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‘Relics’ Looks Back From the Future

In a new installation/show in the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio, artifacts of today become archeological curiosities.

MINNEAPOLIS: Have you ever noticed how a smartphone, when placed on a table during a meal, takes on a kind of special, almost holy, prominence?

Do you use your iPhone more than your brain?

Will people still be taking selfies 200 years from now?

Relics, showing at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio Nov. 13–23, prompts these questions and more, in manners both rhetorical and real. Set in 2314, after an apocalyptic event in 2014 that leaves behind only the objects on display, Relics invites its audience to be VIP guests at a gala opening of the new wing of an American museum. The result is an immersive installation and a promenading theatrical event that blends the feelings one might experience at an art opening, a museum exhibit and a haunted house.

“Nick Golfis conceived the idea of a visual art show in the future—pieces of artifacts from the present day have been found, and the missing portions are being reinvented and rebuilt,” says Chantal Pavageaux, who, along with Golfis and Sarah Agnew, is a co-creator of Relics. “We started riffing on turning the idea for an art show into a theatrical event—an opening of a new wing in a museum for these found artifacts and their misinterpretations, surrounded by all the trappings of a gala event.”

Audiences begin the Relics journey by going up nine floors in an elevator to the Dowing Studio, which has been entirely transformed. A performance unfolds before a ribbon-cutting ceremony, after which audiences roam around taking in interactive displays, dioramas and artifacts. “The evening culminates in a dramatic historical reenactment of the epic ‘bathe’ of 2014, as imagined by the future archeologists of 2314,” says Pavageaux.

Their leader is Eleanor Buncliffe, a character who, Pavageaux explains, acts as “the unwitting leader of a major movement of people from the future who call themselves ‘Anarchyologists.’ They are committed to bringing to light the hidden peoples of the past.” Pavageaux, Agnew and Golfis drew on the 1979 book Motel of the Mysteries, in which an archeologist meets a mysterious end, much like Buncliffe’s in the play. Pavageaux describes the character as a combination of Michael Rockefeller, Dian Fossey and Carol Burnett.

Meanwhile, an oppositional faction called “the Friendlies” (who view history as heresy) silently protest and may even crash the historical reenactment that’s set to unfold. Fifteen actors in all (including Pavageaux, Agnew and Golfis) bring Relics to life. Much of the text has been culled from improvisations in rehearsals.

Declares Pavageaux, “We were really excited about the idea of our culture’s current obsession with ‘stuff,’ and how we treat many of the objects in our daily lives as if they are sacred. By putting our audience in the exhibit, they have the space and time to engage with the objects, and perhaps when they leave, they will look differently at things they encounter on a daily basis.”

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