Ian Smith - Peeping at Bosch

Ian Smith - Peeping at Bosch

Chaos theory

Ian Smith, director of Mischief La-Bas, talks to Allan Radcliffe about the joy of bringing Hieronymus Bosch’s most famous artwork to life

Some performance projects simply have to be seen to be believed. This is certainly the case with Mischief La-Bas’ fascinating slice of live, interactive entertainment, Peeping at Bosch, the first stage in an attempt to realise the iconic Hieronymus Bosch triptych, which features depictions of Paradise, the Garden of Earthly Delights and Hell.

‘The idea came to me when the Tramway asked if I had anything strange up my sleeve to celebrate their 20th anniversary,’ says Mischief director Ian Smith. ‘I just went in and unrolled my poster of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ and said, “How about that?”’

Having secured a commission from the Tramway, Smith then went and unrolled his poster in the offices of the National Theatre of Scotland, who jumped at the chance to co-produce the ambitious project, now operating under the suitably irreverent title of Bisch Basch Bosch. The main event, due to be unveiled in 2010, involves the creation of a gigantic, interactive indoor/outdoor event, reminiscent of a theme park.

For this month’s appetite-whetter, Peeping at Bosch, Smith has assembled the leading lights of Scotland’s experimental arts community to create a spectacular ‘walkthrough’ event, based in Tramway One. The production will draw on music, performance, live art, animation, painting and sculpture but will feature no narrative and very little language. Audience members will have communal and solitary experiences and, while free to wander some areas, will be constricted in others.

While inkeeping with the Glasgow-based collective’s basic philosophy of life-affirming chaos, the piece also seeks to explore the religious belief systems depicted in Bosch’s work, which continue to determine world events. Smith is also eager that people leave with a more rounded impression of Bosch’s oeuvre.

‘People think they’re familiar with Bosch, but most people just know the grotesques from the ‘Hell’ panel in ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, which is actually only a small part of the painting. This project is partly an experiment with intimacy, so I want to particularly focus on the contemplation and serenity that’s there in Bosch’s work.’

Under Smith’s directorship, the company has spent the past 15 years ‘gently warping the underlay of the fabric of society’. As well as large-scale shows such as the Bosch project, the loose collective are often invited to create bespoke ‘manifestations’ for special events such as openings, launches and festivals. Over the years Smith’s collaborators have embraced the director’s maverick working methods.

‘It’s a standing joke with me that Mischief never rehearse a show,’ laughs Smith. ‘When the collaborators are invited, they get a brief. They know it’s a benevolent dictatorship and that I have the final say, but there’s freedom to do what they do within that. The truth is, it’s impossible to make what we do work until the audience is there. Interaction is a keystone of Mischief and the audience is 50 percent of the equation.’

Peeping at Bosch, Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 10–Sun 13 Jul.

Peeping at Bosch

Ian Smith and Long-running performance troupe Mischief La Bas create a 'theatrically interactive art experience' around Hieronymus Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights'.

Peeping at Bosch Talk

Ian Smith talks about the ambition required to re-create the whole environment of The Garden of Earthy Delights as a large-scale outdoor show. Limited capacity.