Exploring dramaturgy inside the word invisible

By Iiris Syrjä

As a kid I used to imagine that I was invisible in the forest. It was just something I came up for my own needs and just because I liked it. I felt it gave me a new and exciting perspective to a place I felt I belong to. Last spring strolling in that childhood forest that is nowadays mostly cut down, I found myself remembering the game again. I decided to try it exactly the same way that I did years ago, and realized something is different: I have grown up and now approaching the game from the point of view of a dramaturg.

As I see it, dramaturgy is finding connections between things and searching for reasons why they connect. I find it in things that have conflict, humor or contradiction, some velocity. I see an interesting conflict inside the word invisible, and in this essay I describe my findings while contemplating this word through two different performative practices.

I had the honor to develop this practice in collaboration with beautiful souls from all over the Europe and beyond in All my relations -workshop event hosted by Öresund Collegium for Artistic Research in Performing Arts in Gylleboverket, Sweden. I hope that this material forms a base to a performance in the future of my artistic work, but on the other hand it doesn’t need to. In the first place this is a game. And to my mind the main purpose of games is give us freedom to dive deeper into something and think more freely

The game started simply from a mindset. I imagined that no one could see me with a bare eye. I was invisible, could go wherever and no soul could ever find me. Very soon the practice grew from cerebral to corporeal - my body tried not to give any evidence of me being here and my whole body started listening. I really started to believe that swallows flying right above me couldn’t see me either. I felt also that they acted in a different way accompanying the invisible me. And at this very point it became unclear where me was ending and where the forest beginning. I forgot myself, but at the same time felt seen and heard.

We tried the game together in Gylleboverket in a small forest area by the lake with Anouk Hoogendoorn and Sofie Volquarz Lebech. Anouk described an interaction between two species, their encountering with a snail: ”The snail broke the game. When I put my foot towards it, it reacted and moved.” By their account feet were the most difficult part to imagine as invisible, for being too aware of them while walking.

There is one connotation very known for the word and it is usually attached to social situations. Last summer I tried my invisible game alone in the streets of Prague, a city of 1,3 million people, in the beginning of the tourist season. In a way I managed to get the same feeling of disappearing that in the forest, but the main difference was that I didn’t have the experience of forgetting myself. On the contrary, it even emphasized the self-consciousness in me. Like with the snail, the spell of the game broke every time someone looked me in the eye and noticed my body existing there.

We played this other version of the game with Anouk and Sofie by the Gyllebo lake where a bunch of people were spending the afternoon. It felt quite weird to stroll among them with such a ridiculous mindset. Reflecting together, we felt quite uneasy and pointed out it didn’t feel like it was a game anymore. It made us differently vulnerable, when other people had the authority to define if we were invisible or not. The conversation we had after lead to very different direction than the one after the forest - we talked about the tendency of human societies to pretend some people are invisible and the violence of that very act. 

Through these two performative practices I wanted to understand better what constructs the human feeling of being seen and heard, and does it have something to do with the sense of belonging or immersing oneself to a place. Another colleague sharing the weekend in Gylleboverket, Lisa Hultberg, gave me a lot having also contemplated the sense of belonging. On her reflection she writes that we live in a world which screams for making ourselves significant, seen and found as individuals – constantly wired for visibility. She found it liberating but also scary to approach it in the very opposite way – to dissolve, to be insignificant.

Placing the word invisible in two different situations differed profoundly. Even inside this one simple-sounding word we have infinite and largely contradictory meanings. We are so eager to give certain names to things existing in nature and human nature. It surely is a beautiful impulse to give words to things to form a foothold to climb towards the next state of understanding, but at the same time it is good to notice that things exist bereft of us giving names to them. Whatever names we give to things, the truth behind them can be infinite. I think that sometimes we have to return the words the unruly freedom that belongs to them, to understand the world better. I assess that through art we can approach our use of certain words in different ways to explore the reality behind them.

(With who would you be, if you were invisible?)

performative practice, dramaturgy, invisibility

About the Author

Finnish multidisciplinary artist and dramaturge Iiris Syrjä combines equally text, performing and visual art in her work. Syrjä has studied scriptwriting and drama in Turku Arts Academy, illustration in England and creative writing in Turku University. As a dramaturge Iiris Syrjä has specialized in puppet theatre and musicals: In collaboration with puppet theatre artists Aati Hanikka and Valtteri Alanen, she is now researching a question of what could be the world’s smallest puppet. In collaboration with Cornell university (USA), Czech Academy of Sciences (CZ) and Aalto University (FIN) their group has found new techniques to combine physics and puppet theatre and create microscopic puppetry. The performance built around this research is called Nano Steps and it premieres in Helsinki City Theatre in August 2023 and next time in Prague, Studio Alta in April 2024. Recent years Syrjä has worked as an assistant in the musical writing group of Sirkku Peltola, Heikki Salo and Eeva Kontu in the new musical Momentum 1900 (TTT-theatre 2022). The musical is based on history and it’s about Finland contributing in Paris World Exhibition 1900 and how it affected Finnish national identity. Iiris specialized on the research phase and wrote her thesis about the interface between fact and fiction in writing the characters of the musical.