The design for After Ünica was a rare experience as a designer, creating a 90-minute projection design that ran in realtime alongside the work’s creator on this devised solo experimental theatre piece. The piece was inspired by Unica Zürn, the German Surrealist writer and artist best known for her anagrammatic poems and automatic drawings. Her work was closely identified with her own mental illness, her traumas, her partners, and her suicide. As the son of a mother who took her life by suicide, also, the author Malcolm Tulip was drawn to her work and interested in the conflation of her identity, illness, and her art.
The concept for this work was to create a devised performance addressing the links between the artist and mental health. Rather than seeking to be a “docu-performance” about Zürn, Tulip wanted the creative process to be guided by anagrams (a given set of elements which, when reassembled give new meanings), automatism (actions which when performed without thought or conscious intention reveal untapped personal dialogues), and chance.
Zürn, while in a forced stay at a mental hospital, took several versions of the Wartegg Test (a psychological diagnostic tool that involves drawing inside eight square boxes). Using the Wartegg Test itself as inspiration, the set design was a 3-dimensional representation of the test as a cube inside which Tulip performed the show. Three sides of the cube served as projection surfaces, allowing the projection design to completely surround Tulip and respond in synchronicity with his performance. My design conveyed a sense of the traps, surprises, ecstasies, and horrors that ebb and flow within the human brain when one’s “sanity” moves between balance and imbalance.
My design for this show embraced a unique storytelling process, allowing the audience to experience the voices of the often under-represented and misunderstood community of those with mentally illness. In particular, it also allowed me to acknowledge the stories of women born within a systemic patriarchal power structure and illuminate their struggles. It was a rare privilege and responsibility to create a design that embodied and represented these voices through our performance.
Writer & Performer – Malcolm Tulip
Scenic Design – Vince Mountain
Costume Design – Christianne Meyers
Projection Design – Jeromy Hopgood
Sound Design – Cy Tulip