Friday, October 09, 2015

Tribute to Eameses at the Chicago Architecture Biennial

Last Friday evening, there was a performance of “Superpowers of Ten”, a theatrical presentation created by Andres Jaque and his “Office for Political Innovation”. The piece is a play / puppet show experience that springboards off “Powers of Ten”, a film by Charles and Ray Eames from 1977, which was itself based on a book by Kees Boeke. “Superpowers” does have a kind of a echo-chamber quality, but one that keeps moving, expanding beyond expected boundaries.
The original Eames film, produced for IBM, begins with a man and woman at a picnic on Chicago’s lakefront one sunny October day. It then moves out through levels of scale based on the factor of ten - zooming out into the cosmos before returning back to the picnic where it plunges through the man’s skin and proceeds into the human body down to atomic level. This tight, specific, and scientific methodology moves smoothly into metaphor. The film has been credited with making people feel they are citizens of the universe with an expanded sense of responsibility.
“Superpowers of Ten” takes this idea of varying frames of perception and explodes it. Presented in the Athletic Association’s “Tank” (feeling very much like a tank with its swimming-pool-tiled floor), the area surrounding our chairs was jammed with puppets and objects used in the performance, and the whole thing had a cozy, ad-hoc quality.
The performance itself was a groovy cosmic ride through the universe, spinning atoms, and other elements from the original film, and then somehow, (in a process akin to how the Eames’ led viewers under the skin of their picnicking man), proceeding along into the politics embedded in a host of topics including sausage-making, the color balance of Kodak film, and Miss America pageants.