You can’t put Bright Raven in a pigeonhole. On the one hand, it’s an evident pastiche - a parody of self-absorbed performance art, and its practitioners’ conviction that their inscrutable work will somehow change humanity. But on the other hand, it’s a genuinely thoughtful metaphor for our species' potential fate, and it takes you on a rewarding personal journey too. Let me try to explain.
We’re welcomed to the ONCA Gallery’s subterranean courtyard by the earnest Flavia Bertram, who explains to us that her deep social concern has prompted her to save the world through art. After some ice-breaking interactivity and a comically ludicrous birthing scene, Bertram ditches her coat, to reveal that she’s dressed as a raven. That much is no surprise (the clue’s in the title, and anyway you can see her tail); less expected is the illuminated chessboard strapped to her chest, which she uses to summon music and sound effects. It all draws us into a fantastical world… the domain of the Bright Ravens.
Bright Ravens are, it seems, a godly species, and one segment asks us to reflect on exactly what policies our ideal deity would adopt. For me, though - and this is the kind of mind-bending show where my reading might be totally different to yours - the underlying message is about self-reliance, about transcending our faith in mythical creatures and charting our own path through the cosmos. Towards the end we’re asked to make a choice, and again I could interpret the conclusion in more than one way. Is it about the death of gods, or is it about our own path towards environmental disaster?
For a significant chunk of the show, we’re asked to wear blindfolds, and follow Bertram’s narrative through the sound of her voice alone. This scene has the feel of a relaxation CD, breathing exercises and all; it takes a leap of faith to go with it, but the experience is a rewarding one. Admittedly, it’s an odd juxtaposition with the generally comic tone, yet it was still somehow empowering and majestic to imagine myself becoming a Bright Raven and soaring to the skies.
I’m not sure I followed all of Bright Raven, and I’m even less confident that I read the intended meaning into all of the things I heard and saw. But it was mind-opening, meditative at times, and had the feel of a special experience which all its audience had shared. And among the high-concept mysticism, there’s one thing we mustn’t lose sight of: it’s very funny too. All in all, Bright Raven is an unusual and befuddling experience… and for that very reason, a recommended one.