Opera & Art in Question is a collaborative project by Claire Robertson and Aliça Bryson-Haynes that examines the process of questioning art as medium. Where once artists underwent extensive and methodical training to master a specific medium, Robertson and Bryson-Haynes examine the conundrums, contradictions, revelations and pleasures of being masters of nothing.
Karen Raney states that “If the notion of medium is a movable thing, so is the line between art and other activities”. For Opera and Art in Question the artists place themselves outside their usual mode of investigation, using opera to explore ‘questioning as medium’. Setting themselves up for failure, the artists use an unfamiliar form, opera. The lyrics to their improvised score are drawn from Raney’s introductory chapter in ‘Art in Question’ (2003). Extracting the heavily loaded terms and phrases that Raney places in quotation marks, the artists explore the problematic nature and limitations of language when art is translated into theory. Opera often requires ’surtitles’, translated or transcribed lyrics/dialogue projected above a stage. So too, the art world has its own vocabulary that must be transcribed. A single word, borrowed from more general meanings, can imply a whole history within an art context. However, in a terrain that is forever questioning and reinventing itself, these words mean both everything and nothing.
Through an in-depth process of researching and consulting with professionals in the field, Robertson and Bryson-Haynes reference and play with operatic codes and conventions, playing traditional roles such as the diva and the pants. Often bordering on the absurd, they play on the drama inherent in opera to address a contemporary question, singing from a text that attempts to re-examine art, its form and boundaries.