and keep it private, even from his own son.”
The show is a mix of past and present. Artist Andrew Schneider took a mid 20th-century typewriter and adapted it into a machine that emits light and sound as different keys are punched.
The typewriter is contrasted by emerging technology in the form of laser scanning, said Early Morning Opera video designer Pablo Molina, an Arts District resident who oversaw the interactive design and technology innovation on the project.
Molina and Jan came across laser scanning technology normally utilized by the architecture and engineering industries to scan a room to create a 3D model. They scanned rooms and objects, then manipulated them digitally. The result is an onstage image that has a 3D, almost holographic appearance.
“We’re breaking away from the traditional use of this technology,” Molina said. “We’re showcasing it as the evolution of documentation technology.”
Of course, TIMe has a natural tie to modern issues of record keeping, digital eavesdropping and sharing of material. Jan acknowledges that there are shades of Edward Snowden and the National Security Administration that make these topics more relevant now than ever before.
“The government has access to our private information. Everything is tracked and monitored,” Jan said. “Many people don’t register that as a concern, which is totally different from my dad’s era.”
“The show explores what it means to live in a world where your body or bedroom can be laser scanned, or tracked on your phone or online,” Molina said. “It contrasts the world Lars’ dad lived in to the world we live in now.”
TIMe speaks to a world of ever-changing technology and how the future of remembering changes by the second. It reminds us that life is more than just pixels, tweets or Facebook “likes.” According to Jan, it’s about making and keeping memories worthy of holding onto physically, maybe even a hard-copy photo or handwritten letter.
The Institute of Memory (TIMe)runs May 28-31 at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., (213) 237-2800 or redcat.org.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015