Performance artist Ed Fornieles on his Zac Efron-honouring Serpentine Gallery event
The cast of Made in Chelsea and 230 other awards ceremony guests, pretending to be musicians, actors and celebrities, will assemble this evening to honour Zac Efron. As the characters act out their roles in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, artist Ed Fornieles will be studying the micro-society and bonds of power that form between them. Five of each participant’s actions and multiple inflated character traits have been agreed in advance - but no one knows yet how it will end. It’s the largest performance piece yet for Fornieles, whose previous works include a film- and blog-inspired, sex- and drink-fuelled frat party and a South Californian college campus drama played out on Facebook from the safety of the UK. Dazed caught up with Ed Fornieles on the brink of the unknown...
I’m interested in the awards ceremony as a cultural phenomenon, so the awards aren’t actually that important. The people that have been selected are actually the people who are keyed in to my way of thinking and the way I produce work
Dazed Digital: Tell us what’s happening tonight...
Ed Fornieles: It’s an awards ceremony, with people coming from the music, fashion, TV, film, media, advertising, political worlds - the type of people you’d expect to find at these events. There’s a percentage of people who are real, from those industries, and they’re going to be playing heightened versions of themselves, and the rest will be characters based on archetypes of those industries. There’ll also be characters trying to interact with the cast of Made In Chelsea - some of whom will be playing their roles from their TV programmes.
DD: How are you planning to use the format of the awards ceremony?
Ed Fornieles: The awards element will be fairly straight, and we’ve got real people receiving awards, but the evening itself will be fairly free-forming. I like the idea that you just create a structure which people inhabit, like Facebook or something, and whatever comes from that inhabiting, that’s the material I can make work from.
DD: Are you more interested in the relations between the guests during the night or the rituals of giving and receiving awards?
Ed Fornieles: The awards ceremony is definitely part of it but I’m also interested in... I hate the word “acting” - I think it has been restrained to the sphere of cultural entertainment - but I think if you start using some of the processes of getting into character then you have the potential to turn left where you’d normally turn right. You’d be making a whole new set of decisions, and then by default you’d have a completely different experience of the world, people might treat you differently. It might create a culture of empathy in the sense that, if you know what it is like to step into someone else’s shoes and you believe it for a few moments, then perhaps you’re more empathetic to that individual.
I like the idea that you just create a structure which people inhabit, like Facebook or something, and whatever comes from that inhabiting, that’s the material I can make work from
DD: Has it been hard to transform the audience members into their created characters?
Ed Fornieles: The process of character assigning tries to give the individual something that is far enough away from their personality for them to make distinct decisions and to have a different way of behaving -- but also that is achievable. So I might try to key into something which is a part of their personality already, and letting that expand - to turn that element up and to try to mute other elements. We give a profile of the character: so I’ve got a massive directory of the 230 people coming and each person has got a way of behaving, of talking, of dressing - we’ve gone into quite a lot of detail. They’ve also been given about five plot points, so during the evening they will start actioning those.
DD: Compared to Animal House [Ed’s previous experiment based on a US college frat party], do you think the format of the awards ceremony will restrict how people act?
Ed Fornieles: I think so. I think limitations can be a really good thing and there’s this whole structure of behaving at these awards ceremonies that’s about self-promotion, essentially. It’s about this warm, loving, self-congratulatory feeling.
DD: Do you worry that it might be difficult to create a self-sustaining party, when participants might have to work quite hard to sustain these characters through the night?
Ed Fornieles: I think that it succeeds and fails on goodwill to a certain extent, which is why I tried to create so much structure around it, and facilitate people getting in to it. Obviously it is a lot harder for them: obliterating yourself with alcohol in Animal House is one thing, this is a bit more intense.
DD: Is there an element of that power struggle in the culture of celebrity as well?
Ed Fornieles: Obviously, yeah, there are those power structures in a corporate framework and celebrity frameworks. And what I really loved about the idea of celebrity is that it goes from an individual, who has a body and an aesthetic, to something beyond that. Zac Efron is receiving an award, and what I really find interesting about him is that the Disney Corporation spent millions of pounds on him and his image, and what he’s trying to do at the moment is trying to translate all those Disney dollars into his own, into something different.
DD: Apart from Zac, what kind of person can win a Dreamy Award?
Ed Fornieles: They’re honouring real people, they’re very broad. I’m interested in the awards ceremony as a cultural phenomenon, so the awards aren’t actually that important. The people that have been selected are actually the people who are keyed in to my way of thinking and the way I produce work.
DD: By the end of the night, how will it have gone down for you to be happy?
Ed Fornieles: Well, two things: one would be moments of people getting lost in their character and the idea of celebration. I want it to be an atmosphere where people do feel this unity and they lose themselves in their characters. That might only happen for a couple of seconds or a couple of minutes during the whole evening but if it happened for all the people there, that would be fantastic. Also to have that heightened quality, like when somebody experiences a trauma - obviously I’m being dramatic - and the only way they can make sense of it is by reverting to something they’ve seen in a film. Hopefully it’ll have that kind of quality.
The Dreamy Awards performance is part of The Serpentine Gallery’s Park Nights series and will take place in this evening (Friday 7th September) in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. The film of the event will be cut and made into an artwork that will appear on The Space, a new free digital arts initiative developed by Arts Council England in partnership with the BBC.
Text Matt Ponsford