Your innovation can’t save us now

by EL Putnam

In 2016, eight years after the economy came to crashing halt and instigated the “Great Recession,” we have entered a state of intentional amnesia. Hence, Low Lying, developed by Ciara McKeon, Robbie Blake, and Jessie Keenan, is significant in that it draws our attention to the wreckage of the bubble bursting against the backdrop of a stilted recovery. The performance does not tell a story, but it asks spectators to consider the implications of our financial activities, pushed by massive overconsumption and claims of innovation. Dressed in articles of fast fashion clothing fresh from Penney’s rack, the performers blend musical composition with choreographed dance and performance action to create an eerily beautiful meditation. Located in the middle of the docklands, against a window that looks onto an incomplete building site claiming to be “Dublin’s new city centre,” emphasis is placed on the unfulfilled promises of growth. Voices echo through the chambers of the bare performance space, bouncing off the concrete structure at the corner of an apartment complex, serving as a cathedral to the free market. The harmony of voices is present yet fractured, as bodies move through the room like a herd of injured pigeons — an apt metaphor for the economic and urban infrastructure that has now overcome us, forcing us to adapt as we become the invasive species.

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The performers claim to not do anything blatant and this restraint is their strength. Instead they sing ballads to the glory of the Liffey as performers decay under their own weight; create an interpersonal web with the tape of audio cassettes; and clean the windows with Cif Cream Cleaner, which instead of making the view clearer, only obscures perception of the scene while filling with the room with a distinctive lemony scent. Watching the performers interact through sound, movement, and material emphasizes the significance of human exchange in our increasingly dehumanizing system where people are alienated from each other and modes of experience, where work is contracted, made precarious and celluarized, where the bonds of friendship are replaced with profit-generating clicks on social networks.

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It can perhaps be said that the performance presents a resigned position in its meditation on the economic crisis. Even in the tensions it provokes between beauty, the sublime of our collective economic fall from grace, and the decaying traces we leave in our wake, there are no claims to provide solution nor proclamations of hope. Right now, we don’t need a proclamation of hope — hope, while important, is not sufficient. We can proclaim hope as we spend our ways deeper into debt, fragment our job opportunities into unstainable precarious contracts, and sell off our public support systems. We can proclaim hope as we vote in politicians who perpetuate government actions that support the upper economic echelon at the expense of others. Hope is being privatized and commodified, entrenching us in modes of economic and social relations that ultimately disenfranchise us, and yet we keep doing it because despite perceptions of freedom of choice, our options are limited. Italian philosopher Franco “Bifo” Berdadi describes how we have traded our future for the comforts of a perpetual present as “corporate capitalism and neoliberalism have produced lasting damage in the material structure of the world and in the social, cultural, and nervous systems of humankind.”[1] Low Lying opens an aesthetic encounter within the wreckage of this collapse, emphasizing the significance of maintaining the human touch. As we wade through the social fabric that enshrouds us, we must maintain these human bonds, for it is with these interconnections that we can identify the structural weaknesses of society and capture the propensity for change.

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Low Lying was presented as part of the 2016 Dublin Fringe Festival. Performed by the creators, visual artist Ciara McKeon, choreographer Jessie Keenan and composer Robbie Blake, along with singers Michelle O’Rourke and Rory Lynch, and dancers Sarah Ryan and Marion Cronin.

Photographs by Luca Truffarelli.

Works Cited

[1] Franco Berardi, After the Future, ed. Gary Genosko and Nicholas Thoburn, trans. Arianna Bove et al. (Edinburgh: AK Press, 2011), 11.

Our Story of Resistance

By Pamela Whitaker (Witness)

A response to A Rose By Any Other Name by Vickey Curtis at the Dublin Live Art Festival, Sunday, August 14, 2016, 1300-1500.

The Walking Route, A Rose By Any Other Name, Dublin Live Art Festival 2016,

Vickey Curtis is a spoken word artist. Her performance A Rose By Any Other Name spoke the language of street harassment in the course of a walk from the Spire to Rathmines. Writing down words of violation on her white t-shirt, Curtis publically proclaimed the abuse of others. Her actions were matter-of-fact, her words true-to-life, and her purposeful gait acknowledged lives affected by the interference of strangers.

A Rose By Any Other Name began as an enactment of research. It was a walking declaration naming the harassment of twenty-one survey respondents. An audience of participants quickly formed into solidarity against street based harm. We reflected upon our own experiences, as we followed Vickey through a map of both intrusion and fortitude. Each story, once spoken through a survey, was no longer silent but shared amongst supporters. We honoured each location in relation to its statement of experience. This was living research and the art of testimony. It was a performance procession that followed a path of disclosure, reclaiming the significance of daily acts that spoke of not only harassment but resistance.

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Vickey Curtis, A Rose By Any Other Name, Walking to Stop 4 Parliament Street. Photograph by Pamela Whitaker.

We followed Curtis to ten sites of unwanted comments. These were everyday places that became locations of violation. At every stop there emerged an experience, a tribute and a conversation. There was no audience at a distance, only a network of collaborators who identified with the accounts of verbal harassment. It felt like a pilgrimage, and a commemoration, but also a protest against silence. A Rose By Any Other Name enacted a therapeutic quest charged with politics and social action. We stood together as an intervention opposed to random acts of hurt and suffering, considered by most of those surveyed as all too common and by some the usual.

Vickey Curtis, A Rose By Any Other Name, Curtis speaking at the site of her attack. Photograph by Blue Print Photography.

Vickey’s research composed a line of relationship; it connected the dots bringing separate events into alignment. The act of writing words of harm, and wearing them, carried the experiences of others. This was spoken art as an antidote to denial. Vickey led the way, as both torch-bearer and opponent of street hate. This performance transformed aggressive surroundings into environments of protection. Secrets were aired with the conviction that they could help alter abusive realities. If A Rose By Any other Name had a departing message it was this: Don’t keep your head down, walk proud, and be who you are.

Words can do more harm than good, but on the other hand they can be our story of resistance, our way to claim rights, and distinctiveness. This was a performance that both talked the talk and walked the walk. It spoke and moved well, and most importantly did not take everyday insults for granted.