Creative Resistance and Existential Dread

By EL Putnam

Performance art has a way of expressing emotions that are difficult to pin down. Sometimes the only way to make sense of nonsense is to engage with the beyond sense — the ephemeral quality of being that escapes the concrete. 20 January 2017 marked the inauguration of a certain man as a world leader, whose path to power was paved with sentiments of bigotry fueled by fear while making a mockery of the democratic process through the collapse of politics with the tactics of reality television. Attending Queerstock at the Complex that evening, this event lingered in my mind, filling me with sentiments of existential dread for what is yet to come.

The room pulsated with a jovial atmosphere, colourful lights filling the space to the beat of music played by a giant pink triangle (Martin McCann). In a far corner of the room, a person (Ryan Backer) sat still under a rough, brown blanket, surrounded by a ring of empty beer bottles with their labels removed. Occasionally, the figure moved a bottle so it stood upright, becoming a corporeal clock, though it is unclear what time is being registered. As I shifted into the room’s ambiance, I took comfort in the colours and costumes of the mingling attendees. In the middle of the room there was a pile of white rubbish bags with black straws extruding from them. Presenting biomorphic forms, these bags took the appearance of a minimalist installation. The music changed and a man in a pink wig (Francis Fay), wearing only socks and underpants, emerged from one of the bags. He awkwardly shifted his body as he attempted to dance still encased in the plastic lining. He exuded celebration through his actions, moving his arms and shaking his feet to the beat of the music. Blowing up balloons and blowing out silly string, the man continued to dance against the plastic barriers, breaking free from the lining as he filled the room with his exuberance. It is a strange sight that defies mundane codes of conduct, but it is through these gestures that hope returns. No matter what happens to the course of history, artists have always found means of navigating a way of being in the world that resists when necessary, adapts when needed, and adopts new methods to challenge whatever may stand in the way.

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The night continued with a monologue by Ciaran O’Keefe. Listening to his melodic voice, I am reminded of the futility of human existence along with the joys of life’s pleasures, whether it’s an electric kiss, the subtleties of Marilyn Monroe’s cinematic performance, or the recounting of a Shakespearean monologue (Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…). Referring to his sexual orientation during the performance, I considered how there was a time in Ireland when being gay were not so openly accepted, and despite these prejudices, people have found ways to thrive.

Throughout the night, I thought about how people have the potential to overcome obstacles, including resurrected old ones. The various expressions of sexuality and gender fluidity, both explicit and inferred, presented at Queerstock, emerged from a creative energy, encompassing an emotional range of human experience  that cannot be suppressed. Here is where the potential for resistance flourishes.

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Images (top to bottom): Amy Guilfoyle; Ciana Spelman and Anne Ebeling; Day McGee; Dylan Kerr; Ollie Bell; Paul Francis Quinn; Vickie Curtis. Photographs by Aoife Giles.

Queerstock was presented at the Complex on 20 January 20, 2016, curated by Niamh Murphy. . LIVESTOCK is an bi-monthly performance art platform for both emerging and established performance artists, facilitated by Francis Fay and Eleanor Lawler.

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Gestural Relativity

by EL Putnam

This piece first appeared in the 2017 Bbeyond calendar

 

Albert Einstein theorized that space and time are interwoven as part of a continuum, with how time is experienced varies depending on velocity. Moreover, time and space are not universals or constants, but interdependent. Performance art, an artistic medium where the body performs actions with materials, utilises time and space as key formal parameters. To abstract Einstein’s theory in order to define a physics of performance art, time and space are interconnected through a relative exchange, informed by the velocity of actions of participants, with each outcome enunciating a different encounter and aesthetic experience.

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Bbeyond Performance, Münster, Germany, July 2016. Photo by Jordan Hutching

The framework of the Bbeyond Performance Monthly is simple and consistent — gather a group of people to perform actions with materials in a public space for a period of time.  The date and location are predetermined beforehand, word is spread about the latest iteration, and on the day, participants gather with possible planned  motivations. There is no official demarcation of a start; each Performance Monthly begins with someone unobtrusively performing an action. It could be the declaration of a word, the unraveling of yarn, or the filling of a receptacle. Some unspecified person initiates the event. Momentum builds as others also start their actions, sometimes beginning in isolation or actively engaging with a fellow performer. An audience grows; formed from passersby or people intentionally attending to witness the event unfold. Whatever actions a person performs varies depending on the materials brought and shared, the influence of people on each other, and how each person engages with the space. The velocity increases with attention being focused on the present as performers transform their materials and the space through gestural exchanges, cultivating a give and take of energy with each other and the environment. The pace of time dilates as performers interfere with the implied actions of the space, opening up a new means of experience. An ephemeral disturbance to the flow of the day, the actions performed during a Performance Monthly draw attention to the habits and routines that are engrained in our mundane ways of life, where their ritualistic pretence ceases being acknowledged as embodied existence is approached from another perspective. Throughout this process, creative play is key as new modes of relating to objects, places, time, and each other are explored.  Time slips and slides as energy flows, opening up an eternal present.

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Bbeyond October Monthly, Bull Island, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Jordan Hutching

Actions may reach a climax or multiple peaks depending on velocity and the relationship between time and space cultivated by the participants. At some point, however, there is a turn — gestures decelerate and people shift back into their everyday states of being. Just as the Performance Monthly began, so it ends; each person curtailing their actions and coming back together in a collective mass. Traces of whatever happened in that hour or two are cleaned up and removed, though the memories linger in the minds of passerby and the muscles of participants. The space is inevitably transformed and for that brief period, time travel became possible.