Akeroyd Collection


Helen Marten, Writing A Play (dark blue orchard), 2023

Writing A Play (dark blue orchard) is a CGI film of roughly 28 minutes duration. When shown at Greene Naftali in New York in 2023, as part of Marten’s solo exhibition, Evidence of Theatre, the work was housed within a monumental sculpture, whose fundamental containment values mimic the logic of 'four walls and a roof'. On one side of this sculpture, there are the repeated familiar motifs of houses and bodies, hearts and windows, each lodged at an unusual scale, and all things to open or disappear inside. On the other side, the video plays across a vast and seamless LED screen. The evacuated middle cavity between these two sides is something like the physical evidence of making, a graphic diagram of the scripting of theatre or mechanics of production with all its guts of electronics and deliberate items of debris inserted alongside. The classic walls of theatre are mocked and rearranged, with the formal presence of viewers performing theatre by the very act of consuming it.

In the video, a single voice, that of actor Gwendoline Christie, delivers a script of 36 'tenets', numbered and individually announced, unfolding chronologically from beginning to end. A cast of recurring non-human characters populate the scenes; a deer, an owl, a cat, a drunk frog, birds and ants as well as anthropomorphised inanimate objects such as balloons that float with melancholy and violence across desolate landscapes. A sparse piano composition and synthetic percussive sounds composed by Beatrice Dillon spill through the built and natural environments contributing to the unsettling atmosphere. A refrain in the script is repeated: ‘Butterfly, plus elephant, plus cat, plus dead man, plus sailor, plus nun equals deer’. This, Marten reveals in an accompanying text for the exhibition, is taken from Roger Caillois's 1958 book Man, Play and Games. For Marten, the phrasing relies on known quantities and co-opts them into simulation, into simple mathematic terms that in turn transform to illustrative metaphor: the animal is both its libidinal, innocent self, but also a surrogate number in a wider and more elaborate set of human emotional terms’. In the dichotomy that is established between the stage and lived experience, between the illusionary screen and the materiality of the setting, the work establishes and then stages some universal symbols for human fears and emotional entanglements.

MediumCGI animation, sound
Duration27 minutes 50 seconds
Editionof 5 + 2 APs