The Operature – revisiting Mark Jeffery

I get a lot of emails. I’m on distribution lists and mailing lists, and I guess I have a general weakness for online spam.  Once you add social media notifications into the mix, it’s a wonder I ever manage to maintain any sort of correspondence.

But I was glad that I had squirrelled an email in my (overflowing, unruly) inbox.  And after a hasty search through the electronic flotsam, I was booked in and ready at 8pm to take in The Operature at the Old Anatomy Museum and lecture theatre at the top of the Kings Building. [A building which I seem to have found myself in a few times this year, notably in March for In The Beginning Was The End].

This sounds funny, but I don’t want to talk about the performance.  It would take me days and days and pages and pages – and I think it’s that that I would like to talk about.  The performance unfolded over a few hours and I was struck by just how dense and layered and rich it was.  Not only physically, what was presented in the space – five performers, multiple sound-scapes, projections around the room, swirling animated text, moving set – but also in the richness of the thought behind and inside the piece.  Perhaps because I was fortunate enough to take part in a workshop with Mark last summer, I found I had a pass to take in the surface, but also delve in, and begin to make connections and associations for myself.  As the evening unfolded – with a ‘factual’ yet poetic sojourn in the lecture theatre – I found that I could recognise words and images from before, and place them in a new context at a later point.  It was exciting and invigorating and challenging – and a reminder that performance or theatre doesn’t have to hold the audiences’ hand; it just has to hold open the door.

A little about The Operature and atom-a, as stolen (borrowed) from Mark’s website:

2012 also marks a new inquiry, with a new multi year, multi modular out put project currently titled Memento Mori. With this new work I have made a decision to form a collective calledatom-r (anatomical theaters of mixed reality). It is a provisional collective exploring forensics, anatomy, and 21st century embodiment through performance, language and emerging technologies. atom-r is Mark Jeffery (choreography), Judd Morrissey (systems), Justin Deschamps, Sam Hertz, Christopher Knowlton, Blake Russell, & Bryan Saner (collaborators/performers).

For the process of research and experimentation, we have isolated four points of historical research that are striking in their conflation of scientific inquiry and image making. Two of the sources also have strong roots within Chicago. The sources are as follows:

Exhibition A: Battle Wounds, the 19th century surgical paintings of physician Charles Bell.
Exhibition B: Nutshell Studies: dollhouse miniatures of crime scenes created in the 1930’s by one-time Chicago-based heiress Francis Lee Glessner. The miniatures were designed with obsessive intricacy to be used as by law enforcement as early forensic models.
Exhibition C: the history of anatomical theater
Exhibition D: The Stud File: card catalog, apartment wall murals and ephemera of once Chicago-based writer and sexual queer pioneer Samuel Steward, who painstakingly recorded and filed away carefully structured data and forensic evidence (such as the pubic hair of dancer Vaslav Nijinsky) pertaining to a multitude of homosexual encounters involving many of the great writers and artists of the 20th century.


(Also, if you read the opening paragraph of Mark’s Artist Statement, you will see what I mean by layers…!)


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