by Sara Muthi
Performance art cannot escape it’s undoubtable dependence on space and spectators. The location, audience, cultural and political climate are just a few of the uncontrollable aspects that are intertwined in the reading and interpretation of every performance. It would be a difficult and labours effort to attempt to think about a performance as a self contained, automatous event absent of any influence prior to viewing. With this in mind, Livestock brings together a fresh, diverse group of the most forward thinking performance artists in Ireland, in an accessible yet thought provoking scenario. Livestock: Fresh Cuts kicked off what promised to be a thrilling Dublin Live Art Festival 2017.
A distorted, fallen creature is laying down, hopeless and un-helped in the centre of a large vacant space, as if lying in the middle of the street as crowds gather simulating actions of pedestrians being drawn to an accident. All are curious, but there is no help for this white fallen beast. The only saving grace seems to be a wandering lighthouse, upon the head of a man as he circles the space between spectators and the fallen antlered creature. This is the work of Celina Muldoon who announces the tone of the night with drama and intrigue.
The audience are not left to the creeping guilt of their curiosity as they stare at the seemingly wounded creature. In a series of intense moments the light draws itself onto the face of the creature and the face of the artist is revealed as it is helped up from its weakened condition. It faces the crowd in a majestic strut of victory with the light by her side. The Dublin Live Art Festival has officially begun.
An audience is seldom able to separate the lingering effect that one performance has from a sequence of works as Livestock curates. It would have to be a conscious effort on the part of the viewer to compartmentalise the experience of each performance from the previous. Livestock minimises this through intermissions between performances, a chance for the audience to chew on what they had experienced and anticipate what happens next. Nevertheless, this only minimises the carry-on effect on the part of the audience. While this is persistent in similarly structured events, this is not a negative effect and can add a multi-layered, thought provoking element to every performance. Even though I would usually refrain from calling performance art ‘enjoyable’ as it is not entertainment, but rather a branch of the visual academics we know as contemporary art, a light hearted spirt to performance will not be unwelcomed.
Beginning with Muldoon’s intense performance, we are then brought into the work of Darren Yorke. As the spotlight shifts from the centre of the Complex to the right white wall of the space we hear a familiar melody ring through the space, beginning with Disney’s “When You Wish Upon a Star” and following with Snow White’s “Heigh Ho!”. A young singer with a guitar joins the audience in the space and steps into his spotlight. A warm, light-hearted development from the subtly eerie work of Muldoon. An other-worldly ambiance that filled the space initially shifts and the viewers are brought back to reality as Yorke develops his almost twenty minute acoustic song expressing the effects that the political climate has on the artist and subsequently each of us. A relatable work in the context of everyday suffering in contrast to Muldoon, the tone shifts yet again as Day Magee brings a mixture of expressive trauma and the subtly surreal. Before the audience there is the half nude figure of the artist, sporting a black caged mask, and a blood red saree slung around the artist’s waist and a yellow chain in hand as they perform to an echoing voice, speaking a narrative of past trauma.
To wind down from an emotionally stirring and slightly disturbing narrative of trauma as presented by Magee we are given to the performance of Paul Francis Quinn. A light enjoyable interlude to the night, as the artist sings into a microphone as if on stage, his presence attempting to bridge the gap between performance art and the performing arts. Nonetheless, Quinn’s performance lifted the spirits of the crowd and lead into the final two performances of the night.
French is a frequent performer within Livestock, and in the trademark style of the artist she recites a compelling narrative alongside significant gestures and actions that make the performance intriguing with moments of comic relief. She tells a story of a woman suffering with the loss of her husband and a “contagious environmental illness” who bumps into a man who was running naked on a dare. This strange narrative is recited along side actions by French which can only be described as acrobatic. The artist disclaims “this is not a wall at all, it’s a situation”. This statement not only puts this story into perspective, it also puts the rest of performances into perspective for the audience. While what the audience at Livestock may have experienced a multi-layered string of performances, each performance is still nothing more than a situation that you are presented with, and you take what you may from it.
French’s actions were particularly significant as she divided, broke down and rebuilt walls with her body at the centre. The body was balanced upon broken walls, and rebuilt like a puzzle enclosing her body and built upon what she calls “a situation”. The significance of these simple yet impressive actions by the artist was enough to take away and ponder on long after the performance was finished.
Vicky Curtis brought down the night with a performance in which we were given the opportunity to particupate and connect with audience members that we’ve shared the night with. Holding hands in a circle while Curtis recites words of encouragement to the room, we are asked to pass around a candle and have a moment of silence. Each person had opportunity to have a moment with themselves and with the others in the room, showing patience and unity in the human experience as the night came to a close.
Performance cannot escape its context, however Livestock: Fresh Cuts happened to be the right context for every one of these performances. These bite-sized performances created a meal of an event which was both satisfying and celebratory of diverse contemporary performance practice happening in Ireland today.
Livestock: Fresh Cuts, featuring Celina Muldoon, Darren Yorke, Day Magee, Paul Francis Quinn, Sara French and Vicky Curtis took place on August 17th, 2017. Curated by Eleanor Lawler and Francis Fay, this iteration of Livestock was part of the Dublin Live Art Festival at the Complex, curated by Niamh Murphy and Francis Fay. Photographs by Fiona Killeen (www.blueprintphotography.ie).