Edward Gordon Craig Lecture 2015: Framing the Unknown

Monday, 18 May 2015 from 7-9.30pm
Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Eton Avenue, London NW3 3HY | map

This year’s Gordon Craig Lecture, in association with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, will be given by architect and professor of scenography Serge von Arx, the artistic director of the scenography department of the Norwegian Theatre Academy (of the Østfold University College).

Scenography is the intertwinement of theatre and architecture, resulting in an amalgamation of two essentially opposing fields. At the same time their synthesis inherently is symbiotic in the emerging plethora of potentialities which it opens up to. The lecture will focus on the following two aspects of this dialectic:

Firstly theatre always is fictive whereas architecture inescapably is real. Naturalistic theatre does not exist. As soon as we enter the theatre, the opera building or any site for performance, we progress into a realm beyond the reality surrounding us. Not only our mental awareness and our sensory expectations are in a different state, the social and political context evokes different behavior as well. What we perceive in the widest understanding of the notion “theatre” is fictive, we do not take for real what we witness on the stage, independent where it takes place. The actor always is acting. Architecture on the other side unavoidably is reality, the built environment which our lives unfold within. It is the physical frame where we meet, where we work, where we eat and where we make love. With more than 50% of the world population living in urban areas, the discrepancy of a natural and a humanly created environment increases furthermore. Even weekend trips into the countryside foremost are experienced as a counterpoint to urban life. Architecture is the key physical context of our lives.

Secondly theatre inherently is ephemeral whereas architecture is enduring to a degree that the process of aging becomes an intrinsic agent. While theatre – events unfolding on stage – strictly relates to a human time scale, the bodily experience of space within architecture stretches beyond an according comprehension of diachronic development; our bodily knowledge results from how we witness architecture as a frozen moment in time. Scenography fuses these time scales into a constant vibration, a pregnant momentum constantly on the brink of implosion. To maintain, juggle and control this inner tension is the task of the scenographer, whose balancing act always risks to fall flat into decoration on the one hand side or to become a dead architectural shell on the other.

Our sensory experience of both, the expansion of our bodily knowledge, is where architecture and theater coincide and where the two engage into a unity. That unity is called scenography. But scenography as such does not exist. It is mere agency. Scenography is the definition of potentials where the yet unknown unfolds. This lecture will question common understandings while trying to assess common knowledge.

Central is delighted to be able to welcome Prof von Arx to give this prestigious annual lecture.

Born 1971 in Zurich, Switzerland. After 6 years of study Serge von Arx made his degree in architecture 1997 at the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). Since then he is working as an independent scenographer, designer and architect. After 2 years of work experience with the architect Cuno Brullman and the exhibition designer Roberto Ostinelli in Paris he moved to Hamburg and began his professional career in theatre as the assistant to the stage designer Rolf Glittenberg among other productions for Luc Bondy’s “Macbeth” in Glasgow. Since 1999 Serge von Arx is a member of the s.i.a. (the Swiss association of engineers and architects). Since then he works as design and stage design collaborator for Robert Wilson on various projects: as a stage designer for over 20 productions, among others for “Osud” (National Theatre Prague, Teatro Real Madrid), “Deafman Glance (prologue)” and “Die Erwartung” (Staatsoper, Berlin), “Peer Gynt” (Det Norske Teatret, Oslo and Den National Scene, Bergen), “Rumi – in the Blink of the Eye” (Pallas Theatre, Athens), “Leonce und Lena“, “Das Wintermärchen”, “Die Dreigroschenoper”, “Die Sonette”, “Lulu”, “Peter Pan” (all at Berliner Ensemble) and “Orfeo” as well as “Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria” (Teatro alla Scala, Milan). He worked as exhibition designer together with Robert Wilson among other projects over ten years on the “Giorgio Armani Retrospettive” starting 2000 in the Guggenheim Museum New York which was reconceived in Berlin, London, Rome, Tokyo, Shanghai and Milan, in 2004 on “Imagenes del Cuerpo” in the Museu d’Art Precolombi in Barcelona and the exhibition on neuroscience “Mind Gap” in the Technical Museum in Oslo which opened 2011. In 2005 Serge von Arx designed 3 independent exhibitions on Albert Einstein in Berlin, Hanover and Tokyo. The exhibition “Albert Einstein – Engineer of the Universe” in the Kronprinzenpalais in Berlin was the major event of Germany’s “Year of Physics 2005”. In 2008 he designed the stage-set for “Før solnedgang” at the Norske Teatret in Oslo, directed by Hans Henriksen. In 2010 he developed the scenography for “Ifigeneia” in the Trøndelag Teater in Trondheim, in 2011 the stage-set for “Othello” at the Nationaltheatre Oslo, for “Kasimir og Karoline” in the Aarhus Teater, in 2012 for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen and, “En Handelsreisendes Død” at Trøndelag Teater in 2013 and “Demoner 2014”, a contemporary reflection on Norwegian society based on Dostoyevsky original text, at the Nationaltheatre in Oslo, all six directed by Runar Hodne. In the fall 2012 the production „Triptych 0811“ by Ella Fiskum Danz with von Arx’ scenography opened at EMPAC in New York and at Bærum Kulturhuset in Norway. In 2014 the exhibition “sex us” on Darwin’s theory of “sexual selection”, designed by Serge von Arx commissioned by the University of Oslo opened in the Natural History Museum in Oslo. Parallelly he is working since 1998 as an architectural critic with various publications in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”. Since 2003 Serge von Arx is a regular mentor and architectural consultant at the “Watermill Center for the Arts” on Long Island, New York.

In 2001 Serge von Arx opened his design studio in Berlin and since 2006 he is a resident in Oslo where he works aside from his academic activities as a scenographer and architect. In 2010 he was conferred a Professor in scenography. Serge von Arx is lecturing and implementing workshops at various international universities and other institutions, for example in 2008 at the OISTAT conference in Helsinki, in the University of St. Gallen in 2011 and 2012, in 2011 in the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland Basel, in 2011 at the yearly conference of the Arts Council Norway, in 2010 at ELIA Biennal, in 2012 at Psi#18, etc. Serge von Arx was curator and exhibition designer for both the academic and the architecture representations of Norway for the Prague Quadriennale 2011. Serge von Arx’ research focuses on the encounter of architecture and theatre. He inquires this field of „performative architecture“ in theory with various international publications and in practice. Serge von Arx has published in a variety of international architecture and performing arts related books and magazines. Currently Mr. von Arx curates the architecture section for the Prague Quadriennal 2015.

In 2006 Serge von Arx was appointed the Artistic Director of the Scenography department at the Norwegian Theatre Academy in Fredrikstad which is part of the Østfold University College. The Academy consists of an acting and a scenography department which work in close collaboration and offers a 3 year BA program in each department respectively. The curriculum focuses on visual and experimental performing arts and is mainly based on workshops executed by international artists from various art fields. The MA programme in scenography, developed by Serge von Arx has started at the Norwegian Theatre Academy in January 2015.

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