A Choir for All

by Sara Muthi

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Primarily an all-inclusive singing group formed by Mark Buckeridge, ALL CHOIR aims to use the simple methodology of music to create a space free of elitism and pretension that is all too common within contemporary art today. Creating art that is accessible to a wider audience, an audience who may not have a formal art education, background or understanding is a common target in the artist’s practice.  ALL CHOIR is truly a choir for all.

A choir  open to people of all ages, ethnicities and vocal ability or professional background; a collaborative community led by Buckeridge and formed around lyrics written by the artist himself. Through multiple rehearsals, this collaboration between the artist and the choir formed the meat of the work. This process leads into a live performance, an intentionally designed booklet containing the lyrics in an almost structural fashion on the page, and a community of people. The process in which the choir was formed was an open call for anyone who wished to participate. This was reflective of the essence of the work: commonality through music.

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Lyrics from song Together

In such a communal, almost purely human performance, audience and performer existed on the same plane, no stage or costume was required. There was no separation between singer and spectator. With the intention to break down as many boundaries between audience and performer, the sheet music was handed out to all audience members—some of which sang along, some of which didn’t. There was no pressure, no expectation. The simple vocals of Buckeridge, accompanied by the choir and the audience, created a simple yet powerful aura where all were equal. A sort of minimalist approach to sound echoed through the space, a simple organ complimented the softly ringing sounds of singing voices which wrapped the crowd, creating a most welcoming experience.

All was accessible, no lyric was out of reach of the listeners understanding or experience. There was virtually no difference in the space occupied by singer and spectator, with non-choir people standing directly behind, and beside all choir members, making it increasingly difficult to differentiate between any ‘function’ between any particular people who shared that room.

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Lyrics from song All

A large portion of art falls within one of two categories, art that creates dialogue with other art, and art that is in conversation with life. ALL CHOIR is a work which embeds itself into life effortlessly. It does not look like art, it does not act like art, it does not sound like art—it just exists within the realm, without medium or classification, as all mediums and materials were used as tools and did not overwhelm the core message of the work. It did not preach but let itself be open to wonder and astonishment without any moral high ground.

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Lyrics from song Together

Its process was not intended to ‘polish’ the work, in which skill and ability would be of high importance; instead, it achieved a multi-diverse choir who simply performed in a gallery. It cultivated a much more instinctive and guttural creation. Even going so far as to providing a sense of comic relief, generating terms such as “tacky entertainment” and impromptu commentary from Buckeridge to the choir.

While the work wasn’t necessarily polished in the sense of musical excellence, it was very well versed and curated. There were particular rhythms and patterns; some of which the choir would sing every other line of a song, or collectively repeat a word for emphasis. These things, while subtle, must have been discussed at length at rehearsal and made for a more pleasant overall experience of the choir.

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Lyrics from song Our

This work, with its ambiguous mediums, succeeded not only in creating a more accessible space around art, but also with frustrating the definitions of art. It’s difficult to define a clear relationship between what we know as ‘performance art,’ and this work’s blatant disregard for mediums provides a raw energy, every so much nudging the line between art and life. This a practice which is valuable and necessary in relation to the state of current art practices and exhibitions

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Lyrics from song Sweet

A work as subtly human and experiential such as ALL CHOIR can challenge notions of art while simply by being a choir in a gallery; it is fresh and forward thinking. This shall be the type of work that continues to lead the way for the future attitude of medium within performance. A life-like-art which penetrates the social struggles of all members and communally puts at ease all who take part in the space shall be a beginning but certainly not the end for such effective practices. A subtle anthem of warmth, acceptance and perseverance through a simple Choir in a gallery creates a choir for all.

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Lyrics from song Struggles

ALL CHOIR, created by Mark Buckeridge and curated by Róisín Bohan, took place on April 29, 2017, at the Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. Photography by Misha Beglin.

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A Reluctant Goddess

by Elaine McGinn

I missed registration. I had previously received emailed instructions on where to meet the other participants at 3 pm; I pushed my way through the heaving crowds at the main entrance to the Biennale and eventually located the empty dressing room. I was early, so I took a walk in and around the main gallery and located the Jelili Atiku installation space.

Returning to the dressing room, I noticed a heavy curtain drawn across an upstairs gallery space; I pulled back the curtain and there before me, like a modern W. Blake Vanitas scene: an explosion of shimmering fabrics and reflective surfaces, the female form in many shapes and sizes and at various stages of dress, gathered in groups around the walls and light filled windows. Some of the participants were already adorned in various shades of pink, some in silver and gold metallic gowns, complete with long flowing sleeves and trains.  Artiku’s description of the costume alluded to the Yoruba deity known as Yemoja, movement of sea and waters, so I had expected a Goddess style but the sumptuous vision before me, far exceeded my expectations.

Missing registration left me uncertain as to whether I would take part in the performance.  I was anxious to learn if my presence was needed so approached a group of women who were busily working with scissors and staple guns.  Two of the young women were adapting a smaller dress to fit the larger frame of a third, who stood upright with her arms outstretched between the fitters. Not put off by the fact that I hadn’t registered, they asked me to wait while they found a suitable dress. As I waited to be fitted, I began to consider the nature of the performance that I now knew I would be part of and it was about to begin in a matter of minutes; I was, excited by and grateful for the opportunity to Perform in such exquisite surroundings and with a successful Performance Artist. I consulted my received instructions again, and noted that “… direct attention was to the promotion and enhancement of feminine energy and freedom.” J.A.  It wasn’t long before two women were frantically cutting down the sleeves of a glittering pink costume, explaining that the dresses had been mixed up and there were only very small sizes available.

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The performance began. Seventy-two women of many nationalities and ages began their performance, walking down a flight of stairs, straight into the Biennale crowds.  I made my way from the Cordererie area in Arsenale, Venezia towards my designated position.  My agitation was mounting, tripping over my dress and standing on he trains of others; I was pushed and shoved by members of the paying public vying for photographs:  the ‘Goddess’ had entered the lions’ den. I felt cold, irritated and detached.  I had arranged for my photographer to capture a few shots of the piece, but the performance was kept within the confines of the Biennale, and the prohibitive cost of the entrance fee made it impossible for photographers and others to view – there would be no personal record of the event.

Arriving at the Giardino delle Verini we found our designated number card and positioned ourselves, each in front of a cubic structure of cane and cord.  Inside the structure was a wooden plate, a layer of soil, a bowl and a carved wooden figure that we were to carry for the entire performance.

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Wearing a carved wooden headdress, a form of female attire influenced by the D’mba of Baga people of Guinea, Jelili Atiku navigated his way through the rows of women and distributed brass figurine necklaces to each of us.  An assistant carried a large wooden stump-like structure on his head.  The headdress, called The Universal Knowing Body, was studded with 72 long, rusty nails and its weight a noticeable heavy burden on the assistant whose face dripped beads of sweat onto the path at his feet.

The next stage we would be led by Atiku to the edge of the Giardino delle Verini and at the steps of the canal we would board, 6 women to each boat, and taken 10-20 metres out to sea; we were to scoop a little of the sea water into the wooden bowl and return the water via canal to the other side of the garden. Suddenly I became aware of the many difficulties and dangers implicit in the proposed ritual:  slippery steps; hot sun and trying to maintain balance clambering in and out of the boats whilst using both hands to hold onto the cubic structure and its contents. My concern for the older women in our numbers was increasing but somehow, seventy-two Goddesses managed to escape injury and we found ourselves back on shore.

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The final stages of the performance proved to be as prescriptive as the opening. The artist, exalted on a white horse, resplendent in a shimmering gold suit, led us through the Biennale main building and into his installation space.  Assistants rushed to cattle ranch us into a disorderly queue where we were to “release our power of human development and creative energies”.  Some of us held hands in an attempt to muster up some sense of authenticity in the performance. At one stage, we wrapped our necklaces around the rusty nails on “The Universal Knowing Body” whilst the artist lashed together our cubic structures with rope, perhaps an offering to the female inspired wooden headdress maintained a solid presence in the centre of the space.

The aim of the performance, to promote and enhance feminine energies, had somehow fallen short. This Goddess felt cut-off, belligerent, obstructive, annoyed and sometimes fearful during the performance; perhaps not the artist’s intended emotional response but, at least it was honest and real.

The performance seemed to rip through my own sense of what it is to be a woman in the world today, making it difficult to find some emotional authenticity with which to fill the performance. My tenuous connection to the work was further lessened by the remoteness of the artist throughout; a lack of appreciation for all the women who had spent a great deal of time, money and energy – that feminine energy that made Akito’s project possible was completely overlooked.

In the days since, I have pondered on the original ethos of the work, the concept that proposed to deliver a powerful female experience and soon my thoughts were drawn to that moment I pulled back the curtain and saw the very pulse of femininity surging through the women in the dressing room.

It was in this nourishing creative arena that I was reminded of Julia Kristeva and her adoption of Plato’s idea of the chora, meaning “a nourishing maternal space” (Schippers, 2001).  The idea of the chora, with reference to the uterus and containing certain elements of symbiotic care, continuously presented itself in a place where real creative energies came to the fore.

The young women ‘dressmakers’, who had been plucked from the invisible team of administrative Staff at the Biennale, became the unlikely Goddess makers and embodied the role of the Mother.  A kind of doll play emerged: cutting, ripping, stitching, joining, and maintaining a quiet resilience throughout, brought seventy-one Goddesses to life. I was mesmerised by their blunt bladed scissors, ripping and slashing through the uneven fabric, like a kind of brutal re-enactment of a birthing scene; the idea of separation through the violence of shredding and rupturing actions reminiscent of Kristeva’s term “abjection”.

Thrust into a demanding situation: to turn seventy-two women into Goddesses, the dressmakers carefully attended to each of us, they were efficient and remained calm and dignified. They rose to, and exceeded the challenges with limited skills, tools and materials and yet produced many original garments. Now THAT was the real performance that promoted and enhanced feminine energy and freedom but unfortunately, there wasn’t a man on a horse to give it status.

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Jelili Atiku’s Mama Say Make I Dey Go, She Dey My Back took place on 12 May 2017 at the preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in the Arsenale.

Through One Woman’s Eyes

by Roisin Jenkinson

My performance, “Mama Say Make I Dey Go, She Dey My Back” at La Biennale di Venezia 2017 integrated the intersection of processional rituals, fashion, mystical and abstract sound, and rituals with natural resources and objects. It is created to direct attention to the potency of feminine energy, body ritual and ontology so as to serve as a point of reasoning and catalysts to our utopia. The focus here is to create discourses on re-thinking on the essence of women to the wellbeing of humanity and activate a shift in consciousness towards the direction and adoption of the values of feminine energy. It believes that enhancement of feminine energy and freedom of women would release the power of human development, peace, harmony and creative energies in the world.

—Jelili Atiku

 

What could happen with 72 women in one room? In this social media crazed world, we read and hear a lot of gossip about grown women feuding with one another, for reasons that become irrelevant. This affects how we see the world and each other, convincing us that women can’t get along with other women. I have known this to be a falsehood, because I have grown up surrounded by incredible and inspiring women, whether they’re family, friends, work associates or even celebrities I see online, but even then a part of me expects the rumors of feuds to manifest out of some truth. Which is why it is beautiful to see young women today, such as in the pop industry, supporting one another, and when I walked into the ‘behind the scenes’ space where we prepared for Jelili Atiku’s performance Mama Say Make I Dey Go, She Dey My Back at this year’s La Biennale di Venezia, I immediately felt the warm energies of all of us.

After Jelili conveyed passionate words of encouragement and gratitude (among the technicalities of the performance), we began getting ready in beautiful purple-royal dresses that reflected light. We had some difficulty getting the dresses on, because the measurements weren’t exactly right, however we exchanged dresses and helped each other getting them on, and that support was extraordinarily beautiful to witness and experience. Wearing the dress, I felt like a princess and it brought out my child-like joy.

Before we headed outside to perform, all 72 of us held hands in a circle and made the ‘huuu’ sound which we would make towards the end of the performance; the first sound we all hear when we are in our mother’s womb. This circle of connection which was unseen by the public, I realised as the performance progressed, was essential to the feeling of connectivity I felt throughout.

At about 4pm we stepped outside, beginning our walk, beneath a blue sky with the sun beaming down on us and our dresses coruscating from it’s rays of light, towards our destination. I felt proud to be a woman, which manifested in the way I walked with chin level to the ground and a slight smile as I observed people observing us and capturing a shade us on their phones. That simple act of stepping out where others can see you, added a feeling of communion greater than 72 to that of connection. We were not just representing ourselves or even just women across the globe, but we were representing humanity as it should be; connected in communion with one another.

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When we arrived at the official starting point of the performance, we each took our place while Jelili walked row by row (in full costume) handing us a necklace of a small brass figurine one by one, to which we would breathe into it 3 times, symbolising the transference of our energy like how God breathed life into Adam. As we waited for everyone to receive a necklace, I worshiped silently, thanking God for his perfect timing and marveling at how the Holy Spirit has been moving to bring me and all who’ve experienced the event to this moment of communion and connectivity. For instance, how the sea levels rose the previous night, flooding San Marco’s square, was evidence of nature responding to the feminine energy. In accordance to my faith, which is the core of my identity and being, it was the Holy Spirit working in nature with the tides to let us know this is the right time. I also observed our pathfinder, Babatunde Elufidipe, who lead the way the performance would take while carrying on his head the sculpture, entitled Universal Knowing Body, that represented the pain we (women) go through once a month. I could see him struggle under it’s weight with the heat of the sun beaming down on him, which gave me deep reverence and gratitude towards him that I projected a prayer of strength and endurance for him. Throughout the performance, I constantly looked all around me at the beauty and wonder of it all.

When we had all received the necklaces, we picked up the cubic structure in front of us – containing a Opon-Ifa (Yoruba divination tray) with earth, a Iroke-Ifa (Yoruba wooden female divinity figure), and a calabash (bowl) – and followed Jelili and Babatunde in single file to board the boats. This is the part I was most anxious about, because I cannot swim, but with careful steps, cautious measures and a helping hand, I got into the boat. I clung to the seat as we were paddled out, but the beauty around us comforted me, casting out most of my fear. We filled the calabash with water and after a few minutes on the water, we were brought back to shore. What I found interesting is how when we were on the water, the audience were back on land, creating a distance between us as if we were going away for a short time in order to reconnect with nature and regain some energy through rest to then return re-energised to re-connect with people on a stronger level. I cannot separate this from what I believe, so to me we were very much under the influence of the Holy Spirit within nature.

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We waited for each boat to return to land one by one before continuing our journey of communion and connectivity. Some of the women forgot to fill up their bowls, but instead of being too proud to share, those with water gave some to others without. This is one such example of the support between each of us. I cannot think of a better word other than it was Beautiful to be a part of. It was really nice to have my sister performing with me, but as we were waiting for the rest of the boats, I found myself constantly looking behind me to see if she got off the boat yet, depicting the big-sister-worry and the bond between us of blood being thicker than water. While the connection between us as women was strong, the connection I had with my sister was stronger, adding another deeper level to the performance.

Jelili then rode a beautiful white mare and we followed them and Babatunde (who was still carrying the sculpture) to the final destination of the performance where we positioned the containers on the floor and one by one removed our necklaces to wind them on the nails of the sculpture, making ‘huuuuu’ sounds as we lined up. I do not know how to describe those final moments, but the whole performance was building to this feeling, this energy, this atmosphere the created an experience of Community, Connection and Beauty.

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After the performance, when we were back in ordinary clothing, my sister and I returned to see Jelili connecting all of our containers and the Universal Knowing body with a string and my-oh-my, there it was.

It was such an incredible and empowering time to experience. My gratitude to Jelili Atiku goes deep for, on a personal level, giving me this opportunity to perform and be a part of this, and on a wide scale, for understanding and presenting the importance of women to the world. I also want to thank Babatunde Elufidipe for his strength and the 71 women I performed with for their support and the Holy Spirit for bringing us all together. Each one who performed, whether woman, man or horse, has their own story to tell of that day. I am but one of 74.

Jelili Atiku’s Mama Say Make I Dey Go, She Dey My Back took place on 12 May 2017 at the preview of the 57th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in the Arsenale. Photographs by Aderemi Adegbite.