The Waldorf Project, Chapter II: Colour

Waldorf Project Chapter Two - COLOUR. 3-11 February 2015. Theatre Art Installation Dining. BLUE ROOM

“Let me, O let me bathe my soul in colours;
let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow.”

Kahlil Gibran

Colour perception. First noted by Aristotle, later defined by Newton: the spectrum of visible light interacting with sensors on the human eye. That is all. Yet, in his work on colour theory, Goethe attempted to quantify its ‘psycho-physical’ property. Is colour more than just light? Can it be an emotion, a sound, a smell, a taste? Recent research suggests that there might be more going on. The artist Sean Rogg is sure of it.

Rogg has bought together seven individuals from around the world: a food designer, a choreographer, a production designer, a product designer, a sommelier, and a sound designer. Their research has been grounded in recent science: advances in genetics and fMRI technology have allowed us better to understand the condition of synaesthesia. The senses are not independent. Or that simple to explain. At its most radical cutting edge science now even suggests that senses such as smell and taste may even be affected not just by the laws of classical physics but also quantum physics. The more we can understand the interconnections behind the five human senses, the more we can manipulate them. But can science help us understand what these sensations mean?

That is why I’m here, in a warehouse in East London, on a dark winter evening, about to take part in a genre-defying art performance: The Waldorf Project. This is Chapter 2. I’m about to ingest colour. I’m dressed head to toe in black. I’ve handed over my phone, my evening and all responsibility to the women who now lead me into a darkened warehouse. I’m about to be faced with a “challenge in the synchronisation of consumption and emotional sentience, an exploration of the character, the emotion, of colour.”

Faced only with cube and sensation, we latch on to the faces around us, seeking familiarity, seeking reassurance.

The event is indeed an exploration and it’s also a challenge. Led through a series of rooms that in structure and location becomes increasingly maze-like, I find myself losing any sense of time or direction. Over the following three hours I take my place within seven different zones, each one a course, each one representative of a colour. Supper club this is not. In fact the food is barely recognisable. Each course, delivered by a highly stylised dancer, is a cuboid “food object”. Devoid of any differentiating form or texture, the ingredients are unrecognisable: these are blocks of pure taste.

But taste is just one part of an experience that touches all the senses. At one point I’m forced face down into submission within a hard wooden stall as I take bites from a cube both salty and sweet. In another zone a playful dancer pulls me into an intimate hold with a stranger, we sip an incredible tasting wine as pungent smell drift past us. In a rare seated moment an aquatic creature moves inhumanly, washed out by a blue light, teasing us with clear triangles containing what I can only describe as marshmallows of unctuousness. Finally we’re led to a room where the very structure shifts around us. Even the food blocks appear to change texture and taste as they are devoured. We’re at sea, lost in every sense.

Throughout the night each one of my stranger companions admits they feel they strongly recognise the other people present. Perhaps stripped of the usual frames of reference, and with every sense being assaulted, we become desperate to anchor ourselves in a known reality. Faced only with cube and sensation, we latch on to the faces around us, seeking familiarity, seeking reassurance.

The overall effect is overwhelming: sometimes good, sometimes disturbing, sometimes outright bizarre. To me, it is not colour which is the focus in the end, but feeling. And for that I applaud Sean Rogg and the bravery of the performers. He has created a forceful and unapologetic installation which creates overarching yet almost indescribable feeling. For the first time ever I feel like I have touched and understood the psycho-physical property of sensation.

Katherine Templar Lewis

The Waldorf Project, chapter II: Colour continues until 11th February 2015.


The Learned Pig

Katherine Templar Lewis

Katherine is a science writer, communicator, presenter, actor, and humanist. She originally studied Human Science at Oxford University, specialising in genetics and evolution. She travelled extensively as a part of a science research team, before returning to work with the BBC and Radio 4. Her interests took her towards social psychology and a Masters in Performance Theory at the University of East Anglia. Combining academic interests with a background in drama, she developed a new style of workshop practice whilst training in physical theatre at Mountview Academy, London and Stella Adler, New York. She now lives in London where she is a resident expert in social psychology and physical protocol for Debretts and is currently working on a series of public engagement events with the British Neuroscience Association.