Anna & Marie (2018–19) is an audiovisual intermedia work that comprises an interactive installation and various performances based on ergodic storytelling, written for electric violin, baroque violin, generative electronics, two virtual 3D worlds, augmented reality and light design.
Anna & Marie is based on the eighteenth-century anatomists Anna Morandi (1714–74) and Marie Bihéron (1719–86). Through their work as anatomists, they became pioneers in the field of ceroplastics—the art of making wax sculptures of human bodies and internal organs. Anatomical wax models were in high demand during that era as a result of the strong interest in autopsies, which had become a major field of medical research. Due to the lack of cooling systems, corpses for anatomical studies were hard to preserve. Wax models offered a cleaner, more durable and odor-free alternative. Although their primary purpose was for medical studies and research, ceroplastics became an artistic practice in their own right and therefore form a fascinating intersection between art and natural science with epistemic objectives.
Both Morandi and Bihéron were highly respected practitioners in their field, which was otherwise almost exclusively the domain of men. The former worked in Bologna, the latter primarily in Paris, and although they both partly shared the same clients, there are no historic indicators that these two remarkable women ever met.
My project Anna & Marie takes the story of a fictitious encounter between these women as its point of departure. These variations are enacted in performances in which two violinists—Barbara Lüneburg on electric violin and Susanne Scholz on baroque violin—perform in an audiovisual environment. Their playing generates a spoken dialogue between the characters Anna and Marie that can be followed optionally through headphone earpieces distributed throughout the performance space. The performance and its underlying narrative are designed according to ergodic storytelling—also known as “choose-your-own-adventure” storytelling. While performing the piece, the violinists navigate through 3D environments that are projected on two separate screens, each relating to one screen respectively. At particular junction points in the environment, the performers can decide how the story of the fictional encounter will unfold, which has far-reaching musical and visual consequences. The variations of the story range from intimate friendships via joint business ventures to mutual hostility or even destruction. However, the unfolding story also reveals details about their work circumstances, gender issues and cultural aspects of their time—issues of which many still hold relevance today.
Depending on the path chosen through the story, the performance can last anything between ten and forty minutes. Each variation of the story eventually leads to an audiovisual situation that remains as an installation after the performers have left the space. This installation situation offers various forms of interaction for the audience to explore. The 3D environments that the violinists navigated through can now be accessed by audience members—similarly to a computer game—by picking up a game controller and walking through the environment. While moving through the environment, fragments of the violin parts recorded at the most recent performance become audible. The performances have now become ‘inscribed’ in the virtual landscape and thus can be retraced by the audience members. At the same time, fragments of the last version of the story are also retold, which again can be followed by picking up the same headphone earpieces that are available during the performance.
Another layer of experience available to the audience is exploring the physical space through augmented reality via tablets that are on offer. These tablets generate sounds, virtual objects and texts when they are pointed at images on light panels that are distributed throughout the installation space. The texts present historical details about the lives of Anna Morandi and Marie Bihéron and thus offer complementary background information paired with interactive audiovisual events.
Much as the wax sculptures of human bodies resulted from the merging of medical research and artistic practice, in the project Anna & Marie I sought to combine historic accuracy and the counterfactual free play of the imagination, which together create a multilayered aesthetic experience.
Videos of three different concert versions have been documented on the USB stick. Each comes in two variations, once without the dialogs, which corresponds to hearing the performance without following the text on the earpieces, and once with the complete narration including subtitles. Furthermore, the USB stick contains a documentation of the installation version, which shows audience members interacting with the environment. For a detailed discussion of this work, please also refer to “Anna & Marie, a Performative Installation Built on Ergodic Storytelling—Two Project Reports” by Ciciliani/Lüneburg.
GAPPP is funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF as project PEEK AR 364-G24.