A Talking Orangutan Recounts Tales of Discovery and Adventure
at Free, Multimedia Program in Museum's Harrison Auditorium
PHILADELPHIA, PA Summer 2014— An adventurous, late 19th century scientific expedition, richly documented in the Penn Museum's Archives, is the inspiration for Borneo Odyssey, a new multi-media theatrical production, presented free of charge Saturdays, August 23 and September 13, 3:00 pm in the Penn Museum's Harrison Auditorium. (Separate admission fee required to view Museum galleries.). The September 13 production is a featured event of the 2014 Fringe Festival.
Borneo Odyssey, collaboratively developed by Skowmon Hastanan, visual artist-in-residence at the Penn Museum, and a team of artists and volunteers, draws upon the rich archival records of the Penn Museum's 1896-1898 expeditions to northern Borneo made by William H. Furness, Alfred C. Harrison, and Hiram M. Hiller. A series of trips were made to Oceania, South and Southeast Asia, and East Asia to gather zoological and ethnographic collections for the Penn Museum. The largest of the collections was made on the island of Borneo.
"In our experimental performance, we make contemporary use of historical sources, re-imagining a new concept of time, identity, history, and memory," said Skowmon Hastanan. "The story of Furness, raising chimpanzees and orangutans at his home in Wallingford, and his experiments with teaching them basic human speech, inspired us. The Malay and Indonesian words 'orang' and 'hutan' translate to 'spirit or person of the forest,' inspired the choice of the performance's main character, a talking orangutan, recounting tales of discovery."
Through performance script, spoken words, live and recorded audio, and visual experience, Borneo Odyssey re-interprets Hiller's 1896 A Brief Report of A Journey up the Rejang River in Borneo. Audiences experience tropical river footage through digital video and antique slide projections incorporating Mr. Harrison's original glass-lantern slide photos as hand-painted by Katherine Gordon Breed. Performers, live and recorded music, and an interactive segment using artist-made replicas of the Museum's collections, add to the experience.
Penn Museum Film Archivist Kate Pourshariati and Senior Archivist Alessandro (Alex) Pezzati, interested in finding creative ways to expand the Museum Archives' public access, initiated the residency program. They invited Ms. Hastanan to work in the Museum Archives and make use of the collections in creating art projects. Borneo Odyssey artists and volunteers include Joel Holub (Orangutan, Script Writer, Stage Directions, Prop Maker), Jeffrey Steven Gottesfeld (Furness), Theodore Kersten (Principal Composer, Musician), Leesa Abahuni (Composer, Musician, Video and Sound Editor), Karen Ostrom (Video and Sound Editor), Katia Berg (Video and Sound Engineer), Marti Cormand (Prop Maker), Celeste Fichter (Prop Maker), Toma Fichter (Prop Maker), and Eric W. Schnittke (Magic Lantern, Assistant Archivist, Penn Museum).
Borneo Odyssey is made possible through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and PECO. The University of Pennsylvania Provost's Interdisciplinary Seminar Fund and the Penn Art and Culture Initiative are co-sponsors of the event.
The Penn Museum Archives collects the stories behind the artifacts, including the history of archaeology and anthropology, the history of photography, a record of museological practice for the last century, and the papers of important scholars. The Penn Museum Archives are open by appointment to the public Tuesday – Friday, 9:30am – 4:30 pm. The Museum Archives offers a special "Unearthed in the Archives" public presentation every Friday from 1:30 – 2:30 pm, investigating interesting and unusual art and vintage photographs, expedition records, and personal letters being safeguarded in this vast collection.
FringeArts (formerly Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe) exists to commission, develop and present a range of high-quality contemporary performing and visual arts. Every September the Fringe Festival features boundary-breaking work created by some of the most renowned contemporary artists from our region and around the world, and serves as a collective home for artists to bring their artistic visions to audiences without any curatorial barriers. The community is enriched as art takes over neighborhoods, animating the spaces of Philadelphia from traditional theaters to corner bars and vacant storefronts.
Image caption: A talking orangutan shares tales of discovery in Borneo Odyssey, a free, multi-media show playing at the Penn Museum Saturday, August 23 at 3:00 pm, and Saturday, September 13 at 3:00 pm. Archived records of the Museum's 1896-1898 Borneo expedition inspired the experimental script (Photo: Katia Berg and Skowmon Hastanan).