Transactions II: Performance Art on the Greenway

by Heather Kapplow

Saturday

Exiting South Station, I feel already surrounded by every day performance: the busy-ness of travel and transit, which always feels quite put on to me. The visible invisibility performed by our homeless folk, an elegant tightrope walk between tourists. It is fine tourist weather…

CENTER FOR RESTORING THE MEANING OF FAKE WORDS

A sign reading “Fake Words” is visible through the greenery as I approach The Rose Kennedy Greenway from South Station. The starkness of its black-and-white-ness stands out from a distance, and then, when I grow closer, seems related to the more permanent public art in the same area, Aakash Nihalani’s Balancing Act. The visual contrast between the two works is that of handmade versus machine wrought, but the notion of balancing is good preparation for Milan Kohout’s project. He’s chosen his site well.

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When I arrive he is trying to convince a young lady with long navy blue fingernails to be his first meaning-restorer of the day. She’s game to talk to him, but is hesitant to pick a word. It turns out she just doesn’t want to be in any pictures. She’s curious and beautiful and there are maybe too many men gathering around her.

Milan gives her a New York Times to look through. She says her problem is that “what’s fake is a feeling not a word.”  Then she says maybe it’s “happiness.” It’s what everybody says they are but she doesn’t believe they’re happy every day. “I’m so happy at my job at Target! I’m so happy with my new baby…” Milan holds up a mirror and lets her say the empty phrases into it, then asks her to make up a new word to replace “happy.”

It’s green here, but we are essentially in the middle of a traffic island. There’s honking and a highway onramp is nearby. It is an unlikely place for language to be retooled, but that’s what makes it feel plausible. Milan isn’t just prompting people to think about how meaning is stolen from us and what else might be being stolen from us by those in power. He’s teaching the techniques that might allow a reversal of these trends. He’s letting people practice taking power back.

Her word is “pinco.” Milan calls out to the traffic and to passersby “Are you pinco?!” Then he pulls her words, from a long white paper roll, out like a carpet onto the grass. The woman with the word works for the trains. She has time to kill—she has to be on standby, close to the station.

Milan begins announcing through his loudspeaker: “All the treasured words are emptied.” His ‘ch’s stick—it’s part of his accent—and they ring out loudly after the rest of the words are completed. His pronouncement about how all of the wealthy pigs are hoarding money in the basements of the tall buildings echoes off of them. “Let’s be ‘pinco’ again!!”

WOULD YOU SIT WITH ME?

Pavana Reid is taking a cloth from a woman who is sitting in one of two chairs and the woman gets up. Pavana puts the cloth on the chair and a man comes up and sits in the other chair. Pavana puts the chair with the cloth on it so that it is facing him, and then sits in the second chair herself, handing him the cloth. They speak with one another but I can’t hear. Slowly the tableaux shifts: Pavana and the man in the chair are still talking beyond my ear-range, but now they are sitting with their chairs back to back. I step in to experience the piece.

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I am sitting. Pavana gives me the cloth. It’s warm. She smells like lavender. She feels like a stranger. We talk quietly about how that feels. About what makes her feel the least like a stranger. (It’s when people stop and help her or answer a question for her on the street.) She feels that time is the most precious thing that people can give to each other. She mentions an anti-suicide ad that she saw on the subway so I tell her about the memorial service for a friend and teacher of mine that I am missing in order to be at the Greenway—that he committed suicide and that I am thinking of his close friends and family while I am sitting with her. Pavana gets up and wraps me in her cloth, swaddling me to the chair. Then she wraps herself up in the other end of the cloth and tucks herself in close and tight to me. She says my story made her feel like she wanted to be closer to me, and asks if that’s okay. It’s okay. Just being together brings the strange kind of peace that being with someone you are close to does, but it feels uncanny because Pavana is, of course, a stranger.

 

 

Pavana wraps the whole cloth around herself as she unwinds it from me, and it looks like she’s a flower—there are hints of the wrapping of saris and ceremonial kimonos in the gesture…

ARTIFACT

I see a scrambling movement up ahead. Sara June is in white on the ground, bouncing, for lack of better word, while someone else on the ground is engaging with her in a way that is a little unclear from a distance.

When I approach, Sara is sitting on the ground, legs out straight in front of her, feet bare. Black hair, white outfit, a pile of round mossy stones behind her. Her seat is astroturf on grass. In front of her are four colored buttons. Or are they lights?

She moves slowly. A group of kids speaking a language I can’t identify congregate around her, but don’t engage. Sara continues her slow cycle of movement. Maybe she is turning? A woman with a dog stops and takes her picture.

I press the green button and it makes a videogame sound, and Sara moves a new way. I step on the red button a few times. It makes an alarm sound each time I step on it and she leaps, turns and rolls. I press the blue button and it plays a triumphant sound. Sara leaps up and down each time I press it. Someone else presses the orange button and she leans in towards them. Each button triggers a different gesture, slower, faster. She evolves very slowly between button pressing, regal.

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The title of the piece throws me off, but slowly it dawns on me that despite her seeming humanity, Sara is a digital artifact. The motions are rote, evolving in the way that permutations do, but never having the kind of variation that living things organically do. A strange thing to say about a living thing that is performing, but it is a good performance of the non-living. (Also raising unanswerable questions about performing as a non-living thing.)

A NOSE FOR THE TRUTH

I see two women dressed in red, one with a gold shopping cart full of gold bags. The cart is strung with cassette tape innards and has a stash of cassettes on the bottom. They seem to have been interviewing a young lady. She puts her cassette in their basket and then is invited to pull on the tape while remembering her words and what they mean to her. With loud construction sounds in the background, she steps out onto the grass, walking backwards, the tape streaming. Light glints off of it.

The ladies in red discuss the poem she spoke into their recorder. “I stand in the water and wait for the water god.” The girl is pulling the tape as if the act were a dance, smiling back at them from about 20 feet away, then moving closer again, the cassette tape still streaming around her.

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The piece moves fluidly between something a bit transcendent—sharp spots of beauty—and something very mundane and scatological. There is true artfulness in the performance of what are essentially crone roles—an inspiring mixture of faux dottiness, real warmth, darkness, and mysticism, all played out like a game with the props.

The ladies in red are laughing. Mari Novotny-Jones says to the girl “I said to Frances, that was so elegant!” They ask her to say her poem again and she recites some of it: “The sound of rushing water fills my brain, my jaw begins to numb….” Construction sounds drown her out for a bit and when she is audible again she’s saying “Prismatic hues form an expanding ring of colors. The water grows louder and louder.”

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She explains to Mari and Frances Mezzetti how the thing she spoke is related to her research on shamanism—it’s a performance she’s developing. As she says this, a dog gets caught up in her tape/words. It takes a shit (literally) on it/them. Frances gathers up the tape while Mari continues talking to the woman. A little girl calls out “What are they doing?” Mari explains about the tape itself—the detritus of people’s stories. Frances continues gathering. Light reflects off of the tape.

Gold, cloth bags, bags crocheted out of tape. “That’s life though, the little dog comes and shits on your work.”

PRIVATE PERFORMANCES FOR SOLOIST TROMBONE

AND SINGLE AUDIENCE MEMBER

Construction sounds ring out. There are jackhammers and the smell of hot tar.

The trombone fits in perfectly. And it’s a break from everything.

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I close my eyes, sit, my hands cupping the headphones against my ears, and emotion floods through me for a second. Then the music turns more playful—I can hear Tom Plsek breathing, open my eyes, see his feet tapping out a rhythm. It gets diggery-doo-ey. Then synchs up with the construction. Then ends. We sit and talk about the sound and the mechanics of the device. And the construction—he’s been trying to resist it all day, but this time gave in and played along with it.

A NOSE FOR THE TRUTH again

When I get back to the ladies in red, they have unpacked one of the “bags” in their cart and it’s a tube. Mari is in one end and a woman with glasses on is in the other end. Frances is holding the center of the tube still while they record in there, butts sticking out of either end, cassette tape streaking off of the cart.

I realize now that the gold “basket” is actually a big soft nose.

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ARTIFACT again

Someone is emptying the trash near Sara’s piece. I’m watching him, watching a little kid enthusiastically pushing Sara’s buttons. Sara drops and hops, jumps and leans, rolls, hops, curls in a ball, hops, falls, jumps up, falls, scoots forward and back, rolls, hops. Her astroturf is littered with moss-rocks now. She stacks them on her legs, an action to fill space, calmly between actions. Also a reminder that there is never non-action in her piece.

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WOULD YOU SIT WITH ME? again

Pavana is dancing almost with her interlocutor. They slowly fold the cloth between them, and then Pavana holds it, standing between the two chairs.

When the next visitor comes forward, she hands him the cloth. She pulls the chairs so that they are sitting knee to knee. His hands are on the cloth, folded in his lap, and hers are too. Between his. They are talking quietly. He smiles and the wind rustles the trees.

The two do not move at all. Then they stand and Pavana lays the two chairs down on the ground. They sit on the chairs lying down, heads in opposite directions, and their conversation becomes very loud. “Can you hear me?” “What do you see?” “Do you think we see the same thing?”

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The “not moving at all” seems a key to Pavana’s piece, despite the fact that the performance is improvised anew with each person, the call to sit with her, seems sometimes not as much about the sitting with her, as about just sitting in a special, set-aside-from-everything-else way. Taking time to really settle. But Pavana provides the excuse by offering her company.

CENTER FOR RESTORING THE MEANING OF FAKE WORDS again

There is an echo between Milan’s paper and Pavana’s cloth. They were similar in size and shape earlier, but Milan’s paper is very long now. As I grow closer to him his amplified voice booms off of the buildings in the area. “All thoughts are fake!!”

Here are some new words:

Idealistic=FKNAL

Crazy=YUGEN

Truth=HUGE!

Life=DEBT

Money=TETHER

Luxury=YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT

Cruelty Free=JUST GET RID OF THIS BECAUSE IN THE REVOLUTION THERE WILL BE NO NEED FOR THIS.

Milan’s voice continues to bounce around. “Words are all privately owned. The word ‘delicious’ does not mean anything any more!”

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Could this really be true? He might be right. I’m not sure I remember what ‘delicious’ is for me, and then, right there, wondering about whether I really know deliciousness, Milan gives me an incredible gift: an understanding of Capitalism as something akin to clinical depression or mourning. They’re the only other things that can strip away meaning and flavor from life.

WOULD YOU SIT WITH ME? again

Pavana sits with Marilyn. Black outfits, one next to the other. Sara in white moving very slowly in the background.

Pavana puts her chair back to back with Marilyn’s then slowly unfurls the cloth, making a path outward to one side of Marilyn’s lap. The smell of weed wafts over from somewhere.

Pavana moves the empty chair, wraps Marilyn slowly and almost entirely, then rolls herself in the rest of the cloth and sits back to back with her in a similar cocoon. They speak over their shoulders to one another, looking like kids at a sleepover, then they cover their heads completely and become a sculpture for awhile before Pavana unwraps things, gathering the cloth in a crumpled bundle this time rather than folding it. The chairs stand empty for a bit.

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The final guest folds the cloth into something organized again with Pavana and takes one of two seats set next to each other as guided. Pavana spreads the cloth across her lap, shaping it so it flows down to the ground like a skirt, and kneels at her feet. The woman gets off the chair and comes down to her level. They kneel together, touching and kneading the fabric between them, smiling and talking, leaving the two empty chairs side by side. We sit in another row of chairs, watching.

Sunday

It’s a bit of breakneck hustle getting there—driving to three places on a fruitless errand earlier in the morning then it taking forever to find parking. Running for the red and blue lines, barely making both. Then emerging from the station, pushing through traffic with arms full: I’m the one performing the role of busy person in transit today…

I learned yesterday that the pieces all weave together no matter which direction you move in, so I’m starting at the other end of The Rose Kennedy Greenway this time.

MOTHERS WALK

I’ve gathered with Frances Mezzetti and Jimena Bermejo a little before noon, and we’re waiting for other mothers dressed in white to arrive. It’s a bit chilly. Frances tells us about the Irish (pagan) equinox celebration of Demeter and Persephone (“seed becomes fruit, fruit becomes seed”) which focuses on motherhood, creativity, and the circle of life; Jimena talks about finding gestures related to the experience of motherhood; and I speak briefly of the tradition of mothers as activists and demonstrators.

Then three women in white begin moving in a slow circle around the perimeter of The Greenway’s Rings Fountain. They are pacing thoughtfully and the mist makes it all look very romantic. They are leaving a stream of white rose petals in their wake.

There’s no way to know from looking that they are mothers. The piece relies on the subtlety involved in knowing the name of the pathway they’re tracing, though Frances, invigilating, does explain to visitors about what’s going on. Even without explanation, you feel their presence as serious and mystical. The piece of motherhood not visible at the surface here is the daily difficulty of it. The image is much more poetic than mundane.

STILL WORKING IT ALL OUT

Dogs and their owners are running in circles across the large lawn. Something brightly colored is happening in one corner of the grass.

It’s a free class! There is a circle of yoga mats with piles of something on each one, and Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell, wearing a pink visor, is playing with a small child on one of the mats. She’s demonstrating a duckbill that you can wear on your face to squawk like a duck. The class is called “How to Draw Like a Beginner.”

Now the mom of the kid has a drawing tablet on her head and is drawing on top of her head. The small boy draws with a marker on a long stick and then opens an umbrella.

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The class is very small—tailored—but it’s clear already that this is no ordinary class. The mom is working harder than the young boy, or maybe they are working equally hard. In any case, they are equally beginners, and the act of being new at something as a distinct experience, best supported by an environment that emphasizes play, comes through strong and clear.

MOTHERS WALK again

I see the three women in white pacing by in the background.

Jimena leaves a rose stem at the end of the Mother’s Walk and turns around.

WATER TABLE PERFORMANCE

I round the corner of the beer garden and see some kind of construction is in place. A strong/sturdy looking man, Brian Connolly, is fixing one of the tables it looks like.

There are four tall 2” x 4”s propped against each other like a teepee.

Some more are lying on the ground in shorter lengths with signs on them, around the perimeter of the circle (this is all happening in a circle.)

There is also a chair in the circle, and a table. A very tall table which the man is making taller, slowly, by clamping the 2” x 4”s to each leg.

The signs on the ground have images of water with logos floating over them: DuPont, Marathon Oil, FTS International. The 2” x 4”s without signs seem to be waiting for signs.

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The table, now about five feet tall, has a pan of water underneath it, a pendulum hangs from beneath the table, over the pan of water. What looks like another pan of water is on the table’s surface, along with a dish (silver) with a sphere (silver) set inside of it. Some wisps of plant also seem to be coming out of the top of the table. Brian supports the table with his head as he adjusts it.

The pyramid/teepee also has a bowl (silver) under it and a feather hangs on a thread with a block of wood above from a tree. Brian makes another sign out of one of the 2” by 4”s, stapling paper on it.

The pieces of the piece feel abstract—require a bit of puzzling together—but then it becomes abundantly clear: water is teetering in the balance. Mankind is pushing its limits.

HOW FAR APART

Up ahead is a small hill with trees and a man lying on it. Dominic Thorpe has the leg of a black chair balanced on his (shaved or bald) head. He is turning on the ground very slowly, holding a black marker to his stomach which leaves a line as he turns. I don’t notice this until the chair falls off of his head. There are many beautiful, wavy lines on his stomach. They look like rings on a tree stump, circling around his core.

Dominic replaces the chair when it falls, and begins the slow turn—like a very slow motion rotating spit—again. It’s like a nap in the grass in one way, but not at all like a nap in the grass in another way: he’s relaxed, but you can feel the pressure and tension of the precariously balanced chair.

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A tourist trolley drives by and I can hear the pickup of a truck’s engine and a bus engine on either side of the path simultaneously, a stereo whooshing, then three different cars broadcasting the music they’re listening to, then a motorcycle.

Dominic’s back is facing me now, for the first time.

From the other angle (I’ve moved around to his front,) the image Dominic is making is so different. The copse of trees and the fact that he is on a hill among them feels more evident and important.

Overall, the esthetic quality of all the works has been very sharp and bold—they are blending into nature, but also standing out as strongly as the less ephemeral artworks do against the ground. They feel more organic than the fabricated things because they consist of bodies, cloth and other simple materials with less degrees of removal from nature.

As I cross the street, a group composed of men and women pushing baby carriages and visibly preggers pause, unsure of whether to move through The Greenway or to walk alongside it on the sidewalk. They split into two groups, each taking one pathway.

An oil truck with a logo similar to one on one of Brian’s signs is idling at the light.

GLOBAL

I see a woman in black with some kind of small bags hanging from her dress. She is talking to a man in hat. They part and she—it’s Margaret Bellafiore—takes something, a dark blue paper cup, from one of the bags and begins drawing something on the ground with a white powder in the cup.

Cars honk. Some youths step around one of her drawings carefully and she invites them to engage, but they decline shyly.

Margaret draws an elaborate butterfly. There is also a penguin.

The (canvas? hemp?) drawstring bags pinned to her dress have drawings of animals on them as well: there are turtles, birds, fish…in white on the ground, in black on the bags.

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A family stops to talk to her. She asks them what they know about penguins. The young boy answers, and they begin to discuss global warming and its impact on penguin eggs. Then cod reproduction. The family tells her what they know, she tells them what she knows of the subject. The white chalk is graceful between them on the ground.

The disbursement of the chalk becomes the disappearance of the animals, destroyed by human footprints.

MOTHERS WALK again

On my way back to check in on the mothers walking, I see two mothers along The Greenway re-dressing their children. One child was peeing in the bushes, another had gotten its shirt wet.

The Mother’s Walk, is strewn with white rose petals and stems. I step into the performance, holding space for mothers, because I am not one, so I do not walk, but I follow Jimena’s instructions as she followed mine, finding three gestures that connect/resonate/feel true to my only experience of mothering (of myself, from a very young age.) I trace the straightness of a rose stem between two fingers; softly stroke my own hair into place around my face; shift my weight from foot to foot occasionally.

A wall of parents and children lines up between me and the fountain. The fog comes up. I feel as if I am invigilating for motherhood, watching over it as it is performed in real life.

The walking mothers return from their break and make their first circuit. I’m trying to discern their gestures.

I love how everyday they look—not costumed—just two mothers on a walk, disappearing into the crowd. This is the mundane element I was looking for. As they trace the path, their route takes them through the misty, romanticized circling of the fountain, but also across the street with the dead pigeon in the crosswalk.

STILL WORKING IT ALL OUT again

Sinead and Pavana Reid have umbrellas open with rubber ducks and pinecones balanced on them. They are trying to pass them to one another without their falling but it doesn’t work. Now they are applying temporary tattoos or stickers to themselves with Frances. Pavana holds a gold square to her chest and takes a bow. Sinead’s yoga mat has a banana, an apple a headset mic. There’s not much action now but the yoga mats look much less organized now than they did before, and the last time I passed by there was a good crowd of people—mostly with young children—at the yoga mat-circle.

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Sinead is on a break with a “shall return at ___” sign, and tidies everything for the next “lesson.”

The mothers drift by again.

WATER TABLE PERFORMANCE again

Brian has more signs now: BP, OXY, Andarko.

The table I would say is now about 12 feet tall. Brian is on a ladder. Things are wobbly, but stable.

Is this where we are now? As the piece progresses, I feel as if it’s mapping a situation in more and more accurate real time.

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GLOBAL again

Margaret’s chalk is more ground in than spread around. It looks like constellations. I’m standing on a moose. The chalk is losing the race to adapt to its environment.

HOW FAR APART again

Dominic’s line is darker and thicker. His feet are black now. I can’t help but think about his view.

People are really stopping to watch for the duration now. It’s hard to tell which element of what he’s doing they are focused in on.

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I notice the fallen leaves now, the steady rate at which he slowly traces his lines, the peace on his face, the beauty of the lines themselves. Somehow the chair doesn’t ever slip off of his head anymore. Without looking at the guide to learn what his piece is about, I can tell that it involves paying more attention than people usually do. That it’s about how action accretes and adds up to a shape it may not have intended by simply being a repetitive pattern.

WATER TABLE PERFORMANCE again

The table now looks to be about 15 feet high. The teepee is gone: every board is a sign. People are exploring close-up. Brian is making a mini-teepee out of signs on posts.

How can it be so high and not tip over? How has nothing spilled yet?

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STILL WORKING IT ALL OUT again

Sinead has a full class—every yoga mat is occupied. Everyone is holding a mirror—she is helping them see the sky, the ground, what’s behind them on either side. Then they “warm” their mirrors up with a paintbrush and everyone paints a leaf on their mirror with a brush dipped in water.

The tracing of nothing on a reflective surface feels like a magic spell—like the magic spell—the one that makes things out of nothing. This last piece I’m seeing today feels like the bookend to the first piece I saw yesterday. Sinead is teaching people how to do to knowledge what Milan Kohout was teaching people to do with language. Take control of it by making your own.

I also see Jimena pacing in the background, picking up rose stems, alone now.

Sinead’s voice is so present. Everyone flicks their fingers as she guides them, “Flick, flick, flick.”

Then she gives everyone something to take away: a small square of gold leaf. It’s like she’s giving communion. I remember that you can eat gold leaf. As if she could hear my thought, Sinead’s amplified voice says, “It is not edible. The edible stuff is really expensive, but you can get a kind that you can eat.”

She brings me a piece. I don’t eat it.

A crowd roars somehow nearby—a ballgame at a bar with an open air seating area I assume.

A rabbit hops across my path as I make my way back to the Mother’s Walk.

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Photos by Jordan Hutchings

 

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Trying on the Body

by Sara Muthi

It is needless to say that present day Belfast is a very complex, sensitive context tightly wound up with the well-known aftermath we know to be the Troubles. Stepping in from the outside onto Northern Ireland’s traumatically unresolved terrain it is difficult to feel you should have anything to comment, as if doing so would be wholly out of place and ignorant of the fragility of the context. Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter at the Golden Thread Gallery translates the contemporary conditions of working class lives in Belfast to an audience outside of the context from which her movement is spawned.

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London born, Belfast-bred choreographer Oona Doherty works within the context of such politically and historically charged spaces. She however does not look back to Belfast’s Troubles, nor does she deal with such political matters explicitly. With that said, indirectness is not indifference, in fact quite the opposite. As many Northern Irish artists must, she deals with unimaginably sensitive spaces carefully and considerately. Doherty however aware of the socio-political context she must be pays forensic attention to the seemingly familiar patterns present in the working class culture of today.

Death of a Hunter is Doherty’s visual arts debut. Trained as a dancer and now a practicing choreographer, her work is not what is expected to be found in a visual arts space. Her subject matter and execution in collaboration with video makers and sound artists give the work the oomph to seamlessly slide into a gallery context. One space in the gallery showcases a multi-part video work while the other hosts an installation composed of the heart-breaking presence of a crashed car.

The multi-part video installation is difficult and at times uncomfortable to watch. Each short film deals eloquently with a differing aspect of the physico‐sociological state as witnessed by her within Belfast’s urban culture. The first episode of Doherty’s video installation is titled Lazarus & The Bird of Paradise. Here is where I believe the cream of the crop of Doherty’s practise lies. Her lone figure lies motionless against the indistinguishable clamber of familiar loutish behaviour that acts as the score for this work. Soon she gently arises like a man possessed, being swiftly glided to her feet in relation to the weight of her own body. Her movements following this is the result of forensic observation of “smicks”, a derogatory term used to describe young lower-class persons of brash behaviour. It is the energy of this culture, the subtleties of an unsteady stance, a shrug of the shoulders and a rub of the nose which by itself may not be doing much but is threading a line between anxiety, fear and unrest that Doherty “tries on”, as someone would try on an outfit. She splits and splices these urban gestures with her unique style of contemporary dance that I can only describe as guttural. Unlike our general perception of contemporary dance in which the face stays motionless, Doherty utilises facial expressions to further try on these urban attitudes wholly to become completely engrossed in the character she takes from.

Her movement is visceral and sets the scene for the following episode, Sugar Army, which abstractly regurgitates recognisable gestures of young defiant girls, posturing to the camera. Once again this work is generally not consumed by those considered to be the subject matter. Rather what Doherty does is she delicately and intentionally presents to us these characters in order to suggest an understanding of the deep psychological past that may have created such a culture. The work through her movements and direction are humanly honest and reveal a painful society which far too often lacks empathy.

Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter runs from the 20th of October to the 3rd of November 2018 at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.

Rememory

by EL Putnam

“I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

The performance opens with a darkened space and the only light coming from a small projector held by one of the dancers as she spans the room. It is Super 8 footage that appears to be home movies. The aesthetic is shaky yet characterizable of this sort of documentation. The framing is awkward, shifting and truncating bodies as the amateur cinematographer becomes enraptured in the excitement of the moment being captured. It is footage that is familiar yet the figures are anonymous. The dancer moves the video over the floor, then the members of the audience; always in motion so that it is only possible to catch a glimpse of the flickering frames. At some point the projector shines directly into my eyes so all I can see is that source of light, knowing that something is playing back, but unable to look at what is unfolding over me. The projection is then onto the backs of the other two dancers. Bodies become screens and shadows interrupt the ghostly nostalgia.

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Fragments consists of a bricolage of actions, images, light and sound; a scrapbook of gestural experience that is drawn from the mundane, abstracted, and reconfigured through the process of trying to recall moments. Actions repeat, flowing through the dancers so that not one dominates the space nor a single gesture. Motions coalesce and then splinter apart.

The repetitive actions became ritualistic as if the dancers are trying to withdraw experience from the recesses of the mind. The multi-sensory aspects of sight, sound, and touch took on the significance of trying to capture something, a whatever, that cannot be represented, but only alluded to through the process of recollection. Touching the body, the clothes, and the face: yes I am still here.

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There is a narrative to Fragments that cannot be accessed. Instead, the performance captures the process of trying to recall them while losing them. Memories are created through the details—a touch, a sight, a sound, a smell—little figments of sensory experience that coalesce. Therefore, what can evoke or trigger a memory can be some minor element, which in and of itself is simply forgettable. The repetitive, simple gestures of the performers, the flickering video, and layering of the soundtrack all allude to this process, provoking broader questions: how do our memories inform us? How do our memories inform those around us? What happens when we can no longer access these memories?

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The dancer returns with the projector. She again scans the room with its flickering lights dappling the faces and bodies of the audience. Another dancer holds a mirrored ball in her arms. As the light of the projector casts over its fractured reflective surface, shattering the image and dispersing it throughout the room, I am mesmerized by the fragility of the light as it swirls around the room; cracking someone’s celluloid reminiscence.

Fragments is created by Jessie Keenan and includes performers Marion Cronin, Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín, and Sarah Ryan. It ran as part of the 2018 Dublin Fringe Festival, September 11 to 14 at the Complex Dublin. Images by Carrie Lewis.

half-way to cyborg-city*

by Sara Muthi

*a liminal-point at which a hybrid entity consisting of organic human and technological mechanisms is in the process of becoming a cyborg, though does not yet have a body. The ‘city’ in this case suggests a hypothetical destination in which the cyborg is integrated into contemporary metropolitan society.

The way I see it, Composition 2: Notes on Breathing + Space exists on three layering planes. The intersections that form the meat of the work happen between

  1. the visual and the vocal
  2. the organic and the technological
  3. the past and the present

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A pitch black space, reminiscent of a void due to its lack of perceived corners, sets the scene for this performative visual and vocal work. There is an effortless symphony between the unique yet repetitive technological sounds and the queued lights spotlighting the microphones with ring-lights tracing the circular rim of free-standing speakers. This ensemble is the second composition in this project between Siobhan Kavanagh and Adam Gibney.

Various repetitive breaths and vocals along with a loosely-musical and technological sound assemble in reaction to the gallery space. A space such as this, comprised of concrete walls and ceilings, with layering blackout curtains along with contrasting supple flesh form the canvas for these technological and organic sounds. Not one of the cracks, crevices or surfaces are to be taken for granted in the translation of these heavy vibrations. The plane which is responsible for the technological sounds and the plane which is responsible for the breathing vocals weave together in such a way as to be fundamentally inseparable. While separate planes of sound, it is clear both were created with the other in mind, developed simultaneously and cohesively. The live vocals from Kavanagh add a dimension of depth between the past recorded breath and the live improvised breath. This sometimes incomprehensible shift back and forth between the live and the pre-recorded, along with the way in which these audible elements vibrate against the organic breath of the audience present is what makes this work a half-way point to a cyborg-ian place.

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Composition 2 seems to have been equally assembled from human breath and technological ‘breath’ per-say. Even if it were not for the technological breaths in this work, the layering and persistence of the enunciated pre-recorded human breaths we hear would not be possible without the technological mechanisms devised by Gibney. A cyborg extends beyond typical human limitations by incorporating mechanical elements to become more-than. Ultimately, while a physical cyborg body is not explicit, nor intended, a cyborg breath is present in Composition 2.  What Kavanagh and Gibney create is a liminal void in which these possibilities between the technological, synthetic breaths live in a non-hierarchical space with the largely favoured human breath.

It is important to note however that this work is titled Composition 2: Notes on Breathing + Space. The work does not set out to create or make a statement on any particular truth or possibility. It is a note, an experiment in how these elements may co-exist, interact with each other but also with a wider physical audience. It is a one-off possibility, a comment, a particular observation they both wish to share and make possible.

By intersecting these complex planes between the visual and the vocal, the organic and the technological and the past and present in an informal, non-didactic, rhizomatic-ish way the work reaches, I believe, a place half-way to cyborg-city.

 

Composition 2: Notes on Breathing + Spacetook place on August 10th at 6.30pm. The work was developed by Siobhan Kavanagh and Adam Gibney and was a commissioned piece from The Complex as part their Visual Art series in the Ground Floor Gallery. Photography by Misha Beglin.

 

The Womb is not a Void (Jesse Jones, “Tremble Tremble”)

by EL Putnam

It was the depth of the darkness that first struck me. The rick blackness mingled with my fingers as I thrust out my arms to avoid colliding with anyone who may be wrapped in it. The darkness of the two monstrous screens nullifies place-specificity, as the figure of giantess emerges and disappears into its shadows. The past, present, and future are collapsed into a single plane.

Images of a gigantic woman jump from screen to screen, forcing the audience to shift position to catch a glimpse of her. Lights flash in various points, transforming the experience of watching a film to an immersive experience where witnesses are unable to passively sit back and absorb what flickers before their eyes. Her movements shift forwards and backwards; pulsating rhythms creating breaths of light and sound

The room is a body; a negative space that envelopes its inhabitants so that it is not empty, just as the womb is not a void. Bodies of women slip through the shadows, making their presence known through the tapping of shoes as they walk, the rustle of a curtain being pulled along its track, the amplified scraping of paint from the wall. Women working in the shadows that obscure their presence, overlaying it with an opacity that cultivates an oceanic darkness embracing the audience. This embrace is illustrated by two gigantic arms that circle the room, moved along the track and directing the movement of the space’s occupants. The arms become an extension of the monstrous presence on the screens; a fractured body without organs. She is beyond the audience, surrounding us, with her ephemeral presence. Her shifting movements through the different screens, light, and material elements make the cinematic apparatus quiver, causing it to perform.

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This is my second time witnessing Jesse Jones’s Tremble Tremble. I was able to experience it in its debut context in the Arsenale as the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. This time was different. On a personal level, when I most recently experienced the work, I carried a one-month old sleeping infant on my chest as I walked through the gallery, listening to her vocal quivers punctuate the soundtrack. Recently experiencing the radical bodily process of pregnancy and childbirth, combined with the physical and mental exhaustion of caring for an infant, I engaged with the work in a distinctive, psycho-biological level that offered solace to my wrecked self as a twice over mother.

The differences of experience extend beyond the autobiographical. Other variances emerge from the context of the exhibition. The Arsenale, which was the old ship building facility of Venice, is a distinctive work of architecture. Its long voluminous halls are transformed every two years into the galleries of the world’s longest running contemporary art event of its kind. Art is in this context is far from autonomous, with it functioning as politics by other means through its national identification (which is part of the Biennale’s appeal for me as a certified student of International Relations). Thus, the gendering of politics on this international stage in affiliation with the Irish nation is significant.

This brings me to a third reason Tremble Tremble was different, since it was now being presented after the repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution that equated the right to life of the fetus with that of the mother. As Jones recently articulated, the eighth amendment meant that “A man is a man is a man is a man, always. A woman is sometimes equal to a foetus.” However, this is not the extent to which Irish laws are influenced by implicit and explicit sexist biased. While the project may have been rooted in a desire to propose an alternative to eighth amendment—the Law of In Utera Gigantae—its drive for political and cultural change is by no means restricted to it. The current political events of Ireland make it timely, not resolved.

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The women of the shadows make the apparatus move, quiver, and quake. They are the ones whose work is unseen, but create an impact that is experienced in multifacted and multi-sensory ways. What draws me to Jones’s Tremble Tremble is not what is seen, but what puts the system in motion through actions shifting in the shadows. The invisibility of presence becomes a metaphor for the underacknowledged and undervalued reproductive labour that makes many human civilisations possible, but it also cultivates sites of instigating resistance and change. What emerges from the darkness is not all that matters, since it provides only a glimpse of what exists beyond illumination.

There is a quote by Silvia Federici from the exhibition catalogue that I read in tandem with Jones’s project: “Since the power to be affected and to affect, to be moved and to move, a capacity which is indestructible, exhausted only in death, is constitutive of the body, there is an immanent politics residing in it: the capacity to transform itself, others, and change the world” (47). I read bodies as extending beyond the limits of the human corporeal entity and into the complex ecologies that make life livable. Through the envisioning of this body as a giantess, there is a shift in the grounding of patriarchal culture that has perpetuated the oppression of women. The recent changes to Irish legislation may be the highly visible event that indicates something is shifting, but let us not get distracted as to ignore what is happening in the shadows. There is still much more work to be done.

 

Tremble Tremble by Jesse Jones and curated by Tessa Giblin was exhibited at the Project Arts Centre 7 June to July 18, 2018.

Works Cited

Federici, Silvia. “In Praise of the Dancing Body.” Tremble Tremble, edited by Tessa Giblin, Project Arts Centre and Mousse Publishing, 2017.

Jones, Jesse. “Why I’m Voting ‘Yes’ to Repeal the 8th in Ireland’s Abortion Referendum.” Frieze, 24 May 2018, https://frieze.com/article/why-im-voting-yes-repeal-8th-irelands-abortion-referendum.

 

 

The Rise and Fall of Dramaturgy in Live Art

by Jack Beglin

Before the performance…

I enter the NCAD white box gallery space  that overlooks Thomas Street from a panoramic window.  Photographers mill about the place adjusting their cameras while writers patrol the area jotting notes in their notebooks.  A series of objects are placed in the gallery space with a focal point of two black blocks in the centre of the room. I walk around the space inquisitively looking at the objects: a piece of clay on a white plinth, a green rope that smells like the sea, beet-roots in a glass jar, pudding in a plastic bag, a bag of plain flour, a cluster of small pink and white stone sediments, a white cloth spread square on the floor & a large roll of drawing paper.

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Objects in the Gallery Space

As the co-curator of Anticipation: Actualisation, Muthi is concerned  with the status of the objects in performance art. She suggests that the prevailing discourse in live art theory is the dialogue around the performing body and the politics of embodiment. Muthi suggests, however, that there is little discourse surrounding the material objects used in performance art. She states that these objects have both an intimacy with the artist  and  a performative dimension of their own . These objects become the ‘traces’ or ‘afterlife’ of the work post-performance.

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The traces of the performance

During the performance…

Audience members gather in anticipation outside the gallery space. I exchange small talk with a trendy art student in a pink hat. Our attention shifts to Muthi and Dr. El Putnam as they  introduce the performance as an in:Action event. The audience enter the space to sit or stand  in different areas of the gallery. The performers enter; Leann Herlihy wears a long flowing taupe coloured dress,  a large muzzle on her face and black boots on her feet. Rachel Rankin wears a long white cotton blouse, three quarter jeans cut at the knee and bare feet.  Ciara McKeon wears skin coloured stockings covered with a Little Mermaid mini skirt. She wears a matching Little Mermaid sports bra and a pink wig on top of her natural brunette hair

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Leann Herlihy as ‘The Prisoner’
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Rachel Rankin as ‘The Mother’

 

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Ciara McKeon as ‘ The Mermaid’

McKeon lays on the cluster of the small pink amd white stone sediments as if she is lying on the beach like a mermaid. Her movements are slow, subtle  & developmental. Herlihy walks around the space with a slow and heavy foot fall as if she were a prisoner limping along a path, she sings: ‘a tissue, a tissue we all fall down’, progressively, her plodding stammer of a walk transforms into a long stride as she shifts gear into a jog. She is like a whirlwind in the space building the energy in the room. Rachel Rankin holds her white flowing blouse in a bundle as if cradling a baby, her actions are subtle and introverted. Progressively over time the maternal image that Rankin portrays becomes clearer as she plays with a mountain of flower on the ground, as if she were on the beach with her children. Paula Fitzsimons unexpectedly bursts into the space wearing a smart black suit jacket and trousers. She heaves into the space a clear plastic bag of rocks, and uses them to create a path from the gallery door into the centre of the room. Fitzsimons seems to play the persona of an administrator as she walks on the black stones in her black boots; her main actions consist of sticking white flowers onto the NCAD gallery window with her saliva, blowing red powder onto a newspaper and interacting with the audience by asking them to read instructions from the palm of her hand.

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Paula Fitzsimons  ‘Black boots on Black Stones’

Over time each performer improvises with a new object; McKeon stuffs beet-roots into a stocking as if it they were ovaries passing through a fallopian tube, Rankin gazes intently on a  beetroot resting on her hand, while Herlihy furiously runs around the room clasping the jar of beet-roots to her breast when she bumps into Rankin. Smash. Crimson beetroot juice stained flour splatters out in shells of glass across the space.

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The afterlife of performance: beetroot juice stained flour & shards of glass

 

After the performance…

The performers reach a natural conclusion to their improvisations. Throughout the performance the audience were moving from one part of the room to the other. There is no one focal point so the audience are given the freedom to watch whichever performer that catches their attention. Although performing individually, the actions of  McKeon,  Fitzsimons, Herlihy and  Rankin complement one another energetically. In general;  Fitzsimons and Herlihy are the more extroverted performers. Heirlihy generates energy by running in the space while Fitzsimons engages the audience through participatory cues.  McKeon and Rankin explore a more subtle level of performance where their energy is more developmental than the others. This basic contrast of performance styles creates a dynamic in the room where I was neither distracted nor bored.

The performers leave the space. The audience members, writers and photographers also leave. What is left behind – broken glass and crimson stained flower on the gallery floor – are the ‘traces’ or the ‘afterlife’ of the performance. This ‘afterlife’ opens up the possibility of a new gallery piece independent of the performers.

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The panel discussion

The audience, performers, writers & panel members enter the seminar room adjacent to the NCAD gallery for the post-show discussion.  Muthi and Putnam chair the discussion with the panel members: Nigel Rolfe, Dr. Sarah Pierce,  Dr. Hilary Murrary and Paula  Fitzsimons. I open my notes:

‘Performers score = precise & repeatable structure of actions

Performers score = action (eg. playing a persona, text, movement,  use of objects & materials)

Performers score = symbolic play of actions & materials = generation of meaning   

Performer’s score:

 In Theatre = script + blocking + use of costume, props & set 

In Dance = choreography + use of costume, props & set

In Martial Arts = sequence of attack & defence

In Live Art = performer’s improvised actions (inspired by a central  concept) + use of costume, objects & material  

Dynamic relationship between structure + improvisation through the score = performer’s flow – performer’s presence & ‘nowness’

In Live Art performer’s score is  much less codified than that  of a dancer for example & is largely improvised but driven by  a central concept    

Dramaturgy = Montage

Montage = intersecting performers scores = stage images= architecture of meaning =  frame of reference  that structures the audience’s experience  that allows audience to interpret meaning in  the performance

Dramaturgy in: 

Theatre: Actor’s intersecting scores + costumes + props + set + sound effects + lighting effects

Dance: Dancer’s intersecting scores  + costumes + props + set + sound effects + lighting effects

 

Live Art: Anticipation – Actualisation: Performers intersecting scores + materials + objects. In Live Art, dramaturgy, generally, ‘rises & falls’ ‘manifests & dissolves’ as the creative potential of a material is exhausted & performers move on to the next improvisation. Whereas in dance & theatre, generally, the dramaturgy is consistently maintained due to the codified nature of the performer’s scores.

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Individual scores creating a larger ephemeral dramaturgy

Looking up from my notes, I tune back into the panel discussion. Muthi is clarifying her central thesis: that live art discourse has generally focused on the performer’s body and the politics of embodiment, while now there is now an opportunity to shift the discussion to the use of materials and objects within live art. That these materials are the ‘traces’ or ‘afterlife’ of the performance that have their own performative dimension and post-performance can become the site for an exhibition independent of the performers.  Fitzsimons  adds that the objects that she incorporates into her work are deeply personal and so to introduce unfamiliar materials into her practice would fundamentally change the nature of her work.

The panel come to the general consensus that the essential quality of performance art is ‘nowness’ and ephemerality. The immediacy of the performer & the observer in shared space and time. These thoughts are echoed by theatre directors Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook that emphasise the direct relationship between audience and actor as the essential component in theatre.

The conversation takes many twists and turns as the panellists discuss the curation of live art and the inherent conventions embedded within the gallery space. In this regard the gallery is much like a theatre where audience members lean how to relate to the art work through a history of convention brought to life in the present moment through the inaction of the performance. In the theatre for example, audience members have learned to applaud the actors at the curtain call while in live art observers have learned that they can change their position in the gallery space as if they are viewing a visual art piece.

After, the panel conversation continues at the pub where we discuss the possibility of how live art can be taught as a practice. Theatre, dance & music academies fore example abound with pedagogical approaches to learning & teaching, so why not Live Art? Live Art has a documented performance history arguably traced back to the late 1930’s with Jackson Pollock’s action paintings and I have personal experience of studying performance art in University.

Two pints down and walking towards Christ Church, I reflect and my mind keeps on coming back to the rise and fall of dramaturgy in Live Art.

The Rise & Fall of  Dramaturgy in Live Art

Montage is ‘to compose’, ‘to put with’, ‘to mount, to put together’, ’to weave actions together’ & ‘to create the play” (Barba: 2006: 178). Composition is the arrangement of performative actions & materials put in relation to one another to create a dramaturgy. Dramaturgy is the architecture of meaning, a frame of reference or a doorway into the performance world that allows the audience to experience and interpret the live event.

The performer engages in a process of composition as he or she arranges the materials and actions of their performance into a score. A director embarks upon a similar process when editing all the performer’s scores in relation to one another to create the overall dramaturgy of the piece. (Barba: 2006: 178)

Although I am writing in response to a Live Art event, theatre director Eugenio Barba’s observations  on dramaturgy and montage are relevant to all artistic and cultural events. The purpose of art , from an ancient Greek perspective is to uplift the spirit by connecting with beauty – beauty with a capital ‘B’ where art works like that of Michelangelo’s David or The Sistine Chapel, for example, are earthly  embodiments of an archetypical or primordial idea of Beauty residing in the Jungian notion of The Collective Unconscious. Perhaps this classical formulation on the purpose of art has ben challenged by post – modern and post – structuralist theory in its deconstruction of Enlightenment Values, yet , the essential purpose of art as a means to generate meaning and meaningful experiences remains. Therefore, the craft of creating dramaturgy is  an essential vehicle in this process.

Traditional genres of art will generate and communicate meaning through conventional forms whereas more experimental art such as live art will achieve this through a more improvisational form. In both cases, however, a dramaturgy or an architecture of meaning is constructed by the artists as a vehicle in which audience members can experience, interpret anc perceive value in the work.

In my attempts to record the performers scores from Anticipation: Actualisation, I eventually gave up when I reached the fifth page of my note book. Unlike a classical actor or dancer, a performance artist won’t be able to precisely repeat their performance score. In live art the dichotomy between structure anc improvisation favours improvisation where performative actions are driven from a central concept rather than a codified set of actions.

My experience of Anticipation: Actualisation was the ‘rise & fall of dramaturgy,’ ‘a bleeding effect’ of slowly progressive  striking images that engaged my attention as performers explored the creative possibilities of the material. These striking images provided a temporary dramaturgy, an ephemeral  interpretive frame in which my subjective experiences were filtered through to spark associations in my imagination. The strongest moments of the performance where when artists improvised together to clarify – and bolster the stage image through interactive and improvised scores. The exciting aspect of watching the‘ rise & fall’ of dramaturgy at this  live art event was that both audience member and performer alike where discovering the creative potential of the materials together. Neither observer nor performer knew the result of the artist’s actions and therefore the immediacy of the moment was palpable.

This ‘rise & fall of dramaturgy’ through the ‘bleeding effect’ of striking images in Anticipation: Actualisation was like watching a red dye slowly casting a crimson shadow over clear water until there was enough information for the brain to interpret  the image as ‘blood in water’.

The interaction between the performer’s actions and objects were essential in developing these scores that would produce striking images and ephemeral dramaturges in-order for audience members to engage with.

Muthi’s thesis of opening up more discussion into the materiality of performance art asks performers, audience members and theorists alike to re-evaluate what kind of interactions takes place between artist and observer, ultimately asking: What is the purpose of performance art? If the ancient Greek formulation: to connect with Beauty with a capital ‘B’ has been challenged through postmodern discourse then performance artists must find an adequate replacement.

The generation of meaning and the creation of meaningful experiences crafted though a clear dramaturgy seems to me like a good place to start.

I feel that an interdisciplinary approach to performance making is necessary where theatre directors and performance artists share their practice. Performance artists are very good at creating embodied and visually striking images, while theatre directors have the dramaturgical eye to sequence those images to tell a compelling story through the body and the materiality of performance.

Reference:

Barba & Savarese (2005),  A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology: The Secret Art of the Performer, Routledge, Oxon

 

This is the first essay of a series invited respondents to Anticipation: Actualisation, which is the first performance event to be organised by in:Action editors EL Putnam and Sara Muthi. It took place on 21 March at the NCAD gallery and involved performers Ciara McKeon, Paula Fitzsimons, Léann Herlihy, and Rachel Rankin. The post-performance panel included Nigel Rolfe, Sarah Pierce, and Hilary Murray. Stay tuned for further written responses to the event by Francis Halsall, Tara Carroll, and Jesse Hopkins. Photography by Misha Beglin.

Jack Beglin is a youth theatre facilitator, arts administrator, and visiting scholar to the department of contemplative performance at Naropa University, Boulder, Colarado U.S.A (2016), Jack is interested in the intersection of theatre & live art. Writer at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2011),  The National Student Drama Festival (UK: 2011), The  Manchester Flare Festival of New & Experimental Theatre (2016 & 2017), and The Dublin Live Art Festival (2017).

 

Encountering response; responding to encounter

by Natalie Pullen

Four performance artists; all female. An eclectic, random assortment of materials and props. A live audience. One hour in a formal gallery space. These are the predetermined conditions of Anticipation:Actualisation at the NCAD Gallery, creating a performer’s playground for four individual, spontaneous, un-predetermined performances to unfold alongside and amongst each other.

The audience clings to the walls, encircling the designated performance space in the centre of the room, defined as much by the toppled plinth, the glass jars, newspaper, lard, and many other materials as by the artists who inhabit it.

I sneak in and move to a gap by the window, quietly lower my bags, I freeze, embarrassed, when a coin drops from my bag and clangs to the floor.

I scan the room:

There’s a young woman methodically moving a pile of flour, from ground to arms, and back again.

Another in a pink bikini and bright pink wig. Both legs bound by one leg of a pair of sheer tights; a mermaid gazing out to sea from the shore. Except she is sitting and moving in a pile of pink salt, which is painful and nasty.

The third in plain white with a dog muzzle over her face. She starts circling the room softly singing ring a ring o’ roses, increasingly become louder, faster, more manic. She above all feels like something I’ve seen before; the mad woman.

These pieces of art all begin to evolve within the same space and timeframe, but each on a slightly different frequency, or plane of reality. As an audience member you slip in and out of these alternate frequencies, entering the narrative of one performer and then easily moving onto the next when the point of focus shifts. The ‘mad woman’ drops a glass jar and it shatters, my focus swings away from the dreamy pink mermaid and into this sudden violent explosion.

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In one of his essays on beauty, ‘Prom Night in Flatland’, which I was reading the same week as I attended this event, Dave Hickey makes reference to the “fourth wall” that a certain group of late eighteenth-century French painters (Greuze, Vernet, Van Loo…) would endeavour to drop down the picture plane, effectively sealing the scene off from the viewer, and putting them into the non-participatory position of “objective moral observer” (1993, pp. 43–4). All eras of painting have utilised this wall, inviting the viewer into the scene, or intimidating them out of it. I consider that it is an ongoing struggle for performance artists to overcome or dissemble this wall that keeps their audience at a safe, sterile distance from their work. Everything the artist does relates in some way to this wall, playing to or against it. Currently I am comfortably settled in the ‘audience sphere’, in a predetermined plane outside of the performance.

A woman in black sweeps in and out of the room freely, pausing at a point and then leaving. I momentarily wonder if she is a part of this performance, playing the part of ‘curator’, so definite are her movements. Her freedom of movement makes clear her status as an organiser or facilitator of the event, she has a right to the sacred performance ground. She attracts my attention because her movements fragment the distinct worlds between art and viewer. She is neither in the performance, nor fully out.

There is a hierarchy of art-viewers, audience-members, emerging. The photographers too have license to move freely, in the noble cause of getting the best shot.

What the audience does and doesn’t do when confronted by a piece of live art comes up in the panel discussion following the performance. The performance artists on the panel express the frustration of trying to shake a viewer out of their passive role. Nigel Rolfe states that there are two types of audience members; those that cling to the walls, and those that don’t.

I feel embarrassed at my embarrassment when my coin fell.

In response to the critical tone against timid viewers, Sarah Pierce says a rather lovely thing about considering attentive presence over the period of the hour as a valid form of participation. An immediate sense of relief, a space opens up.

The fourth artist has arrived, late and loud. She is pouring black shiny stones from a heavy sack before her, forming a pathway into the room. In doing so she forces her way from the outside, through our audience-sphere, into the performance-sphere by physically building her own path. Once ‘in’, she doesn’t stay put; she’s smashed her way through the invisible walls and can now move freely. She moves around the viewers’ circle, playing something on her phone which she holds to each viewer’s ear. One by one they get up and walk – confident, self-conscious, or amused – to the other side of the room.

Later, she has a bowl of dry leaves or flowers. Slowly, intensely, and somewhat repulsively, she presses them to her tongue and then sticks them to the window. She makes eye contact with me during the act. I feel included.

She’s successfully mobilised the sleepy audience, establishing dominance and creating a feeling of suspense. Now we’re forced to encounter the situation in an altered way, and waiting to see what she’s going to do now that she’s established control. It feels vulnerable leaving your position on the other side of the fourth wall, no longer protected by formal gallery protocol.

She continues her slobbery ritual, and I check in with the other artists.

Pink mermaid is wrapping a roll of cling film around her lower body; her tail being upgraded.

The woman with the flour is quiet—still—she has something round in her mouth.

Mad Woman is sitting against the blocks rhythmically rubbing a slab of lard through her hair, soon it’s clogged and white with fat.

Suddenly, un-expectedly, she picks up a white bedsheet and approaches a viewer sitting in front of me and asks if she can rip it. There’s a struggle; the audience member takes this task seriously. The woman sitting next to us fumbles for a key to help. There’s a slight feeling of panic rising, the wall has been broken, one of our own has been given a distinct task to complete, what if she can’t do it? How long will she keep trying before it gets really awkward?

The sheet rips and Mad Woman takes one end and hurries off with it, pulling the sheet apart.

The moment has passed, and soon she’s back circling the room again.

Anticipation:Actualisation made explicit the conditions surrounding live art, reminding me to consider the big questions: how does and should a viewer encounter a piece of work, specifically painting and performance?

I go on a date with a computer scientist, I’m telling him about the RHA open submission, and how thousands of artworks will be anonymously judged. He wonders if a robot could be programmed to screen the artworks for passable features and filter them into a more manageable next round that would be judged by people. Outraged, I fluster; but encountering a piece of art is a human, bodily, experience! Technology is not capable of this experience! The whole point of art is for human beings to encounter it!

He looks frightened.

Leaving the panel discussion I peep through the glass doors of the NCAD gallery; the people are gone and what remains is the physical evidence of their movements through the materials that filled the space. Heaped flour, shattered glass, slimy leaves on the window pane, a mangled stick of lard, pink pigment with letters scribed into it, and a path of shiny black stones leading you in the scene. It’s very beautiful, and quiet, a messy map of what has occurred here, an after-image. Very much like a painting I realise. A painting may be considered as the material evidence of the artist’s physical movements, after the act. Performance, rather, invites the viewer into the physical act itself, and in doing so sometimes makes the viewer implicit in the end result. In this case there was an encounter between artists and materials, and there were witnesses. Where the lines between art-maker and art, art-maker and art-maker, viewer and art, viewer and art-maker began and ended up is difficult to definitively say.

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Anticipation: Actualisation is the first performance event to be organised by in:Action editors EL Putnam and Sara Muthi. It took place on 21 March at the NCAD gallery and involved performers Ciara McKeon, Paula Fitzsimons, Léann Herlihy, and Rachel Rankin. The post-performance panel included Nigel Rolfe, Sarah Pierce, and Hilary Murray. Stay tuned for further written responses to the event by Francis Halsall, Tara Carroll, Jack Beglin, and Jesse Hopkins. Photography by Misha Beglin.

 

Reference

Hickey, D., 1993. Prom Night in Flatland, in: The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. Art Issues Press, Los Angeles.