Exploring these through the lens of one big, colourful, kaleidoscopic journey through Malaysia is SuperEverything*, the creation of east London design collective The Light Surgeons.
SuperEverything* is a live immersive cinema performance, with its debut UK tour kicking off next month, presenting a multisensory experience that takes the individual nuances of Malaysia and shows how they can relate to us all. Human beings, the piece looks to tell us, are ultimately the same whether we grew up in Malaysia or Milton Keynes.
The Light Surgeons was commissioned by the British Council to create the piece, which has seen them collaborate with some of Malaysia’s most high profile artists and musicians to weave a startlingly beautiful, multi-layered portrait of the country.
For the tour they will be joined by members of the Heritage Orchestra, as well as a number of Malaysian musicians, who will be playing live alongside the wealth of visuals and sounds manipulated in real-time by Light Surgeons Chris Allen and Tim Cowie.
‘They didn’t really give us a brief as such, but they were interested in something that explored the sense of identity’, Allen explains. ‘It’s a very wide and open subject.’
The SuperEverything* name started off as a joke – one that stuck, and having seen snippets of footage of the show, seems sweetly apt. Allen latched onto a morsel of conversation discussing a filmmaker at a documentary film festival – ‘it’s just…super everything’ – and that became the piece’s working title.
Allen says, ‘It works with the kaleidoscopic nature of the project and the fact it’s trying to present a broad socio-economic perspective on a culture and a country. But we’re presenting these to ask a much deeper universal question, so we thought it was a nice title. People liked it and it chimed with what we were doing.’
The piece started to come to life in 2011, when The Light Surgeons spent five weeks shooting images and film and recording sounds from across the Malaysian Peninsular, taking in the bustle of Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, and the remote villages and forests in the northern state of Kelantan and Kuala Terengganu.
During the tour, The Light Surgeons gained insights into everything from traditional palm leaf weaving to agricultural development and deforestation, the destructive palm oil industry, and the Malaysian discrepancies between a rapidly growing consumer culture and debilitating poverty.
The piece, which debuted in Kuala Lumpur in 2011, and has been developing since, will be staged as a live cinema work, with imagery and film projected onto two screens, creating a double-layered, dimensional effect. Allen and Cowle will be running the sound and visuals live from laptops, accompanied by the live musicians.
‘The show uses a lot of shadows of the people in the show as a comment on traditional Malaysian puppet theatres, so it’s trying to make people contemplate that lineage of performance’, says Allen.
The live aspect of SuperEverything* means that rather than creating a linear film, elements can be realigned and edited to create a fluid, immersive AV show.
Allen says, ‘Each show is unique, we always rearrange things slightly and try and respond to things that are going on politically, so the news in the run up to the big election in Malaysia in June will feed into the piece. The music has fixed parts but there’s always an improvisational element to how it plays out on the night.’
The result is a sort of dynamic, sensory overload of psychogeography, transcribed in such a way as to draw parallels between Malaysia and the rest of the world.
He adds, ‘The themes about our identity and how we construct our relationship to our surroundings through ritualistic behaviour is something you can apply to everywhere. We’re using Malaysia as a lens through which we can look at ourselves, and it’s a very powerful way to do it.’
SuperEverything will be shown on 9 March at Warwick Arts Centre Coventry; 10 March at Colston Hall Bristol, 11 March at Studio Theatre – Brighton Dome, 12 March at The Sage – Gateshead, and 19 April at The Barbican At Hackney Empire – London