When I chased down some information on the press night for Sean Rogg's art installation The Waldorf Project - Chapter Two / Colour, an email came back with some details that included the line, "The performance requires guests to dress MONOCHROMATICALLY (single color). Whichever colour you wish, including black or white, but all items of clothing including socks, should be of the same colour." I knew then that the experience was going to be out of the ordinary.
When you arrive at Oval Space in Hackney, east London, the industrial space where the project's taking place, you're told to pick up a piece of paper. Included with this are some instructions about the evening, a napkin, and also a colored shape resting on top. The color determines which group you'll be in, as each color is called out separately. So begins the surreal saga of your three-hour evening.
Up some stairs you enter a large hall with a big curtained-off area in the middle—each corner of the hall has its own four curtained-off rooms. Different groups start their journeys in different rooms, each room related to a differenty color. There are 48 people—four groups of 12—allowed in each night, each experiencing the rooms in a different order, each experiencing them slightly differently depending on that order.
The orange room. Photo (c) Thomas Bowles
First room for our group? Orange room. Shoes off, in we go and there's a female dancer lying on the floor dressed in white, and soft spongy cubes dotted about the place. We're coerced into sitting or lying down, given a cube of nondescript food, and served wine as music plays, and the dancer dances. It's quite tranquil and quite bizarre. There's apprehension, even slight confusion.
Shoes on; off to the red room, which is the opposite of the orange room. Standing there is a bearded dancer who stares you into submission, before taking you and positioning you with your back towards the center of the room. Then, you're subjugated into doing whatever the dancer wants—for me, this involved eating my food opposite a stranger, pecking at the cubes using only our mouths, with our heads only inches apart, while holding hands. It was confrontational, it was uncomfortable, and it caused lots of nervous laughter.
The red room. Photo (c) Thomas Bowles
"Color is the starting point," Rogg tells The Creators Project. The idea is that we're experiencing color, but in a very abstract sense. We're eating, drinking, listening, sensing—not just seeing—color. "The obvious one to look at color is the visual aspect of it," Rogg says. "But I was going for almost everything but the visual aspect. The emotions of it, the tastes of it, the sounds of it. And merging them all together to ultimately relate what it's like to feel it."
Wine plays a big part in your enjoyment, too. Every room you get a glass of wine. Rogg says inebriation is important. Each of us, he said, would consume around one bottle of wine throughout the evening, expensive wine that costs from £150 to £300 a bottle. In total we'll all drink around £1000 worth of wine throughout the evening.
The project took months of preparation, months of R&D, prototypes, and experimentation to make work. Everything, even down to the sounds the food made as we ate it to music, was carefully planned. The frequencies of various colors were paired with the acidity in food that was created from hundreds of different ingredients fused together so you never really know what it is you're eating.
It involved a team that included food designers (Vanessa Krycève and Bruno Viala), choreographers (Aoi Nakamura and Estéban Fourmi), a production designer, a costume designer (Elena Martin), a sommelier, a sound designer (Alessio Natalizia), production designer (Greg Shaw) and Rogg himself orchestrating it all like a conductor.
The cubed food. Photo (c) Thomas Bowles
"It's really about consuming art, not eating," Rogg explains. "What you're hearing is as important as what you're eating. And it has to happen at the same time. I'm exploring a new art form in as much as taking the experiences and merging them together into a new experience. And that can be anything from tranquility to being extremely challenged. But it's part of an overall journey. It's an abstract story that you put together in your head."
Another important feature was the motif of the cube: from the cubed food, to the cubed chairs, spaces, and structures, it worked as a strange kind of voodoo, giving the experience a cohesion but also an abstruse quality. "I thought of the simplest, generic shape that I could use to build ideas with," Rogg says. "For the food, flavours aside, I wanted to have an object that you look at and think 'I don't know what this is. I don't even know if I can eat it.'"
At £160 per person, the experience doesn't come cheap, but Rogg thinks it justifies the price and says that all of the money goes back into the project.
Inside the last, center room. Photo (c) Thomas Bowles
The second half of the experience starts with all four groups of 12 coming together into the curtained center room. Inside is another cube, a giant one, made up of smaller polystyrene cubes which are pulled apart in a choreographed manner to create a kind of maze upon which more food and wine is served. It's a part of the evening where you get to talk to your fellow guests about what it was you just went through. And what about that guy in the red room, huh? What was his problem?
This is the second chapter of a six stage project for Rogg. The first, Chapter One / Muskmelon, was more of a dining experience, whereas this one was a full-on immersive art piece. He'll soon begin working on the third.
With the vast consumption of wine, the food that's hard to discern, the music, the choreographed dancing, the provocations, the theatrics, and the monochromatic colors, it becomes a spellbinding experience, one that, ultimately, you come away unable to fully comprehend. You don't know what you've just experienced, because you've never really experienced anything like it before.
The center, blue room. Photo: Kevin Holmes
The Waldorf Project - Chapter Two / Colour is on now until February 11, 2015 at Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, London E2 9DT. Click here to learn more.