Between the Troubles and Brexit

by EL Putnam

Since 2008, the Performance Monthlies have been a key activity for the Belfast-based performance art group Bbeyond. Each performer works individually, though they evolve “alongside each other, singular yet part of the whole. By opening up the possibility of accepting and responding to someone else’s actions, an ethics of encounter emerges.”[1] Notably, performing as a group in a public space has an explicitly political function in post-conflict Belfast. Karine Talec points out how in this “context of heavy surveillance and division, many artists in Northern Ireland feel compelled to question the priorities of public space.”[2] While the actions themselves may not appear explicitly political or critically engaging with the dynamics of Northern Ireland or Belfast, merely the act of presenting a performance gesture or action functions as an aesthetic rupture that defies the implied performance of a space. The implications of these actions are more than providing disruptions to the flow of everyday life, but as Talec describes: “these poetic embodied experiences can be both liberating and healing, their connective nature encouraging a reflection on ideas of community, participation, and dialogue.”[3] The Performance Monthly is fuelled by intuitive play where independent simultaneous actions blend into collective actions, sometimes intentionally and in other instances through co-presence.

12764562_236086486733235_7480997428466975107_o.jpg

12764304_236086433399907_2050116129406245376_o.jpg

In February 2016, Bbeyond had planned to form a parade in honour of the 100th anniversary of the opening of Cabaret Voltaire and the beginnings of Dadaism. However, a Protestant-Loyalist or Unionist parade of the No 710 Ulster Defenders of the Realm (which Northern Ireland’s Parade Commission, the regulating bodies for parades, designated as “Sensitive”) was scheduled to take place that day along our same route. A last-minute decision was made by Bbeyond to not proceed as planned, due to the possibilities of our actions being misinterpreted by Loyalist march participants and bystanders as mockery — a risk we were not willing to take.  Bowing out of an act that could have been interpreted as political is not a gesture of self-censorship, but an intentional selection of framing the meaning of the work and allowing Bbeyond to continue to occupy the liminal space of disruption that it inhabits. This change in plan allowed Bbeyond to rupture the day, which according to Brian Patterson (one of the founders of Bbeyond), introduced confusion for some witnesses who came to our location to take part in the parade, but were unable to fit Bbeyond into a category of either loyalist or nationalist. Our display of bulky costumes and sounds drew attention, but the intentions were unclear based on the binary logic of Northern Irish parade culture, which is divided between loyalist and nationalist expressions of solidarity. Thus, the non-specific political nature of Bbeyond’s Performance Monthlies can also be considered a strategic response to the overt expressions of political sentiments that informed the bifurcated violence of The Troubles and continues to be manifest through the spectacle of Parade Culture in Northern Ireland.

12771675_236086336733250_5602570911960583107_o.jpg

This is an excerpt from a paper given by EL Putnam at the PQ Symposium “Porous Borders” in the Czech Republic, 13 October 2017. The full title is “Between the Troubles and Brexit: The Minor Gestures of Bbeyond as Aesthetic Ruptures in Public Space.” Photos by Jordan Hutchings.

[1] Karine Talec, “Bbeyond and the Art of Participation,” in Performance Art in Ireland: A History, ed. Áine Phillips (London and Bristol: Live Art Development Agency and Intellect Books, 2015), 103.

[2] Talec, 103.

[3] Talec, 104.

Advertisements

The Public Diary

by Sara Muthi

In today’s ever increasing digital society the use of pen and paper is becoming less frequent. While this is unfortunate, it does allow us to be more appreciative of the few opportunities we have to sit down and temporarily let our hand take over our mind. Such is the experience of Milena Matejko’s The Public Diary as part of the First Fortnight Festival 2018.

The First Fortnight Festival is Ireland’s leading mental health arts festival, giving us an opportunity at the beginning of every year to reflect and be kind to ourselves, make positive decisions and start the year off on the right foot. The Public Diary gives us ample opportunity to release our inner thoughts or creative energy in a safe communal space, without fear of judgment as all visitors have a communal understanding, and perhaps a subconscious need for such a place of acceptance to exist.

Initially The Public Diary was an interactive installation developed by Matejko in which notebooks were installed in each public toilet as an opportunity for the public to express their thoughts, troubles and experiences through writing and sketches. Such conceptual projects which depend on public response as an outcome can often be hit or miss, however the need for such a project was quickly realised when the notebooks began running out of pages. The ingredient to the project’s success laid in its activation of catharsis; the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

DSC_0010-2.jpg

The First Fortnight Festival picked up this work and facilitated it on a greater scale at the site of their 2017 festival in the Smock Alley Theatre. Here, a collection of entries were built, consisting of intricate drawings to humorous doodles to serious confessions to encouraging words, all of which rang relatable to most who experienced the work. Such a library of public entries could no longer be held onto by Matejko and needed a widespread showcase. Picked up for a second year the First Fortnight Festival 2018 enabled an interactive installation of such entries on a large scale, grand prints highlighting the most bold, personal and impactful entries that wrap the space of the Culture Box while projected images of entries run on a loop. Entries range from “”i love my friend more than my girlfriend”, “occasionally i feel like the loneliest person in the world” and my personal favorite “i bought a pair of jeans for 29 euro just now because i was ashamed to come into the theatre with a tracksuit on”. Such a grand portrayal of peoples intimate thoughts and expression resonates the fact that your own intimate thoughts are not your own, but are shared between countless others around you. There lies in the impact of Matejko’s project.

When the private becomes public one of two things can happen, shame or empowerment. Shame only occurs at a level in which the private was made public without our consent or intention; a regrettable circumstance. No one wants their private diaries to be publicised. Empowerment on the other hand is much different. By articulating your thoughts and expressing your energies in a in a public book you are taking control of your thoughts, both good and bad, in a gesture that solidifies to you and everyone who reads or takes part that they too are not alone. Confidence and strength in your humanity is the goal, an achievement none of us can claim 100% of the time, but as projects like The Public Diary remind us to strive and promote.

DSC_0057.jpg

Through facilitating and now exhibiting this creative means of expression as a library of public diaries Matejko aims to build connection, compassion and a sense of relatability to those around you. With hopes of encouraging the public to share further and add to the building library of creative expression The Public Diaries’ work is not done, nor can it end until every mental health stigma perpetuated in our society is exposed as untrue. Matejko creates a safe, comfortable space in which the public can engage with the work on a deeper contemplative level, a project who’s success is a testament to the dire need for more safe opportunism to share can be facilitated and a testament to the important work the First Fortnight Festival is contributing to our society.

The Public Diary project was developed by Milena Matejko, curated by Sara Muthi. Part of the First Fortnight Festival 2018, exhibited at the Culture Box at 12 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, the show runs from 5th January to 20th of January 2018. Photography by Milena Matejko.

Exchanging Embers

by Roisin Jenkinson

I stepped into a semi darkened room partitioned in the middle (performers and installation on the inner side, audience on the outer side) with intriguing, at times unsettling, sounds played by David Stalling, while EL Putnam first appeared covered head-to-toe by a dark cloak. I took a spot on the floor, engrossed by her slow and precise movements, as she slowly lifted the cloak to pier out at the audience, to then remove and drop the cloak on the floor, where it remained for the rest of the performance and had become forgotten as we became transfixed by EL and her skirt decorated with lights.

On the darkest day of our calendar year, that is when the magic happened. Ember was a captivating and intoxicating performance of light, sound and the body that transported me to another world. EL interacted with two small cameras that were strategically placed on the floor before her, by distancing herself to closing in on each of the cameras, to tenderly yet decisively picking up each camera and moving it around her body, to holding it close to the lights she wore. This translated to all manner of colours which were projected, through two projectors, onto the entire wall behind EL and David, and also onto themselves, creating a temporal painting. It was aesthetically exquisite.

As EL responded through movement to David’s sound composition, creating a dialogue between them, there was an inquisitive nature to EL’s movements, such as reaching out a hand as if there is something just beyond our physical and mental capacity. This could suggest that I had been reading into the performance too deeply, but then I ask the question, why do we perform? There are many other ways to communicate other than speaking. When we perform, we create a dialogue revolving around a certain topic and between certain people. We learn from each other and learn from ourselves. In regard to Ember, perhaps we have not found the words to articulate the experience and emotions this performance evoked, however through movement and sound, something in each of us (performers and audience) has been realised and translated through colour and beauty.

To understand more completely and carry the energy first lit by EL and David, allow Embers to exist in your daily conversations. Exchange thoughts on the visual aspect of this performance and performance art in general, but also on the spiritual unseen aspect, the winter solstice, celtic heritage, and ultimately, where we come from and where we are going. What is this unknown other we reach for?

Ember17-1

The artist’s response

by EL Putnam

At the heart of Ember is an ineffability — an inability to express something in words. This something is an angst; not anxiety in the sense of fearfully fretting about, but in the sense described by Heidegger in Being and Time as a quality of uncanniness and indefiniteness, the nothing and nowhere, that corresponds with being in the world.[1] The particular intersection I inhabit in Ember is that between the corporeal and the digital, with the digital as a mode of expression and mediation. My aim is to navigate this terrain—a space that has become mundane in our culture of ubiquitous computing and social media. However, it is a space that doesn’t cease to surprise and provoke me as an artist and a human being, resulting in an ambivalent relationship with digital technology where I am both excited and disturbed by its capabilities.

Thus in Ember I turn to gesture as a means of communicating what I am unable to put into words. Giorgio Agamben describes how gesture is “essentially always a gesture of not being able to figure something out in language.”[2] Gestures are the actions taken when we are unable to articulate or are at a loss of what to say. At the same time, Agamben describes how gestures are actions as means without ends — a mode of performing that is not working towards a specific outcome or finality. I find a lot of potential in this space of mediality and it is a space that attracts me as a performance artist. As I create images of light and shadow using my body as the manipulator, David Stalling crafts sounds that respond to and drive my actions. I am caught in the middle of a simulation of fire, designed to emulate smoldering coals that are at the brink of being extinguished or re-ignited. I am intrigued by the images created in this scene, using the tools of fiber optics and the two webcams feeding into the slitscan projections that fill the space. At first my intention was to remain static, to let my subtle movements slowly coerce the fiber optics in relation to the cameras placed at my feet. I found these parameters to be too constraining, however, and so I decided to pick up the cameras, further integrating the relationship between the bodily and digital gestures. As I lift these cameras with one in each hand, connected by a wire to the Raspberry Pis that are generating the images, I am reminded of the infamous photograph emerging from Abu Ghraib years ago, when awareness was brought to the torture of prisoners in the prison in Iraq. I wonder if anyone picks up on this reference. I pause in the moment; letting it linger, but not exhausting it. Later, an audience member mentions to me in an email the evocation of the image and how it conveyed vulnerability, though this vulnerability is hybridized with images of power.[3] I find this description appropriately captures some of the seemingly paradoxical emotions driving the performance.

I continue my actions, cultivating a gestural dialogue with David through light and sound, bringing together the two cameras and holding them at my abdomen, where the brightest source of light sits. I realise that the relationship of the cameras to my body is similar to an ultrasound during an antenatal scan, which makes me smile as I was 16 weeks pregnant at the time of this performance. At that point, I was not visibly pregnant, and few audience members knew of my state, so I was aware that this reference would not be caught by many witnesses, if at all. That does not bother me as I claim a right to opacity[4] in my work as an artist; an ability to express without having to be explicit though still capable of engaging with others.

Roisin notes in her response to the performance how there are moments where I reach out to the audience, though it is unclear what I am trying to reach out to. Since I was performing in front of the projectors, the brightness of these lights inhibited my ability to fully see who was present in that dimmed side of the room. As a way of drawing strength, I tried to engage a relationship to the audience through eye contact, though this was an impossible task as I was unable to clearly see who I was looking at. I compensated through bodily gestures as I lifted my arms to reach to what was beyond the limits of my visible perception. Roisin’s description of how this led her to consider why perform if not to explore other means of communication touches a key quality of the work. Much of what I am trying to express in Ember I am unable to do so verbally, though still desire to share. Emotional sensations, colour and beauty emanate from the gestural connections created through these moments. In the middle of all of this is an unknown, but an unknown that is experienced mitsein — being together.

 Ember17-9

Ember by EL Putnam and David Stalling, a co-production with the Complex, was performed at the Ground Floor Gallery on 21 December 2017. Photographs are by Paul McGrane.

 

[1] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 176.

[2] Giorgio Agamben, Means Without End, trans. Vincenzo Binetti (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 59.

[3] Glenn Loughran, “Personal Correspondence with Author,” January 10, 2018.

[4] See Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

Fertile Ground: Maternal Entanglements in the work of EL Putnam (excerpts)

By Dr. Kate Antosik-Parsons, Research Associate UCD Humanities Institute

EL Putnam’s captivating artworks of performance, sound, video and interactive digital technologies interrogate citizenship and social responsibility and explore materiality while considering gender and sexuality from multiple perspectives. […] Originally from the United States, Putnam’s move to Ireland in 2013 saw the themes present in her work incorporate insightful observations on the historical, political and cultural specificities of Ireland. This has been underscored by her experiences of becoming a mother in Ireland, resulting in motherhood, the act of mothering and maternal subjectivity emerging as critical points of engagement.

[…]

FertileGround-1.jpg

Fertile Ground (2017) was an intriguingly nuanced live art work composed of different media that entwined multiple perspectives of motherhood with embodied actions and deftly woven symbolism. Throughout the performance the artist held an object, the particulars of which emerged as the work progressed. A ‘pomegranate’, it was a medium-sized circular wooden embroidery hoop covered with black cloth onto which was a series of thin, stainless steel conductive thread and motion sensor LEDs were sewn. Sensing movements of Putnam’s body imperceptible to the viewer, the LEDs responded by translating these movements into different patterns of red, orange and white lights. The effect was hypnotic, particularly as the initial depravation of sight in the darkened gallery left one longing for the reassurance of visual information.

Putnam’s artistic practice juxtaposes traditional crafts with cutting edge digital technology. A skill learned from her mother, knitting was an important element in Status (2009), Doll Games (2010) and Deferral II (2011), as the historically gendered craft was used to explore different aspects of futility by creating and later unravelling knots of exaggerated sizes or large chains of I-cords. Knitting reemerged more recently in Enough Rope (2015), as Putnam wore a knitted harness that responded to the movements of her lower body in a live performance that examined the complexities of mothering in a foreign culture. In Fertile Ground, the use of ‘wearable electronics’ replaced the tactile yarn with a Flora microcontroller and motion sensor LEDs embedded into fabric. Despite incorporating seemingly disparate media, her work renders visible underlying similarities between the two, specifically in terms of process. Both knitting by pattern and using online DIY guides to programme wearable electronics rely on the experiential aspect of knowledge. In Putnam’s work this resulted in an embodied knowledge that held significant potential in terms of how ‘sensory’ information is received and transmitted from the maternal body to the viewer.

FertileGround.jpg

In Fertile Ground light, quite literally, illuminated an important figure ground relationship that shifted over the course of the performance. In composing an artwork, the perception of the figure against the ground is reliant on distinguishing the subject from the background. Ambiguity occurs when the figure cannot be clearly demarcated from background, opening up a possibility of multiple viewpoints. Although live art usually incorporates different modes of relationality, in Fertile Ground, the figure ground ambiguity, a result of the artist’s black clothing and the darkened space, initially produced anxiety. As the video projected against the wall increasingly delineated the body of the artist, the initial ambiguity dissolved. However, it then became apparent that her figure had split in two, for cast behind her was her shadow, an Other. The splitting of the self resonates with the ways in which Fertile Ground explore the multiple perspectives offered on the relationship between mother and daughter throughout the performance. In a sense, the figure ground relationship became the fertile ground upon which the dialogues of reproduction, maternity and the mother-child relationship are entrenched.

The passage of time was signified by the clicking sound of the metronome, a rhythmic replication of a heartbeat. Coupled with Putman’s calls of ‘cuckoo’, it referenced a cuckoo clock. In the context of maternal subjectivity, it was reminiscent of the different temporalities mothers experience, and when combined with the projected video and LED pomegranate, it signified pregnancy, namely the gestational development from fertilised egg to birth. In Greek mythology, the cuckoo is a symbol of virginal Hera who was tricked into a relationship with Zeus when he adopted the guise of a cuckoo. Though goddess of marriage and childbirth, Hera’s spiteful and duplicitous actions against Zeus’s numerous children from different mothers rendered her a flawed maternal figure. Interestingly, the common cuckoo is also a troubling maternal figure for it is a brood parasite; it slyly lays its eggs in the nests of other species for host parents to raise. The cuckoo hatchlings, often larger than the hosts’ own young, require greater portions of food to the detriment of other hatchlings, who are thrown from the nest if the cuckoo’s demands are not met.[1] The connections between the unseemly maternal figures of Hera and the cuckoo are interesting in terms of the ways in which Irish society historically categorized women, separating those who were, or indeed, would become, ‘suitable’ mothers from those society deemed ‘unfit’, for example unwed women who were punished for their perceived sexual transgressions to maternity homes known as Mother and Baby homes, where their children were adopted often without consent, or incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries. Fertile Ground highlighted the complicated entanglements of maternal subjectivity while serving to subvert idealized tropes of motherhood that construct the cultural norm.

 

[1] Stevens, Martin. (2013) “Bird Brood Parasitism.” Current Biology, Vol. 23. Issue 20. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982213010312

 

EL Putnam presented Fertile Ground as part of “Fertile Ground” at Fumbally Exchange in Dublin, April 2017, curated by Ciara McKeon. Photography by Fiona Killeen (www.blueprintphotography.ie).

Mythology, Authenticity, Representation & Psychosis

by Sara Muthi

Sirens, according to Greek mythology, were deadly mermaid like creatures who seduced sailors into shipwreck with their enchanting voices and echoing music. While no audience member was hurt in the making of this performance, all of us in the room were lured into a drawn circle. Huddled together the sheer dressed seductive figure of Tara Carroll slowly circled and circled and circled the audience to an uncanny, transfixing soundtrack. Lifting up her dress slowly, without a hint of shame she lured us into her gaze. Suddenly and without hesitation her line of sight exists ours as Carroll turns a corner. Only then were we released from our temporary trance. This was just the beginning to what would become an eventful episode of Livestock; the bimonthly performance art platform.

Amber.Tara
Tara Carroll. Photograph by Amber Baruch.

Joan Somers Donnelly’s playful and scripted performance lecture speaks on the topic of authenticity. In today’s digitally curated age where the most flattering, and envy-inducing moments of our life are cropped and filtered to no end it’s become more difficult than ever to recognise what’s authentic within ourselves and within others. Accompanied by a spirited harpist, Anne Duvieuxbourg, Donnelly walks us through different iterations of what it means to be authentic: how to spot an authentic body, what we can do to check our own authenticity etc. Within the hustle and bustle of our day to day lives, having a light hearted reminder injected into your day about the importance of being true to yourself  has more impact than expected. Speaking to others in the audience I know I was not alone in appreciating that small nugget of wisdom.

Misha.Joan.JPG
Joan Somers Donnelly. Photograph by Misha Beglin.

As an enthusiast in performance art you inevitably expose yourself to a lot of different types of practice. Once your pool of knowledge becomes well equipped to differentiate your subjective opinion of what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ performance is you begin to be more critical of live art. I find art which seems to do little more than plainly illustrate a theory or concept isn’t particular stimulating, this is close to the impression I got from the work of Anne Ebeling.

Paralleling the actions of a life sized projection of herself Anne follows through a sequence of pre-performed actions agasint a wall, both in projection and live. My pondering of the work has brought me back time and time again to contrasting it as an iteration of Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965).

one-and-three-chairs.jpg
Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965)

Simply put Kosuth has arranged three representations of the concept “chair”. The physical manufactured object, a photograph and a printed definition. A ground-breaking work for its time and still highly influential in almost every discussion relating to the real and representation. Both Kosuth and Ebeling are making straight to the point, cut-and-dry visual statements on the tangible; Kosuth a chair and Ebeling her body. The contrast of the tangible to the digital representation seems to be something majorly at play here. While Kosuth’s work on the one hand can be condensed into a simple statement on representation, it also reaches more complex issues about the status of the art object, authorship and philosophy of representation. Ebelings work in contrast, to me, didn’t go much farther than a simple statement on representation. As a work in light of a larger developing practice there is much potential for important statement to be made on the representation of the body in performance practice, an area in live art that has not been critically explored enough.

Amber. Anne.jpg
Anne Ebeling. Photograph by Amber Baruch.

With a formula such as Livestock’s the performances tend to be more open to interpretation as there is (usually) no overarching theme of the live art on show, nor any available text associated with the performance to guide your interpretation any which way. With that said the following was my impression of Paula Guzzanti’s performance, or as we in the audience came to know her as “the bag lady”.

Misha. 1.JPG
Paula Guzzanti. Photographs by Misha Beglin.

With the booming sound of  a heartbeat filling the space, Paula Guzzanti balances horizontally on a chair in a foetal position caressing a bright red, soft object. Emerging from the dark her chair is revealed to be decorated with household fabrics and textiles. Stretching out and leaning back she holds the object to her stomach, slowly opening her legs the red objects falls off onto the floor and between her knees as if birthed. The object however has no life, it is not difficult to read the images to be that of a miscarriage. Following this Guzzanti performs a series of vaguely recognisable, non-sensical actions.

Misha. 2.JPG

Standing up on her throne she tries to balance but gets down. Using an unnecessarily careful touch she plays and moves the soft-red object around her body, hanging it from her arms, spinning it around, wrapping around her neck, running incessantly struggling to remove the object from around herself.

Misha. 3.JPG

Eventually it reaches her head and takes a sort of crown-like demeaner. Looking pretty pleased with herself, she does a quirky little dance, lifting her dress in a awkwardly seductive way to the audience, I saw a sense of blank desperation sitting in her eyes. This is not who this woman wants to be.

Misha. 4.JPG

Interpreting the symbols present in this performance leads me to see woman who has miscarried her child. Experiencing unimaginable trauma she creates a throne of domestic rags, the confetti of  her everyday life. A psychotic break creates the non-sensical actions, swishing, swooing, shuffling with the presence of her burden she cannot escape. Concluding the work, her burden latches onto her ankle, like a ball and chain she cannot escape, physically dragging her trauma wherever she tries to go.

 

Livestock: Get Real  featuring Robery Suchy, Austin Hearne, Anne Ebeling, Tara Carroll, Rob McGlade, Siobhan Kelly, Robbie Maguire, El Putnam, Paula Guzzanti, Joan Somers Donnelly, Aine O’Hara and Michal Lubinksi took place on October 30th, 2017 at the Complex. Curated by Eleanor Lawler and Francis Fay. Photography by Misha Beglin and Amber Baruch.  

Breath (taking)

by Sara Muthi

BREATHING OUT BREATING IN consisted of a stream of seamlessly curated image-making moments by six artists in one space, utilising the gallery as one canvas. Although loosely choreographed with a path and pit stops, the actions of the artists carried a genuine intensity to each image-making-process that, quite literally, took my breath away. While suffering from a persistent cough I had been conscious that I did not want my lung’s noises to take away from any moment of the performance. Ironically the subject of breathing was the backdrop to this event in the form of Nigel Rolfe’s Breath exhibition. The images exhibited were a result of Rolfe’s blowing of pigment on paper, an effect that had given an ease of lightness to them, literally that of breath. Two thin pins held up each work, giving the impression that a gush of wind could peal them off the wall at any moment.

1.jpg

The performing body is a complex construct and its use and manipulation of materials is integral to the analysis of every performance. However, one common factor constitutes all performance; a constant becoming without arrival. The pinned images have no sense of finality, only pause and this is reflected by each performance.

Playing a muted accordion Rolfe quietly interrupted the stillness of the room through the audible breath and slight whistle of the damaged instrument, mimetic of the subject matter at hand. Rustling deep into a white paper bag as if scrabbling to find something, a white powdered rope emerges and begins to wrap itself around Rolfe’s waist, contrasting white powder over his iconic black suit.

2.jpg
Nigel Rolfe

Paula Fitzsimons interrupts the space as she rips open the garbage bag she held, at which point a pile of stuffed animals are dropped centre-stage. Two bodies dressed in business formal attire engaging in acts seemingly not suitable for their visual status or age range— playing with dirty rope, caressing and gutting stuffed animals — creates a juxtaposition between action and expectations of self-representation. As Rolfe flings the rope anti-clockwise around himself it becomes undone. A third character enters the moment, Jade Blackstock, dressed equally as well, carrying a plate and setting it down alongside a generic bottle of milk. Finally free from the rope, Rolfe smoothly takes off his jacket and intentionally places it at the rope’s end. His spatially considerate and material based actions came to a halt yet did not disappear. Traces embodying images did not act as finalities to the action, only an intermission to give way to the next sequence of images to come.

Blackstock carries a white sack between her legs as it leaks a blood red juice, walking with difficultly and determination. A loud scream comes from her, a scream of something somehow unseen by us, yet her composure is neat, her posture is perfect, undeniably poised. An incompressible action occurs as Blackstock pours out the bottle of milk atop the shallow saucer, surely realising the flow of milk does not match the depth of her bowl and very quickly overflows. Blackstock lies down at the height of intrigue to make way for Alice Jacobs.

3.jpg
Alice Jacobs (Left), Jade Blackstock (Right)

Dressed in a black dress with a plunging décolletage Jacobs’ head is leaned back, raspberries seem to over-fill her mouth. Her posture is in check yet her demeaner seemed drunk; another juxtaposing action against the sense of her dress. In her hand a disco ball rocks back and forth on a string, dropping suddenly only to be shattered and picked up piece by piece. Held in the crook of her arm, she stares past the audience into a void. Suddenly she’s gone leaving no trace but the bobbles of fruit which fell around her feet. While no image was left by Jacobs, her intensity of stare left an impression that carried through the atmosphere as Blackstock simultaneously stands.

Blackstock did something interesting with her performance of becoming carried through into a moment in which it attempted still life. Maintaining a sumo stance she allows herself to be weighed down by the bleeding sack she clutched to her chest; a pose that made my own thighs weak just witnessing. Breathed out of this performance was a compelling contrast of liquid materials, an image  highlighting leakage and overflow.

4.jpg
Paula Fitzsimons (left), Jade Blackstock (right)
5.jpg
Jade Blackstoch’s Traces

Fitzsimons continues to gut, stack and cares the corpses of the lifeless toy animals. Eunjung Kim slowly and methodically steps into her material that she had been pouring out in the backdrop of the gallery. Not looking at her feet she begins to pace circularly atop the black sand and rice, introducing their unstable properties and lack of structure into each other. Matt Mahony Page struts into the space with a rushed attitude of unease. Following a puzzling sequence of actions he wraps a rope around a beam, pulling on the rope as if to secure its strength in supporting his weight, mission-impossible-style. He lies on his back and desperately pulls himself up against the coarse concreate floor. The exertion of action illustrates a fruitless, frivolous effort. An intervening gesture interrupts Page’s inverted climbing. As the artist pulls himself up against horizontal gravity a bristly brush scrapes on the highest points of his face, the nose, protruding tongue and chin.

6.jpg

7.jpg
Matt Mahony Page (on floor), Eunjung Kim (leaned over)

 

While the image created by this performance did not take form of a trace of material in the gallery, perhaps more interestingly it  took the form of impression upon the face of the artist, a scar easily read to be that of a rough brush. This impression will leave the gallery as opposed to being confined to the gallery space. Kim’s gesture becomes quicker as she got closer to the ground bending over with her arms out. Her gaze becomes low and she acts as the catalyst between the changing structure of these two highly intentional, specific materials in a potentially infinite action, leaving a galaxy-like image behind.

8.jpg
Eunjung Kim’s traces

The curation of the performances that made up the event as a whole allowed for enough attention to be given to each performance, while none taking away from the other. A task not easy to achieve, BREATHING OUT BREATHING IN consisted of actions that don’t merely disappear but have real-world complex manifestations both in the gallery and out. The intensity felt throughout the course of this performance had kept my cough at bay as my attention was locked on the subtle and intentional gestures of each performance. It wasn’t until the performance concluded that my breath had remembered it needed to sporadically pulse out of my chest again.

 

BREATHING OUT  BREATHING IN was part of Nigel Rolfe’s 8th solo show at the Green on Red Gallery, BREATH, curated by Jerome O’Driscoll. The performance was realised by six UK based artistsJade Blackstock, Paula Fitzsimons, Alice Jacobs, Eunjung Kim, Matt Mahony Page and Nigel Rolfe on Thursday, October 12th, 2017; curated by Nigel Rolfe and Paula Fitzsimons. Images by Sara Muthi.

Sandra Johnston, “Waiting Out”

by Fergus Byrne

Within moments she had commanded our attention.  The simple act of opening up the doors brought a change to the room. She sat waiting in the flood of light and put on a pair of sports shoes, football or track, hard to tell at a distance. Audience flocked closer when she went outside to shovel the rubble. Clay and bricks were thrown across the floor and poured on top of a pine table. On the floor lay a saw, a hammer and a champagne glass. In the middle of the room was a huge stage cleverly suspended on the four pillars of the room.

How to write of Sandra Johnson’s work at Catalyst and acknowledge the poetic relations she creates between objects and her body whilst conveying the extent to which my nerves tense with the fear that these images might tip over into accident? As I watched this performance, memories of others recurred to me. Johnson’s personal iconography is distinctive and I have begun to note the syntactical relation of objects and actions; how she has developed a very consistent language with domestic and found objects.  Seldom are they not integrated with physical action.

Cologne, Tues 30th Sept 2014; …grinds down thick white chalk in circles on the table, leaning into it and holding it onto her hips. Her own legs replace the side of the table as its connection to floor. Already a pushing of the materiality. Drops the table down to floor nicely aware of how it has fused with her waist, bends the knees to allow it to descend.[1]

Natural actions are extended beyond themselves to strike up images that reify the improbable. Only after the Catalyst performance did I remember that specific action from Cologne and realised its continuum in the treatment of the larger pine table.

Johnson works in both durational formats of several hours and shorter times, of under an hour. These shorter actions which an audience will view from start to finish generate great tension through the urgency of her action. It is as if the potential for evolution in a longer timeframe is compressed and by so doing we are compelled to watch every moment. Nothing is superfluous.

The unusually prominent stage presented a challenge to any performer. It worked well the night before at the FIX festival to carry sound vibrations through our bodies as we sat on it during Robert Curgenven’s work. But how to deal with it, when to ignore it and use the floor would not remove it from the audience’s perception? In the event Johnson began on the floor, introduced several objects, traversed the stage and reduced it to being one amongst the varied entities within the room.

There is great imagination at play in Johnson’s work. In Cologne the squeezing of an orange over a candle threatened its flame with the most delicate quenching. Then I was confronted by the harder image where the spray was above her eyes. And I sensed the sting of citrus. Or here at Catalyst the pragmatic sawing of the toe caps: an allusion to a fragile part of the body and conjured associations of discarded mittens. The training shoes had been found outside her home some time before. After some days they remained so she took them as an object for a future performance in keeping with a habit of always using a found or gifted object amongst her paraphernalia.[2]

The more subtle activity with objects occurs later in the work after the initial moments when the space is claimed – the chalkstick skimmed across the floor at The Mac, alerting the burbling audience that the performance has begun.[3] Or the tossing away of shoes in the Orangerie of Cologne, another vigorous gesture to lay the ground for the more considered unfolding of the work.

Cologne Tues 30th Sept 2014: The balancing of the candle on the knee does not work, so instead it is put between the toes. Takes off her belt and around her ankle buckles. Raises her foot and slides down the chair. Pulling the foot with her belt I see her attempting to dribble wax toward her eyes.

DSC_8875.jpg

Candles which I saw used in Cologne again featured at Catalyst.  Held between her toes she lifted her leg onto the table using her belt as a hoist. The leg became strangely disembodied; a candleholder attached to her torso.  Consequently she climbed upon the table following her leg. My perception of time slowed as she rose. The image formed of a woman balanced on one leg floating the other through space, a flickering candle gripped between toes.  The investment in the action brings vitality to the moment. Poise and balance becomes a persistent feature.

The table is inclined at 45°, leaning onto the stage. Having cut the toes off the shoes for better grip she stands upon it bouncing lightly on its surface. She drops to catch the top edge and holds herself in a press-up along its incline. One foot pressed onto the surface with the other crossed over it. I’ve seen this shape before, at The Mac; balanced atop three glasses, the body as an outstretched tripod of two hands and foot.

In the transitions between passages of activity there is no easing up of focus.  I watch her climb down from the table. Despite her foot being only inches from the ground she resists dropping down. No sudden junctures in motion from one point to another. A foothold within reach, the crossbar of the table, is found. By so doing there is no moment where her activity is relieved by a casual movement.  There is a tensegrity to the performance.[4] Although the scale is not architectural, the balancing of objects with the body engenders a mutual relation between performer and object. On top of this an atmosphere of acute observation by the audience brings us into an emotional tension with the physical action.

DSC_8893.jpg

All objects that were set out at the start were gradually brought into the equation.[5]  The passage through a space is a strong performance device that allows actions to evolve as a consequence of travel. By the end Johnson had crossed the room and engaged the entire space. The table was cartwheeled across the stage before being slid of onto the floor. At the far end of the room from where I now stood Johnson balanced on the table’s upturned end in movements that became quite gymnastic as she focussed her weight in relation to the apparatus. The actions had a quality of childlike inquiry pushed to a point where her body was just another element in the game. The movement was a puzzling out of how to get around this object without perhaps touching the feet to the floor.  Her immersion in this focussed state is compelling to watch. And nerve wracking because from outside we wonder how long the focus can be sustained. This is the measure against which she works, the creation of images that constantly draw upon complete engagement.  To lose focus has a double risk that of rupturing the performance and that of injuring the self.

On this occasion tension was rising as she hung from the cross brace of the table and kicked at its underside taunting it with the imprecation to move. The physics of an unfortunate table flip might only take a split second. With the conclusion of this I exhaled as she walked away having achieved a response from the table. It yielded by rotating on the floor.  To conclude she surveyed the space, picked up the toe cap of one shoe, walked over to the stage and set it down beside the other.  A reordering of all objects of the performance.

[1] This and other italicized text is taken from notes written soon after the Cologne performance.

[2] From a conversation with the artist.

[3] This action was from a performance at The Mac, Belfast on 11th Jan 2014

[4] Tensegritytensional integrity or floating compression is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.

The term was coined by Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s as a portmanteau of “tensional integrity” (Wikipedia).

I use the phrase here in a metaphorical way considering the emotional tension as a material entity.

[5] Thanks to Ciara McKeon for this observation made of the work as we discussed it afterwards.

Sandra Johnston performed Waiting Out as part of the 2017 FIX Festival at the Catalyst Art Gallery, Belfast, on Sunday 8 October. Images by Jordan Hutchings.