DEALT is an endurance operatic political performance installation piece which collides Carmen with corporatism and commentary to illustrate the impacts and suffering from the collusion of politics and corporations. During the course of 4 hours (with no food, drink or bathroom breaks) on 09 August, Stephen sings Carmen’s card scene non-stop 69 times while reading our collective destiny through tarot cards – except the traditional tarot imagery has been replaced by logos of corporations / agencies pervading our everyday lives and/or have destroyed the environment/people through their actions and policies.
In Bizet’s opera, the gypsy Carmen reads her fortune in an aria and finds the cards fortell her death no matter how many times she shuffles the cards. Stephen exploits the foreboding music and text in Carmen’s card scene and reimagines the themes of fatalism and repetition, transposing it to the contemporary zeitgeist and context where we are caught in the cycle of disempowerment and destruction unless we do something about it. As he performs a tarot reading on each repetition of the aria, the logos are shuffled and juxtaposed to reveal or suggest interconnections of injustice and oppression. During the performance, a Pure Data patch randomly adjusts the volume of the orchestral playback and keeps track of the repetitions for the audience as a video camera projects the cards drawn on a facing wall.
The designs on the backs of the tarot cards for the work are drawn from 17th century polymath Robert Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi engravings, which illustrate his cosmology of the inter-relationships between man, nature, God, occult, art and science. For the piece, Stephen has reimagined the tarot deck as the TAROT OF IGNOMINY, with suits of the Minor Arcana as the Ruptured Barrel (Resource & Environment), Fractured Coin (Finance & Economy), Torn Leaf (Food & Agriculture), and Broken Pill (Health & Healthcare) featuring logos of organizations and corporations with unprecedented influence and/or had adverse impacts; while the designs and meanings of the cards comprising the Major Arcana have been recontextualzied as archetypes of contemporary social commentary.
Tarot layouts utilizing 5 cards are typically used to determinea course of action and its contexts. For DEALT, this layout and ethos has been adapted to signify the following: Card 1 (The Present situation), Card 2 (Past Influence still Present), Card 3 (Instigator that led to the Present), Card 4 (Outcome if Present continues), Card 5 (Future if nothing was done). Audience members who want a personal reading were invited to sit next to Stephen during the performance where Stephen would get them to cut the deck and select 5 cards. As their cards are revealed, they are invited to meditate and reflect on the significance of the cards and the layout in their personal lives as well as the larger social contexts. At the conclusion of the work, Stephen created an online version of the TAROT OF IGNOMINY (see below) as part of CALIGARI’S CABINET to enable others to partake in the piece.
Voyons, que j’essaie à mon tour, Carreau, pique…la mort!
J’ai bien lu…moi d’abord. Ensuite lui…pour tous les deux la mort!
[Let’s see, I’ll try a turn – Diamond, spade…death!
I read it well…me first; then him…for both all death!]
En vain pour éviter les réponses amères, En vain tu mêleras,
Cela ne sert à rien, les cartes sont sincères, Et ne mentiront pas !
[In vain in order to avoid harsh remarks, In vain you shuffle,
That settles nothing, the cards are sincere and won’t lie!]
Dans le livre d’en haut si ta page est heureuse, Mêle et coupe sans peur,
La carte sous tes doigts se tournera joyeuse, T’annonçant le bonheur.
[In the book of fate if your page is happy, shuffle and cut without fear
The card under your fingers will turn itself up happily announcing good luck.]
Mais si tu dois mourir, si le mot redoutable, Est écrit par le sort,
Recommence vingt fois, la carte impitoyable Répétera : la mort !
[But if you must die, if the dreaded word Is written by fate,
Try again 20 times, the pitiless card [will say] again : death!]
Encore ! Encore ! Toujours la mort !
Encore ! De désespoir ! Toujours la mort !
[Again! Again! Always death!
Again! Despair! Always death! ]
– Text [& translation] of Carmen’s Act III card scene
PERFORMED & CONCEIVED BY : STEPHEN CHEN | Performance length: 4 hours | PREMIERE: 08/13