The first episode of Ulita’s micro-commission ‘The Secret Elevator’ was recently released, featuring beautiful storytelling in the form of poetry, song, piano accompaniment and visual art. Ulita consists of a creative trio: poetry and vocals from Nishla Smith, piano and arrangements from Tom Harris, and visual art and video editing from Luca Shaw. Although this combination may at first seem unusual, the way in which this combination of different art forms compliment one another, and create new meaning and interpretation through collaboration, is truly inspiring.
Episode One of ‘The Secret Elevator’ is at once playful and humorous, and yet a serious artwork which contains great depth. Smith, Shaw and Harris are addressing important topics such as the creative imagination, sexuality, the unknown, and womanhood within a 9-minute, visual and musical storyworld. The depth of the piece, in both abstract artistic terms and through emotional engagement, is compelling. Harris has described the work as a ‘children’s show for adults’, which we feel sums it up perfectly.
‘The Secret Elevator’ follows the episodic adventures of a rogue elevator who kidnaps its unwitting occupants, and takes them on unwanted adventures. Although the artistic concept may seem avant-garde, the story itself is relatable and moving in Episode One. The story follows Kate and Nathan as they enter what they believe to be the normal elevator at their corporate workplace, where ‘important’ people work. Yet, suddenly, the elevator begins to go underground, leaving Kate and Nathan confused and scared. As the elevator moves through the soil, where ‘beetles live with beetly children and beetly spouses’, although Kate is unnerved she also begins to see the wonder of the underworld that she has never paid attention to before. By the end of the piece, Nathan tells Kate they must return to the corporate office, but Kate is so enchanted by the rivers and tunnels of the underworld that she decides to stay - and simply forgets the life she used to lead.
This story is told through beautifully raw, black and white outlines drawn by Shaw, in a stop-frame video which compliments Smith’s storytelling perfectly. As the ideas in the story become more creative and abstract, so does the artwork - the way Shaw depicts the underworld is so interesting and full of joy and amazement in comparison to typical depictions. Through her vocals, Smith depicts Kate’s tentative sense of wonder and awe, and Shaw then reflects this back through the visual elements. Furthering this still, Harris’ accompaniment on piano also reinforces the creativity brought forward in the story whilst beautifully articulating the emotional side of the piece. As Kate and Nathan descend into the underworld, the dissonant choices made by Harris truly bring out their fear, and create tension for the listener. Similarly, as Kate begins to tentatively accept her own open-mindedness and attraction to the unknown world she has been introduced to, Harris’s warm and inviting piano playing makes listeners tangibly feel her optimism.
For us, this first episode of ‘The Secret Elevator’ explores a woman’s experience of corporate life, and her need to accept the desire to open her creative imagination and face the unknown. Ulita beautifully explore this desire through abstract yet accessible storytelling, and express the story through three diverse mediums. ‘The Secret Elevator’ encourages the playful side in all of us, revelling in the creativity and wonder in the world and inviting us to do the same - just as Kate does by the story’s end. Smith, Shaw and Harris are creating amazing and moving ‘children’s stories for adults’, and we can’t wait to watch the next episode.
Review by Evie Hill