' The Lives of the Curtain, the Medium, the Fly and the Message: A Play '
Jamie Steedman begins to unpack the entangled networks of theatre, fiction and collaboration that direct Serena Huang’s practice. Refocussing the spotlight on that which is habitually overlooked - backstage runners, everyday technologies, lost histories - we are forced to consider our position within reality, and what it may take for that to shift.
Artist: Serena Huang
Editor: Jamie Steedman
I suppose the curtain grabs attention first, does it not? Upon entering a retro cinema or any traditional theatre space, the curtain is the initial entity that directs our gaze and, figuratively, announces the time one is in — a pre-disclosure of space — apart from lobby, toilette, snack bar and merch stand of course. The setting before the setting actually takes place. And while the curtain may be assumed to be a static object — the thing that appears to embody stillness, a gap in time (apart from the occasional fluttering of its folds) — it is the very busyness, that unseen dynamic happening behind the curtain, that so intrigues Huang. Consider the ‘Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain’ scene from the pioneering 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, or the role of Kuroko — a type of ‘running crew’ — in Japanese Kabuki theatre. The curtain here for Huang holds an important semblance. It creates its own facade from which fictions are projected in front of and, simultaneously, enacted behind. A rippling stretch of fantastic red fabric, seeping grandeur and opulence. It absorbs the stories it hears over time. However, remains elegantly poised; an overlooked barrier in everyday surroundings.
Whether intensional or not, Huang’s practice maintains a subtle thread of irony and wit throughout — knowing wink paired with wry smile — as the Fly guides you down a dark, twisting path. In the making of her art, Huang seems to employ both her hands — in literal and metaphoric senses. To stitch, to saw, to weld, to code; she utilises every department in the workshop — as can be seen with the outstanding stage construction of The Smartphone Was Invented Before the Candle, or with her wearable spotlights. While, at the same time, metaphorically, both her hands remain welcoming and willing; ushering you into and around her practice, her world, her own ever-expanding Gesamtkunstwerk. One hand outstretched, guiding you through the ambiguous narratives. The other, gently gesturing forward, for you to take your own autonomous steps into the unidentified soup of mythical unknowingness