Art of Restraint

by EL Putnam

Entering the gallery, I am struck by the complex subtlety of sound. The quiet is loaded between sonified pulses and crackles of noise, building with an unmeasured pace through the cohesion of the three artists, David Stalling, Anthony Kelly, and Harry Moore. Irregular rhythms and semblances of melodies drift in and out. In what can be considered a Cageian silence, attention is drawn to ambient contributions — the slip of zipper, the clacking of heals on stone from the hall, the chatter of passersby. The bareness of the improvised composition match the structure of some of the architectural plans on the wall, stripping buildings down to geometric impressions. As the artists continue to play, the sounds take on a range of textures, from Anthony Kelly’s rumbling noise to David Stalling’s omnipresent tones and Harry Moore’s delicate slips of melody. The interplay of sound and quiet that emerges from the collective playing of these artists through handmade and modified instruments, combined with electronics, creates a sonic compliment to the visions of house and home of the gallery’s exhibition. With bows barely scraping strings in controlled grips, echoes of an invisible house fill the space — an uncanny form with its settling foundation and shifting walls; the sound is sculptural.

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Not quite music and not quite noise, the performance of these artists emphasizes the sonification of gestures, predicated on the art of restraint. The mood shifts and another movement emerges. Energy builds as the artists take visual and sonic cues from each other; acts of improvisation that hinge on corporeal communication. The sound takes on an unassuming weight, not attempting to overpower the foreign noises that sneak around corners, like muffled music playing from speakers in a distant room. Even though the artists and audience stand apart, dispersed throughout the gallery, there is an intimacy that we share in the common experience of listening.

At one point, it becomes evident that the energy is fading. Despite the shifting sensations throughout, there is not really a climax to speak of — rather, coalescing pulsations of energy that shift depending on the level of contributions from the artists. There is a lingering presence of sounds that roll back from the edge of an abyss, only to sputter out and get lost in the revving of a motorcycle from the street, letting the sounds to melt into silence. No applause follows; just subtle smiles and nods that confirm an end. Once the sounds dissipate, I walk through the room taking a look at the drawings and plans of houses placed behind glass vitrines. Presenting residential architecture designated for different parts of Ireland, with some designs realized and others not, I take note of the rough texture of the paper that offers a visual compliment to what I just experienced sonically.

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Sounding Space, with David Stalling, Anthony Kelly, and Harry Moore, took place at the Irish Architectural Archive on 28 March in response the current exhibition House and Home. Photos by author.

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Likemotherlikedaughterlikemother

by EL Putnam

The Bbeyond Performance Monthly tests boundaries: self and other, artist and audience, subject and object, process and outcome, private and public. Within this amalgamation of bodies, objects, gestures, and relations, I have been finding ways to build upon my practice as an artist while pushing me from the comfort zone, especially in presenting performance actions outside the gallery context. There is an ongoing process of growth that accompanies regularly attending the Performance Monthlies, as I learn to trust engagement with others, building relations through the regular fostering of aesthetic interaction.

I have been bringing my daughter to participate since she was two months old (or as was pointed out to me, in utero). I don’t bring her along to every Performance Monthly, as when I am with her, I find it impossible to completely melt into the aesthetic present. There is always some part of me that cannot turn off the hyper attention affiliated with being a parent. I am incapable of entering the immediate flow of a performance, as I always have my senses partially tuned elsewhere. Instead I try to discover a common ground between the performance and my engagement with Sonja, without giving either up completely. I want to bring Sonja into the performance, allowing her to engage with me as I am working, but not letting her completely guide our interaction. Instead, it is a constant to and fro of ongoing influence that is unpredictable — increasingly unpredictable as she gets older.

This method of working has taken different forms throughout the Monthlies. One of the varying factors is the context of the performance — when a Monthly takes place in an indoor space, like a gallery, I feel less alert than when we are performing in the rawness of a public area, such as Writer’s Square. When we performed near the Albert Clock, Sonja had recently begun walking. The area is bordered by busy roads, and I found myself in a heightened state of anxiety due to the potential hazards of the environment. The only way I could feel part of the performance was to let Sonja lead, but I wanted to maintain a sense of security. I attached the piece of black cloth I had draped around me to her hood and proceeded to follow her as she walked through the square. I shortened my stride and kept pace with her steps — a stop and go staccato of baby footwork. After a while, I noticed that someone began following us, moving their feet in the same rhythm. Later another person joined, forming a small parade that Sonja was unaware she was leading. Our imitation of her rhythm made the particularities of her movements more pronounced; an interaction that naturally extended from my engagement with Sonja — where my anxieties concerning her safety became the impetus for an aesthetic interaction. Blending within the energy of the group, these actions were an understated coalescence that observers may not have noticed.

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Through this experience, I became fascinated by the visual indicators of my relationship with Sonja and wanted to build on it, making its form more tangible. In a later performance, I again physically connected us, though used a 10-foot teal ribbon I interwove between us like a cat’s cradle. Again, I let her lead our engagement, though this performance took place inside a deconsecrated church in East Belfast; an indoor space that meant there were less environmental variables to trigger my concern. The Performance Monthly was noisy that day, meaning that Sonja’s and my actions to emerge as part of an amorphous, chaotic scene of gestures and material interactions. For most of the performance, Sonja sat in my arms or nursed as we tucked away in a pew. Sometimes she would fondle the ribbon with her fingers, chew on it as she observed the others. As time progressed, Sonja felt comfortable enough to walk around and stopped acknowledging the ribbon. She found a piece of chalk and began to draw on a piece of paper, the floor and on my black clothing. I let myself attune to her actions, drawing my energy from her engagement with the scene.

However, our engagement is not unidirectional during a Performance Monthly. Sometimes Sonja tries to mimic my actions, taking control of my materials and perform the simple and occasionally absurd tasks I have delegated for myself, like dripping red water onto salt crystals one drop at a time, or playing a radio antenna as a Theremin. The influence is a mutual flow between us; an unspoken bond of mutual dependency. I notice that when I am performing with Sonja, I find it difficult to interact with anyone else, as she captures my whole attention. At times, it is Sonja who extends our engagement beyond the two of us, as her curiosity carries our interactions to include others. In other instances, like the Alfred Clock example noted above, the inclusion of others is subtle. Anything more feels forced.

As a whole, the Performance Monthly challenges the implied use of public space, and my interaction with Sonja within this context brings another variable into play — the slippage between the private and public that comes with parenting. What could be described as a mother playing with her daughter, our interactions during these times are framed by the performance context and experienced through aesthetic sensibilities. Even though they are just play for Sonja (at least to my knowledge), but this collapse of the roles of mother and artist have different implications for me — they become a way to explicitly interconnect these roles while also opening up my practice to unpredictability. I perform the intimacies of maternal labour in a public artistic context, emphasizing the plurality of motherhood. At the same time, I am performing a centuries old motif in art history — that of the mother and child.

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Images by Jordan Hutchings.

a Glove is a Gift

by Léann Herlihy

Setting foot in the space, the soles of the audience are met by a plush red carpet — rich and vibrant in colour. A gold filigree frame hangs on the wall, its image concealed by my stance, an abnormally tall pram stands beside me. Image, body, object: a triptych.

Standing facing the audience, my red leather shoes pivot to the floor; a long skirt drapes over my navel, straight down to my ankles; dressing me from finger tip to shoulder blade, stark white leather; my breasts lay bare.

My right fist clenched, my eyes reach out to the gaze of an audience member. Once met, I stiffly poise my palms outwards, the crackling sound of cold leather reverberates.  Releasing grip, milk suddenly begins to drip from the inner lining of my right glove. A repetitive fast paced rhythm of drips drum down on the floor, eventually losing momentum, falling to silence. Accumulating beneath me, a puddle of milk – white on red.

The room’s atmosphere falls into awkwardness: the viewers seem bounded to a sense of shame — watching a half nude woman stand before them, a maternal liquid dripping from her, gathering on the floor, resembling the act of a “water breaking”. Rather than mirroring the audience’s shame, I stand dismissively — a sense of pride.

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From my skirt, I remove a wrapped small brick. Peeling back the foil I reveal a block of lard. Resisting the impractical restraints of the leather gloves, I lift my hands towards my head, one of which has a firm grip on the lard. Slowly, but rhythmically, I comb back the hair from my face. Now, a scalp bereft of hair, all femininity has become muddled.

My right hand becomes a white leathered fist once again. Lifting it, I beat my bare left breast in one smooth movement — a patriotic gesture. Leaving my hand there, I wait until my line of gaze is met by an audience member. Once the connection is met, my hand is released down to my side. My eyes direct towards the viewer beside the first, perform the same swift movement, and continue on, until, finally, I have met the gaze of all audience members. Eventually, the rhythm of a beating chest ceases, leaving a raw red breast.

I reach under my skirt and retrieve a plastic bag full of milk. Raising the bag to the red breast, I apply pressure. I outstretch my free arm to the pram’s handle — our first interaction. Soothing my breast, I simultaneously begin to rock the pram gently, back and forth in a swaddling motion.

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Dropping the excess milk to the floor, I grip the pram with both hands and manoeuvre it to face the audience, impairing my own line of vision. Composing myself, I plough my way through the audience; people separating like the red sea.

Automatically the crowd are categorised into two groups: the ones that remain fixated to the remainder of my previous presence, two negative footprints in a puddle of milk; and those who follow like a herd of sheep, looking with an inquisition, at what could possibly  be in this pram — nothing; empty.

 

Léann Herlihy performed a Glove is a Gift, a performance which addresses the position of the female body as the focus of repressed histories and political desires under the regulation of the nation State. Performed on February 02 2017, at the exhibition Ban an Tí. Photographs courtesy of Amber Baruch.