When we think of drama and theatre the orthodox image that comes to our minds is a stage with people on it. The pawns on the stage act out the image that the directors and producers imagined in their minds and through the time the actors are on the stage, we see a beginning, middle and end. 

That is not all theatre. 

Given the time of year with this edition’s publication being distributed just after Halloween I decided to bring you attention to the classic haunted house. At first glance, a haunted house is just a night out with friends and something to spend (or ‘waste’ as my mother would say) your student loan on. Yet, ultimately it is entertainment. A type of art installation that through staging, make-up, talented actors, lighting and artistic vison, invokes emotions along the lines of being scared and excited. Or at least that is the plan.

Performance art can be scripted, unscripted; with audience interaction or without it. The staging goes against the traditional stage, as instead any environment can be used to bore life to the performance. In Halloween’s case, this is a house. A gothic mansion, abandoned prison or even a forest. Performance art facilitates a much wider type of art that the orthodox idea of theatre naturally does. Artists such Cheang, Coco Fusco and Shu Lea have brought performance art into the 21st century by producing art drawing focus to issues of race, colonialism and gender. The Tate Modern in London established arguably the first dedicated space for installation art in a contemporary museum in 2012, ‘The Tanks at Tate Modern’. Their commitment to the unorthodox arts creates a welcoming environment into art where artistic work can be appreciated fully. 

One of the first haunted houses was at Madame Tussaud, who scandalized a British audience by staging an exhibition of decapitated French figures as wax sculptures. Her ‘Chamber of Horrors’ in 1802 displayed death masks of the many guillotine victims of the French revolution. The Grand Guignol in Paris showed stage depictions of graphic dismemberment at the start of the 21st century. Furthermore, a commercial horror attraction ‘ghost house’ was established in 1915 in England. Ever so gradually, society was indoctrinated to the macabre wonder of haunted houses – so much so that now you can find a collection of haunted houses in the majority of cities.  

One could argue that performance art has even been used legitimately by governments previously as to establish dominance and assert their authority as the state. One example is show trials that were used after the Bolsheviks gained power in Russia in 1917. Pre-determined case rulings would be put on as a ‘show’ to an unaware audience of Russian civilians to demonstrate the power of the state against those who attempted to speak out.  Art has always been sued as propaganda and as a way to carry sinister messages through subliminal art, as a result politicising the art form and consequently empowering artists to speak about issues they face through a publicly accessible medium. 

The Halloween haunted house can take on a variety of vibes ranging from gothic to the whimsy. Dubbed the most haunted city by The Mirror, Brighton has had at least 129 recorded incidents of paranormal activity. So, this Halloween I hope you treat yourself to this classic fun activity. However, if you haven’t then no fear – there is a Ghost Hunt and The Very Haunted Preston Manor on the 9th of November. Go treat yourself!

Jessica Hake

@ArtzeeChris

Categories: Arts Theatre

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