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Relics Of The Hypnotist War’ Offers An Allegory For Our Times

Immersive micro-theater experience leaves you with mysteries to ponder

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Actor Joel Gossett plays The Curator in the immersive micro-theater show, "Relics of the Hypnotist War" at Space 4 Art.

Art is a means by which we can filter the real world but sometimes what art says about the real world is not always obvious. That’s why the mysteries of "Relics of the Hypnotist War" at Space 4 Art is so intriguing.

Imagine a room so filled with ephemera that to sort through it all would take a lifetime. Inside this dusty den of faded pages and rusted memories resides a curator trying to unravel the mysteries of the lives represented by all the artifacts he has collected.

He tells the audience of six, "No one can recall when the hypnotists arrived. They looked no different than ourselves."

Reported by Beth Accomando, Nicholas Mcvicker

"Relics of the Hypnotist War" is an invitation to be a part of a historical narrative that is different every time it is told. Like the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics — or Spider-Man for that matter — but this time the many worlds exist in our imagination.

As audience members enter a dark hallway, a guide instructs them, "Take your time to go through the relics, through all of the passports and examine the lives that were lost in the Hypnotist War."

The hypnotists created a sleep epidemic that the curator tells us resulted in sleep cemeteries.

"There will never again be anywhere as hopeless or beautiful as the sleep cemeteries," he explains. "Row upon row, casket upon casket, box upon box, reaching the ceiling until it looked like floating bodies, bodies like constellations floating in the air."

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Six people at a time are allowed into each performance of "Relics of the Hypnotist War," an immersive experience created by Ryan Griffith.

The idea for "Relics of the Hypnotist War" came to Ryan Griffith when he was traveling in Russia and randomly met two women on the street.

"They had been talking to a man and then they woke up missing their purses," Griffith recalled. "And they warned me that there were hypnotists on the streets of St. Petersburg and that you should never look anyone in the eye."

Griffith teaches fiction writing at Grossmont College. He initially created "Relics of the Hypnotist War" for a gallery in Istanbul then redesigned it at Space 4 Art here in San Diego late last year.

"It just so happened that I was traveling around the world and through Turkey and through Hungary and Russia and all these fascist dictators and then obviously coming back to the United States in 2016 feeling that the world was falling asleep in some way," he said.

Griffith’s new show arrives in an interesting creative context. Recently, critics have pointed out how the film “A Quiet Place” suggests a world where if we keep our mouths shut we’ll survive, and that “Bird Box” tells us if we close our eyes we might escape evil.

Now “Relics of the Hypnotist War” asks what could happen if we have all our senses, perhaps even our consciousness, shut off? This turns what initially seems like a curio shop escape room into an allegory or political fable.

"I was struck by the global rise of fascist governments and how people were conceding their wills to autocrats," Griffith said. "It really felt like the world was falling into a trance. Many described the masses as being hypnotized by these demagogues, falling morally asleep or, if you like, closing their eyes and shutting up. 'Relics' is definitely a metaphor for the world losing consciousness and conscience. Although the narrative itself is not grounded in any time, it is never pinned down, there’s a huge argument to be made that we are still in the midst of hypnotists and we are still being put to sleep."

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

One of the dozens of passports attendees can look through at "Relics of the Hypnotist War" at Space 4 Art.

"Relics" encourages us to find meaning in the objects presented like the passports we can look through and that sometimes crumble in our hands.

"Especially when you see the handwriting and the particularities of their handwriting or the dates of their birth or the particular idiosyncrasies of their appearance," Griffith explained. "It’s like sliding down into another life. I think that is human nature to want to try and imagine that life and especially with some of those passports, they are from World War II and from people were fleeing Nazi Germany."

But what are the people in the Hypnotist War fleeing from? What does it all mean? Griffith confessed that he doesn’t know the answers because maybe there are none. Or maybe it's not about knowing what it means but rather about just being alerted to the dangers of falling asleep or surrendering to the will of the hypnotists. This leads to the ritual at the end of the show.

"We usually go out and drink wine and then debrief the show," Griffith said.

That’s when the audience collaborators can share personal accounts of falling asleep in their own lives or times when they've fallen under another’s spell. It's what Griffith called a community narrative, a community’s attempt to understand what's happened or more importantly what is happening now in the real world.

"Relics of the Hypnotist War" resumes performances on Jan. 26 at Space 4 Art. You can reserve tickets online but only six people are allowed to attend each show so it is an intimate experience.

Art is a means by which we can filter the real world but sometimes what art says about the real world is not always obvious. That’s why the mysteries of "Relics of the Hypnotist War" at Space4Art is so intriguing.

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