MORE STRENGTH, MORE STAMINA, MORE ENERGY

by Sara Muthi

Become What You Rehearse. You Deserve It emerged from a mutual feeling of remorse, pain and pride felt by Irish nationals and many nations around the globe when thinking about our histories — notably, the nation of South Korea, a city named Gwangiu which was the site of a two-month residency for Ciara Lenihan and Lisa Freeman. Their immersive experience within the culture and political climate translated into a multi-layered performance event utilising the body, a large three story space, various materials, slapstick comedy and interestingly a sound piece as a key tool within the trek of the performance.

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The paralleling histories of Gwangju and that of the Republic of Ireland lie within the political turmoil undergone during Civil Wars on both sides. The inescapable residue lingering each nation is still echoing today. Lenihan and Freeman utilised the experience of one country’s turmoil, not to pass judgment upon, but to reflect on their own. While the research and influence was conjured during this period in Gwangju, it became a mirror in which the artists saw the state of our Republic within a different context. In a society in which oppression could be interpreted as heavier than our own, the artists were still able to point to the injustice and misrepresentation of the people of Ireland today.

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There is a fine line between the pleasure and pain one feels toward to their home country. The pleasure of pride in our freedom of speech and the rich history we share, as presented in the performance by Freeman’s empowering sensual groans, not to mention her nonchalant statements of “I feel great”. This contrasted with the pain of change, the seemingly fruitless efforts we take toward our evolution could not be more well described than through Lenihan’s deafening screams as she simulates childbirth, running, panting and releasing beads of sweat, unsure of which beads will facilitate change. However, one cannot become apathetic; as a mother in childbirth you push on in the hope of new life, a new hope and a brighter future. These two critical points depicted are happening simultaneously, within one space, as the performative relationship between Freeman and Lenihans performances was unfolding.

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Become What You Rehearse. You Deserve it has deep roots in its research within South Korea, and the reflection of the Republic of Ireland within it, yet the performance is not didactic. It does not push one agenda or one political stance over another. There is no ulterior motive or high ground that is being achieved. Lenihan and Freeman successfully managed to set up a dialectic with their audience. While one can acknowledge the context in which the work was conceived, contemporaneously the performance in many ways escapes it’s preceding context and becomes an autonomous work through its process.

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Performance art, like conceptual art, is carried by its process and much of its meaning and richness happens within the process of making. While the performance was loosely choreographed with audio ques and patriotic gestures, it was also partially improvised. The choreographed movements alongside the improvisation came together under the sound piece which lead the performers and audience through its journey, even stating “So let’s begin”. Performance may only become through a process; no two performances may ever be the same. The performance does not simply end, one conclusion is not meet. The very best art remains open to interpretation and is continuously interrogated, as this piece shall continue to be.

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A work as rich in materials, context, reference and humour cannot be compressed or interpreted within one response or a piece of writing. What Lenihan and Freeman managed to achieve is a voice in an ongoing narrative subtly opening a dialogue about our place and reaction to the decisions being made on our behalf. The written word cannot explain the laborious screams of Lenihan, “SQUEEZE”. Nor can deep breaths and pure exertion of the artist be captured through a lens. Witnessing embodiments of pain and pleasure to instructions of “MORE STENGTH, MORE STAMINA, MORE ENERGY” as spoken by the condescending faceless voice surrounding the atrium is not something I will begin to try to convey. Neither may the text preceding the event, intended to provide context, explain what became of the performance as it unravelled. The expressions, empowerment and exertion by the artists can only be experienced by witnessing the performers within time and space. However, through these traces which are being contributed by myself, the photographers and all who took something from the project, Become What You Rehearse. You Deserve it manages to reach areas beyond its own ontology allowing a greater audience a taste of a dialectic that Lenihan and Freeman began far away from us in Gwangju.

Become What You Rehearse. You Deserve It took place on April 1st, 8 – 9 pm at the Atrium, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. The work was performed by Ciara Lenihan and Lisa Freeman and curated by Roisin Bohan. Photography by Misha Beglin

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Being (Together)

by EL Putnam

In early April, performance artists from different parts of the world gathered in Belfast to participate in workshops, engage in discussions, and collectively perform in public contexts during the Being in Public | Encounters | Outer Place / Inner Space symposium. These moments were fueled by a shared passion for creative production and the ephemeral rawness of communication that action-based art offers; art not driven by an incentive for entertainment, but to discover new ways of being in the world and being with each other. Throughout this symposium, organised by Bbeyond, there was a lingering question of how can performance actions transform citizens, all while emphasising the value of creative communities. As an artist, I treasure organisations like Bbeyond in Belfast and the Mobius Artists’ Group in Boston, which provide support for experimental art practitioners that also emphasise the value of embodied action as a means of creative expression. Mobius was formed in 1977 by Marilyn Arsem, encompassing a structure informed by radical strategies and tactics of the time that emerged from the anti-war movement. Bbeyond came about in 2001, with the Performance Monthly (which began in 2008), or monthly group improvisational performances taking place in public space, as a key activity of the group. I want to take a moment to highlight the significance of artist run organisations, especially those that foster a community-centric ethos in a market driven art world that thrives on the success of select individuals at the expense of other artists.

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Groups such as these create a place to perform, a space where actions are valued as aesthetic experiences through the cultivation of a shared language and appreciation. They provide room for play, not unlike a creative incubator or a research and development space for the arts (thanks to Marilyn Arsem for this description). Instead of placing emphasis solely on the output, process has prominence. Through exchanges of ideas and gestures, trust builds between artists that cultivates a stable ground from which to create. Artists are accountable to their ideas, encouraged to pursue hair-brained schemes, find ways to work together in pursuits of the impossible, and receive invaluable feedback—not so much a critique in the traditional sense, but a means of honing ideas strengthening intentions.

I don’t want to get caught up in gushing too much praise; working with others has its challenges and tensions. With the formation of a group, there are inevitable exclusions—who is a member and who is not, who gets included in activities and who does not. As long as moments of conflict are treated as chances to learn from each other, it is possible to become comfortable with personal difference as we find ways to move forward together. In addition, these groups are not immune to the nuances of human behavior — artists are always at risk at reinscribing the systems and relations they claim to critique (even inadvertently). What I have come to value about artist-led organisations like Mobius and Bbeyond is the emphasis placed on the idea that the prosperity of the individual depends on the ability to look beyond the self towards the success of the group, which includes working through personal differences that includes, at times, uncomfortable processes of emotional negotiation. Such a form of human relation provides an alternative to the model where personal glory is made at the expense of making other artists invisible while exacerbating their precarity. Artist groups rooted in a community ethos offer ways of countering the many vulnerabilities associated with being an artist today, as it introduces a collective space that allows the individual to prosper. The process can be slow and the outcome not always obvious, but progressive revolutions that encompass long lasting change require patience.

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Images are questions posed during the Being in Public | Encounters | Outer Place / Inner Space symposium hosted by Bbeyond, April 3-8, 2017.

An Ever Evolving Journey

by Roisin Jenkinson

About half a year ago, I embarked on a journey that has been ever evolving. Matthew Huber, facilitator of Creative Collective Dublin, initiated an idea that would invite people to take time out of their busy schedules to rest and reflect upon whatever may be bothering them in life, in the hope that they would become refreshed and feel peace. In collaboration with numerous artists, this idea became Lenten Labyrinth: A Journey of Solace, which exhibited at Block B, Smithfield from March 7th to April 14th this year. After months of brainstorming meetings and de-seaming coffee bags (which we used for building the walls of the Labyrinth), we managed to open on-time with various artworks on the walls of the Labyrinth to loosely guide the viewer towards feeling restful and refreshed. The artists included Alessia Meloni with embroidery on fabric, Jacinta O’Reilly with a large-scale painting, Mattew Huber with carpentry, Martin McCormack with small scale paintings using peat, Ashwin Chacko with graphic design poetry, Peter O’Brien with audio, and myself and Milena Matejko collaborated on a poetry book with illustrations.

While the Labyrinth had the intention of bringing people on a journey as they walked through it, it also became part of the journey itself, constantly evolving throughout the month as we added little things here and there and viewers left their mark on post-its that they could stick on Matthew’s tree in the Labyrinth’s centre. During the second last week of the exhibit, some children discovered the Labyrinth, turning it into a playing ground for a few hours – something the Labyrinth did not forsee, yet it was beautiful to witness (even if a little stressful for myself). Their playful screams echoed around the space, leaving marks of their own.

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Earlier in the month, as I was invigilating there one day, an idea came to me of curating a performance event to coincide with the Labyrinth and its concept of rest and reflection. I knew it would be a lot of work, especially on such short notice, however, I decided to just go ahead and see what happens. And so another journey began. In collaboration with seven performance artists, we created a fun, flowing and somewhat experimental experience for each other and our audience. I entitled the event Letting Go / Taking Up, a concept we are familiar with during the time of Lent, yet it is also a concept for keeping balance throughout this journey of life.

Zdzislaw G-Deck Cwynar and Valerian Aszkielovicz began the experience with beats on the box drum and darbuka, respectively, to which Cian Downes quietly began by transitioning marbles from a bucket in a corner to a bucket in the farther corner of the space; an act of moving more information than one can hold. As Cian slowly made his way to the opposite corner with hands full of an array of marbles, many inevitably fell to the metallic floor, the sound contributing to the percussion beats as G-Deck and Valerian gradually drew their rhythms to silence and allowed for the marbles hitting the floor to be the only sound. While Cian’s performance began frantically, it became meditative as he crawled over the floor to collect the fallen marbles one by one. Each time he dropped a marble into his hand it would make a small ‘click’ sound and as the marbles began piling up, some would fall out of his hand again. This would seem to be frustrating, yet he kept composure as he would just pick it up again and you cannot but be transfixed in a peaceful state. There was a slope in the space, and at one point in his performance, a marble rolled down that slope. It was an epic moment of expectation, as I wondered whether he would go for it. He became still as his eye followed it until it stopped rolling somewhere beneath the Labyrinth itself, to which he then continued collecting the marbles in his vicinity.

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Rebecca Kealy then turned the viewers gaze as she began to tell a story of turmoil of the mind through spoken word poetry, introducing another dimension to the experience and connecting the performances, as Amy Guilfoyle prepared to perform in the space behind Rebecca. Standing in the centre of a clockwork of water-filled bowls, with dust proof face masks strapped over her head, arms and legs, Amy began methodically removing these masks, which represent negative thoughts, and placing each one in a bowl of water to dissolve. When she had removed and dissolved them all she lay down in the centre of the circle, tapping the floor like a heartbeat as she let go of her concerns and took up rest. This piece was the centre piece of the event and its concept.

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Rebecca Kealy then performed a second poem in front of my iridescent film hanging from the exit of the labyrinth, transitioning from Amy’s to Jack Beglin’s performance, during which we all held hands to create a human chain of communion as Jack led us through the Labyrinth, while verbalising a Shambhala chant, developed from a contemporary version of Tibetan Buddism, to behind the Labyrinth where was a display of colourful roses dispersed across the floor. Jack then recited poetry of his Grandmother, referring to linage, while making measured movements of contemplative meditation and ‘planting’ the flowers strewn across the floor into a flat pan of water. The whole event had built up to that moment of experiencing a reflective peace and the desire to hold onto that.

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He then gave a flower to each of the audience, inviting them to interact with the installation by planting a flower themselves, but before they had time, Rebecca spoke a final poem, taking people out of their comfort zone and opening up Possibility, and G-deck and Valerian performed on percussion again to bring it full circle. After the poem ended, everyone clapped and, feeling peace amongst so much colour and light, it was beautiful to witness people planting flowers.

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Éva Anna Szántó-Nádudvari closed the show dancing with flags to the song Tower by Anne Harring. It was a beautiful way to end the show and she danced expressively, full of the Holy Spirit’s peace. While Letting Go / Taking Up was stressful to organise under a limited time period, it proved to be fun, experimental, reflective and, above all, a restful and purifying experience. My only hope is that those who witnessed these remarkable performances were affected positively and went home that evening feeling refreshed and feeling peace.

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All Photographs by Áine O’Hara. You can follow Roisin on Facebook @RoisinArt