July 16, 2024

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Art meets science at the 2023 Adelaide Fringe

9 min read
Art meets science at the 2023 Adelaide Fringe

From immersive, multi-sensory experiences and virtual-reality adventures, to musical theatre, cutting-edge interactive exhibitions and fun experiments with kids, science is at the heart of all these shows.

Electric Dreams: Torrent

If anything was to exemplify the power of science and art in collaboration, it would be the series of events and productions being presented at Fringe under the banner of Electric Dreams.

UK-based production company Crossover Labs presents Electric Dreams, with one of the 2023 highlights set to be the immersive experience Torrent at Light ADL’s The Light Room.

Torrent explores the multifaceted nature of water, both as a source of life and a destructive force,” director Ben Carlin says of the multi-sensory and multi-disciplinary production.

“It endeavours to craft a symbiotic convergence of music, dance, poetry and real-time visual effects, utilising cutting-edge game engine technology.

“This holistic approach to learning allows individuals to engage with the information in their own way, through different senses and experiences. By offering multiple entry points, we can make science more approachable and enjoyable for everyone.”

Carlin explains that audiences at Torrent will be surrounded by monolithic LED walls in 360 degrees, “inducing a sense of being transported to another world made of sand and water”.

“The musical score will be felt as much as it is heard, with the bass vibrations filling the space.

“The live dancers, brought to life through motion capture, will embody the elemental forces of sand and water, providing a mesmerising visual representation of the interplay between humanity and the natural world.”

Audiences at Torrent will be transported to another world. Photo: Supplied

The team at Crossover Labs is collaborating with renowned Yankunytjatjara-Kokatha poet Ali Cobby Eckermann to add a layer of poetry and a First Nations voice to the production.

“I wrote some poetic text to mix with the movement of Torrent, and to define its tone,” Eckermann tells InReview.

“I am a Yankunytjatjara woman from the desert region of north-west South Australia and have lived many years in desert and remote regions. So as a desert person, my view of water is different to the production team in London. I believe this added to our collaboration; we were all learning new elements. For me, water is sacred, and also scarce ­– the blessed giver of life.”

Eckermann says Torrent explores the flow-on effects of colonisation – not only on First Nations people, but also on the environment.

“Aboriginal people have had to suffer the policies and prejudice of white governments since the invasion of our land. The environmental destruction incurred upon our sacred lands over the past 230 years has been abysmal. The effect of one issue affects another. I think Torrent captures the effect.”

While technology such as that used in Torrent is new to Eckermann, she is open to the evolution of storytelling, and what new tech can bring to the conversation.

“This is my first-time inclusion in such a high-tech production,” she says.

“I hope my grandson Jett can come to see it. I’d love to share this moment with him. Even at six years of age he has a technology knowledge I didn’t have. It is healthy to accept the world is always changing.”

Also being presented as part of the Electric Dreams program is Volo: Dreams of Flight, which celebrates Leonardo da Vinci and his pioneering work related to flight. Participants in Volo wear virtual-reality headsets that enable them to soar on everything from gliders to parachutes.

Electric Dreams: Torrent is at The Light Room at Light ADL, West Village, from February 17 until March 18. Electric Dreams: Volo Dreams of Flight is at the South Australian Museum from February 17 until February 28.

Seeing Things Differently

Art and science are both vessels for change and discovery, which is exemplified by the exhibition Seeing Things Differently – SmART Science at Tonsley Innovation District.

Discover what nature looks like at the nanoscale with Seeing Things Differently – SmART Science.

Seeing Things Differently is an exhibition of science artworks created by the community, combining the large-scale view of natural objects with the small-scale view from high-tech microscopes and X-ray equipment,” says Dr Ula Alexander, Flinders Microscopy and Microanalysis scientist.

As well as being visually spectacular, the works provide an opportunity for members of the public to learn more about nature and engage with both science and art.

“We can use X-ray and micro-CT scanning to see inside natural objects through hundreds of virtual slices without having to destroy the object,” explains Susanne Sahlos, exhibition presenter and research chemist at Micro-X Ltd.

“Each slice has its own detailed pattern. We can see the microstructures on the surfaces of rose petals, dragonfly wings and butterfly wings. When we see these structures, we can understand how butterfly wings play with the light to make them look coloured, why water beads on a rose petal and why dragonfly wings can stay clean.”

Seeing Things Differently – SmART Science is a free exhibition showing at the MAB Event Space at Tonsley Innovation District on February 23.  

A Curious Thing

Science, of course, is not limited to technology, as Heaps Good Productions explores in A Curious Thing: The Story of Mary Anning.

This one-person musical theatre show explores the social constraints and inequalities in the science domain through the character of Mary Anning, a 19th-century English fossil collector who was excluded from science and history because of her gender. Anning was also the inspiration for the 2020 movie Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.

“When I heard the story of Mary, and that her discoveries are still used for research today, that she never gave up, it was a pretty easy choice for a hero,” says Michael Mills, the creator of A Curious Thing and creative director of  Heaps Good Productions.

“What we see in this show is that Mary knew her stuff…. there’s some mythology around the place that she just found fossils. Wrong! She very much knew what she was doing, and knew her subject like no one else at the time.”

The poster image for A Curious Thing: The Story of Mary Anning.

Science communication within a theatrical production is no easy feat, but Mills says music can help make the concepts accessible.

“The great thing about songs as a source of science communication is that people get songs stuck in their head. You can listen to songs on various platforms. It’s one of the reasons why, for me, songs in science communication and shows about science can be really effective.”

A Curious Thing: The Story of Mary Anning was guided by conversations with women in STEM.

“I’ve spent time with some of the women from the University of Adelaide palaeontologists. I was saying, ‘Okay, tell me what are the issues in academia that you are impacted by because you’re a woman? What are the challenges that you have been faced with as a woman?’ I hope that has helped shape it by giving it authenticity.”

A Curious Thing: The Story of Mary Anning is at Ayers House from February 22 until March 11.

Triple treat at MOD.

While the Adelaide Fringe offers a catalogue of shows exploring science and art, there are also entire venues dedicated to these themes.

“MOD. is one of those places that is really unique and lucky to be able to work exactly at the intersection between art and science,” says Lisa Bailey, exhibitions and experience design manager at the UniSA “museum of discovery”.

Throughout the Fringe, MOD. is hosting a series of shows: FLEX, How to Survive on the Moon and Point of Impact – The End of the World as We Know It.

Are your perceptions reliable? Test them out at FLEX. Photo: Sia Duff / MOD.

FLEX is an exhibition exploring how our bodies cope with extremes and limits and pushing the boundaries of what our minds and bodies can achieve,” says Bailey.

“Also, it’s about thinking about human bodies in extreme environments like space, and human space exploration of other planets like Mars.”

How to Survive on the Moon shares similar subject matter, but offers a different method of exploration. As the title suggests, audiences will be shown how to survive on the Moon.

“Sarah Jane Pell is an artist and researcher who’s done all sorts of incredibly amazing things – looking at how humans cope, physically and emotionally and mentally with extreme environments, like being underwater or being in deep space,” explains Bailey.

“So, she’ll show you how to survive. When people come, the audience attendees will be together on a lunar module that’s crash-landed 50 kilometres from where it’s meant to be. It’s kind of like an interactive, participatory theatre performance.”

Point of Impact is a different experience again, says Bailey. It combines science, the end of the world and comedy.

“We’ll be heading to Mt Gambier and Whyalla with Jason Chong, who is an LA-based comedian, and a panel of UniSA researchers to talk about the end of the world! We will be thinking about topics like dystopian fiction, which is always very popular.

“We don’t want it to be a lecture about the end of the world. We want it to be a fun night out. So that’s where the comedy comes in.”

FLEX is at MOD at UniSA from February 17 until March 18. How to Survive on the Moon is at MOD at UniSA from February 22 until February 24. Point of Impact: The End of the World as We Know It is at the UniSA Mt Gambier Campus on the March 23 and the UniSA Whyalla Campus on March 17.

The Wrong Experiments!

While adults can delve into discussions about the end of life as we know it, there’s also plenty on offer for younger science enthusiasts. The Wrong Experiments!, presented by The Scientwits, is an interactive science-comedy show for an age bracket from “four to 4,000,000” years old.

The Scientwits aim to make science fun. Photo: Supplied

When asked how they would describe the show, the presenters’ simple answer is: “Chaos!”.

“Controlled chaos,” elaborates John Burgos, AKA “Captain Chaos” and one half of The Scientwits duo.

“Yes, it’s only controlled because I’m trying to hold John back,” adds co-presenter Sam Harrison, who describes himself as a science teacher by day, stand-up comedian by night. “The dynamic is the classic silly character trying to destroy everything that the sensible character is trying to create.”

Harrison says his two professions inform each other.

“Teaching is a performance ­– whether in the classroom or running science incursions through my company, I’m using tricks learnt on the stage to keep my learners engaged,” he says.

“Merging the two ideas was a natural evolution – I just had to find the right person to go on this journey with. And then I remembered my old, silly, friend John.”

“Hey, no! I’m not old,” Burgos chimes in.

“My background is in comedy and acting. I loved the idea and the potential for this type of show. I had been wanting to do something for kids for a long time and with this show everything just clicked.

“It’s great fun – kids are learning without realising that they’re learning, and adults thank us later for putting jokes in especially for them.”

Harrison adds: “Kids want to see things go wrong on purpose.  Our show is all about what could happen if…?  And we give them what they want.

“We’re bringing creativity and a narrative around a science show!”

The Scientwits: The Wrong Experiments! is at Star Theatres from March 10 until March 13.

This story is part of a series of articles being produced with the support of Adelaide Fringe. Read more 2023 Fringe stories here.

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