Projected in planetariums around the globe, Chain Opera and The New Infinity introduce a new medium to filmmaking that has already begun to impress international audiences.
The film Chain Opera opens in a hospital room, where a woman is faced with an existential crisis after a medical event requires her to reexamine her life. Playing an anthropomorphized role, actor Sarah Wessendorf reveals to the woman that the path she has thus far followed was not really of her own choosing, but instead a construct created by perceived expectations of society, whom Wessendorf’s character personifies.
What’s even more intriguing than Chain Opera’s storyline, however, is the venue in which it is displayed. Unlike most film viewings, Chain Opera is projected not on a flat screen but instead on the 360-degree panoramic canvas of a planetarium.
The incorporation of the planetarium as a post-modern theatre is the center point of The New Infinity exhibition, of which Chain Opera is a part. Created as a collaboration between the Berliner Festspiele’s Immersion series and Planetarium Hamburg, The New Infinity exhibition features a variety of films and exhibits from many award-winning producers, artists and directors, all of which are displayed in the planetarium.
“Planetariums have been high-tech spaces from their very inception, a sophisticated simulation of artificial worlds…” writes Berliner Festspiele about The New Infinity, “so why not use these institutions for artistic projects? The aim of this new project is not only to democratize the high technology of these places but, as an alternative to the works usually in the program, to invite contemporary artists to develop specific works of art for this ‘new’ medium, which is becoming increasingly accessible in the digital age.”
The New Infinity debuted in a mobile planetarium designed by Planetarium Hamburg at the Berlin Art Week in late 2018 and was a popular success, attracting more than 23,000 people over the three weeks it was open.
Since opening, The New Infinity has toured internationally and has received widespread acclaim. It debuted in the US at the Festival of Disruption by David Lynch in Los Angeles in June of 2019 and continues its tour this summer, with future installments scheduled for Hamburg (Aug 13-18), Mariannenplatz (Sept 5-17) and the Berlin Art Festival (Sept 18-Nov. 24).
Written by Holly Herndon and Matthew Dryhurst and directed by Jos McKain, Chain Opera could not be a more appropriate story for the panoramic setting. Consider the gravity of a character contemplating their life using the planetarium as a medium… How vast that quandary must feel for not only the character, but for every member of the audience in attendance.
What is even more uncanny is how Chain Opera parallels the real-life experiences of Wessendorf. Similar to the bedridden character in the film who is forced to confront her mortality, Wessendorf was faced with a similar situation when she was wrongly diagnosed with cancer several years ago.
“It rocked my world,” Wessendorf said, “I felt how precious this life is and that every minute doing what I don’t want to is throwing away a chance of experiencing this beautiful gift.” This pivotal experience not only influenced Sarah to pursue acting as a full-time career, it also opened her mind to pursue a wider range of stories and roles.
Perhaps this open-mindedness was part of what led The New Infinity to Sarah. “I was suggested to the director Jos McKain by another director who had seen my work… Looking back now,” Sarah recounted, “I believe that my path was exactly planned and every experience was meant to be.”
“[Chain Opera] forced me to question my own life… To go against what society and family expects comes with a lot of pain, confusion and anxiety. But when you realize you lose yourself and waste your precious life if you conform, it all becomes worth it. The fight… the struggle to stay true to oneself will always be the right choice in the end.”
According to Berliner Festspielethe, the second cycle of “The New Infinity” will have its world premiere in August 2019 at Planetarium Hamburg in cooperation with the International Summer Festival Kampnagel. Returning to the Berlin Art Week in September, the new works will again be shown in the Mobile Dome, return to its original location on Berlin’s Mariannenplatz
With The New Infinity series, the Berliner Festspiele aim at making planetariums and their technical knowledge available to all types of artists, including sound artists, musicians, filmmakers, and video game designers who want to explore the immersive genre of full dome projections.
Extending beyond the medium of the planetarium, Berliner Festspiele is pioneering the development of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. “Besides these full dome productions, we have also been producing films for VR glasses since 2016 to develop artistic works that make it possible to experience the positions of contemporary artists in this young medium.”
The future is here, and art keeps up with the times. The avant garde is introduced by the most forward thinkers, of which the group of people contributing to The New Infinity, Chain Opera, and the entire Berliner Festspiele Immersion series are. Sarah Wessendorf is no exception, communicating the same ideas both on and off the screen.
“My personal mission for myself is to show how nothing truly differs between us except our experiences. If you would have experienced what I experienced you would understand and have compassion.” Much like the concept behind The New Infinity, “I love expressing how in the end we are all one.”