Lavakujunduse nähtamatust olekust. Mängu esteetika lavaruumi loomisel / The Invisible Dimension of Scenography. Aesthetics of Play in Creating Stage Space


  • Liina Unt Estonian Art Academy



scenography, playing, Tartu New Theatre, hermeneutics


The comparison between theatre and playing has spread on many levels, from metaphors to sayings, aesthetic concepts to deterministic models. This paper examines scenography as an active play environment. Play, in the context of theatre space, is defined according to the classical characteristic features of playing: spatial and temporal limits, fictionality that runs in parallel with everyday reality, and direct involvement. 

The paper focuses on the specific aspects of play environment as it appears in the Tartu New Theatre’s performances of „The Death of the Author“ and „The Beatles of Vanemuine“. Both productions are set in fictional locations with a visually static set design. Both are unique in that different locations are created without changing the physical space on stage – places appear and disappear through the performances, created by an odd textual allusion or two, or the audience’s imagination. The changes can be understood through the audience’s corporal perception, which this paper interprets using Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological concept of corporeity. 

Using Tartu New Theatre’s stage practice and Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutic aesthetics, the paper aims to answer the question: what is the aesthetic structure of such stage environments and how can an environmental experience be created, if the direct interference in space is minimal. Gadamer’s aesthetic concept revolves around play, interpreting works of art as a structure, a meaningful whole that can be presented and comprehended repeatedly. However, he qualifies that the structure, itself, is also a play as, despite a theoretic unity, it only exists when it is played. In this case, the scenography becomes an environment with open meanings, where attributing meaning and function happens through the agreements made during the act of playing, which don’t necessarily also imply physical changes to the environment. The environment is an agreed-upon space-time that is created by a shared corporal presence wherein understanding of the meanings is dependent on participation, i.e. taking part in the agreement that creates the game. 

When the invisible, yet perceptible space created by the scenography is analysed using Gadamer’s aesthetics, the main issues become presentation and presence. The „invisible scenography“ is perceived only in the moment in which it is presented. Though the fictional room partially materialises (through the audiencestage relationship, elements of design, etc.), creating the scenography as non-visual spaces provokes a conflict of perception, where there is a disparity between the visible space and its use or meaning. And this, in turn, requires a constant re-interpretation of the agreements. Interpreting the visual, which has historically been scenography’s main role, as a play changes its function and meaning. 


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