"Forecasting" a relationship between viewers and the virtual community

"Forecasting" delves into the world of YouTube video makers and contemplates on the relationship between viewers and a virtual community.

Chinese people are well known for their excessive use of mobile phones. And a report in 2017 revealed that a Chinese person, on average, spends three hours a day on their phone, ranking the nation second in the world in terms of mobile usage. It is becoming increasingly apparent that a mobile phone has become an indispensable extension of our body.

Premier Stratageme, a French performing art group, explores this concept on stage with its multi-media show “Forecasting.”

The innovative art troupe delves into the world of YouTube video makers and contemplates the relationship between a viewer and a virtual community that is binding us in a way that has never been done before.

Barbara Matijevic and Giuseppe Chico are the brains behind the show that premiered in China for the first time on June 15-17 in Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou.

Zillions of video clips found on YouTube are selected, spliced and edited together with a series of speech and body movements, carried out by Matijevic on stage, which simultaneously fit into the scenes being rolled out on a laptop.

For example, in one scene an image projected on stage from a MacBook turns into a pistol. The performer, Matijevic, hid her hand behind the Mac to look as if she was holding that gun off-screen. No one speaks. The audience only heard gunshots one after another coming out from the laptop, mixed with occasional bursts of laughter.

Moments later the scene switches and a pistol is shown on the reverse of the screen, with the gun pointing at Matijevic.

Most of the time Matijevic incorporates part of her body into the videos, which shows only a foot, an arm, stomach or even the voice-over of the video maker. But sometimes she steps from behind the screen to remind the audience that it was not real and only a trick of the screen.

The result is an intriguing hybrid of both the virtual world of the Internet, and the real world on and off stage -- with references both to the past and the present.

The show premiered in Belgium back in 2011 and has toured extensively around the world including France, Italy, Germany, Singapore, Brazil and UK.

Ji Ye

Barbara Matijevic in the middle of her performance "Forecasting" staged at Liangzhu Center of Arts in Hangzhou on June 17

“We had a feeling that when it was premiered, people in Europe were not quite ready for it,” Matijevic told Shanghai Daily. “At first they didn’t know how to react to it, but I think they are more ready now.”

There were several reasons why it had been popular for so long.

“It’s very light, just one person and it’s not very demanding, technically. And it’s visually attractive,” said Matijevic, who added that the content of the show was even more relevant to the reality we live in.

By May 2018, YouTube had over 1.9 billion registered users logged into its platform every month. Every minute 400 hours of video are being uploaded to the website. And the company announced last year that globally people spent 1 billion hours watching videos on YouTube every day.

A great part of the videos featured in “Forecasting” focuses on the DIY culture found on YouTube. It was surprising to see what kind of tutorials people shared online, from difficult ones, like how to replace a hard drive in a MacBook, how to point your feet straight in ballet dancing; to the less difficult daily routines of our lives, like shaving, wearing make-up and tying a tie.

At times the vloggers shared their fears and sufferings more than just a simple know-how. In one scene, a woman tried to show viewers how to give yourself an injection at home.

Only part of her buttock was exposed to the camera. Personified by the performer standing behind the laptop on stage, she spoke about changes in her body and mind after the injection.

“So far, I haven’t noticed any big changes in my body,” she said. “Just my skin getting a little softer, and having less hair on my arms … I’ve mostly noticed changes in my mood, like, I would suddenly feel like crying or be angry, without exactly having a reason for it, ... but, my doctor told me this is all normal … this is actually how my body is adjusting ...”

Matijevic said some of the videos they found had a voice-over, others without. And they would produce a script tailored to the scene based on the reviews posted below the video and on their own interpretation.

Another motif constantly featured in the performance is intimacy and companionship. You see pet owners kissing and stroking their pets, people reading for their viewers on their knees and a fetish scene of a man enjoying his face being massaged by somebody’s foot.

“Only when the gun was triggered in the video I realized that I was only staring at the screen and not the performer who I overlooked,” said one audience member after the show in Hangzhou.

The performance concluded with the scene of a burning fireplace. Matijevic put down the laptop, which she had been holding all the way through the show, shut down all the lights and left the audience in dark and silence.

The end of the show evoked more questions than it provided answers. Maybe it was a suggestive answer of what the audience are staring at and their relationship with social media and Internet platforms.

Promotional picture of the multi-media performance "Forecasting," created by Barbara Matijevic and Giuseppe Chico

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