Making water-safety videos that focus on the tragic Shakespearean character Ophelia, who drowns herself toward the end of Hamlet, isn't the most intuitive response to the play. Not unless you're Niki Tulk, the United States-born, Australia-raised performance artist who will be presenting her immersive installation, Ophelia | Leaves, at two free performances this weekend in Boulder.
"I just think juxtaposing instructions on how to stay safe in the water – once you transpose that over Ophelia — is both bizarrely nightmarish and incredibly funny," Tulk says.
When audience members show up to Ophelia | Leaves, they will walk around an installation, touching fabric and objects. Tulk will be there, too, sometimes erupting into poetry. Both the textile artist and the sound designer who collaborated with her will also be on stage, doing their work as part of the production.
As an artist, Tulk wants to explode the boundaries between various art forms. She's not just a writer or an actor or a musician or a painter. She does it all, at the same time, without prioritizing one over the other. "For me, it's political, in that I'm trying to move away from a hierarchy of elements," she says.
The installation looks at the politics of how women are portrayed in classic texts. "A lot of the show is about writing and the way women get written, especially in iconic texts," she explains, adding that just like "women get sexualized by the media, I think they get textualized and written a particular way that then frames them for all eternity."
Tulk wants to shift the way in which women are depicted, "in a very associative, obscure way," she says.
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Obscurity is not lacking in her production, and Tulk says she has no idea how the installation will be received. By pushing the boundaries of what theater can be, it's completely possible that Ophelia | Leaves will be an utter failure, she admits.
"It's pretty melancholy. It's really quite sad," says Tulk. But that's not where it begins and ends, because the artist also wants to infuse the event with "a sense of play."
"I had a good dose of Monty Python growing up," she notes. "Random things make me laugh a lot. There's stuff in [Ophelia | Leaves] that I think is funny."
The free performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, January 27, and Saturday, January 28, at the University of Colorado Boulder's ATLAS Black Box Experimental Studio, in the Roser ATLAS Center, 1125 18th Street in Boulder. For more information, go to the ATLAS Institute website.