Copy that, Kapton

by Sara Muthi

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A grimy web of melted plastic, layers of Kapton tape, and other unknown gooey-looking substances cover the interior of what seems to be a dilapidated starship, one had not been maintained for a long time. Taking up the large majority of the right half of the gallery is this starship installation, situated at an angle. The architectural structure is not centred in the space, but rather at an angle, making it slightly more claustrophobic to navigate. Its aluminium wrapped pillars make up the walls consisting of stretched and twisted webs of clear plastic, decorated in what can only be seen as creative attempts at collage and painting, loosely attached to the plastic. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that such a scene was reminiscent of every artist’s studio I’ve seen, including my own. With little apparent rhyme or reason to these seemingly creative acts they began to ring more as compulsions rather than meticulously crafted artworks.

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Centred within this lair is a battered cryopod containing an awoken yet confused, memory deficient astronaut, speaking in a stream-of-consciousness manner to the on-board computer that echoes in the space. Not even the astronaut’s outfit was safe from the grime and filth that plagued this space. The signals that imply the long length of time that the ship had been unkept is supported by his acknowledgement of the audience, but only as hallucinations; spectral symptoms of a prolonged lack of human contact (or so the press release tells us). Conjuring up memories of a life left back on Earth, the nameless astronaut attempts to make sense of his surroundings.

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In writing about performance I would usually not spend any amount of time in the description of the space surrounding the performance. With that said, the space that situates the performance is so thoroughly inseparable from the performance that it would have been non-sensical to not textually indulge in this rich scenario by Sam Keogh. Everything from the control panel the astronaut heavily interacts with to the see through plastic panelling of the walls in the spaceship that allows the audience to see the performance from all sides in a voyeuristic fashion are all aspects of the symbiotic relationship the space shared with the performing body.

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In my many visits to performances I have noticed a term coming up more and more, that of “activating”. In my understanding of the term it generally describes material objects in performance that remain meaningless or useless until the body intentionally interacts and therefore “activating” them. It is also a term used in relation to Kapton Cadaverine.  Often times if installations or sculptural objects need to be ‘activated’ by performance they remain dull and meaningless in the meantime, however Keogh strikes  a balance by which the installation can stand independently while retaining its richness and be equally as compelling alongside the performance.

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Kapton Cadaverine blurs the lines not only between installation, sculpture, collage, painting, found-object and performance but also of theatre. Our suspension of disbelief in this scenario is strongly rooted in the astronaut’s actions. Emerging from the cryopod, Keogh acts the part of the delirious spaceman awoken from hyper-sleep with words that are scripted, actions that are planned, and a stage set. This kind of performance walks a very fine line; a line few artists walk as the fine arts and performing arts are seen as being part of two separate creative fields.

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Keogh’s dramatized actions and words are what sustained audience interest, watching this confused astronaut speak and listen to the on-board computer was as strangely fascinating as a trip to the zoo. Watching an exotic animal do incredibly mundane things like eat and pace up and down is a phenomenon centred on the curiosity of other species. In the same way, watching a spaceman wake up and walk around talking to his computer is only interesting due to our fascination with space and the unknown. While zoo animals do not have the ability to tell us to leave them alone, Keogh’s character was not shy to tell us all to leave, over and over and over and over until the audience began to abort ship. Copy that, Kapton.

 

Sam Keogh’s exhibition Kapton Cadaverine opened on Friday the 26th of January at the Kerlin Gallery with a performance from 7-8pm. The show runs until March 10th. Images by Mischa Beglin.

 

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Between the Troubles and Brexit

by EL Putnam

Since 2008, the Performance Monthlies have been a key activity for the Belfast-based performance art group Bbeyond. Each performer works individually, though they evolve “alongside each other, singular yet part of the whole. By opening up the possibility of accepting and responding to someone else’s actions, an ethics of encounter emerges.”[1] Notably, performing as a group in a public space has an explicitly political function in post-conflict Belfast. Karine Talec points out how in this “context of heavy surveillance and division, many artists in Northern Ireland feel compelled to question the priorities of public space.”[2] While the actions themselves may not appear explicitly political or critically engaging with the dynamics of Northern Ireland or Belfast, merely the act of presenting a performance gesture or action functions as an aesthetic rupture that defies the implied performance of a space. The implications of these actions are more than providing disruptions to the flow of everyday life, but as Talec describes: “these poetic embodied experiences can be both liberating and healing, their connective nature encouraging a reflection on ideas of community, participation, and dialogue.”[3] The Performance Monthly is fuelled by intuitive play where independent simultaneous actions blend into collective actions, sometimes intentionally and in other instances through co-presence.

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In February 2016, Bbeyond had planned to form a parade in honour of the 100th anniversary of the opening of Cabaret Voltaire and the beginnings of Dadaism. However, a Protestant-Loyalist or Unionist parade of the No 710 Ulster Defenders of the Realm (which Northern Ireland’s Parade Commission, the regulating bodies for parades, designated as “Sensitive”) was scheduled to take place that day along our same route. A last-minute decision was made by Bbeyond to not proceed as planned, due to the possibilities of our actions being misinterpreted by Loyalist march participants and bystanders as mockery — a risk we were not willing to take.  Bowing out of an act that could have been interpreted as political is not a gesture of self-censorship, but an intentional selection of framing the meaning of the work and allowing Bbeyond to continue to occupy the liminal space of disruption that it inhabits. This change in plan allowed Bbeyond to rupture the day, which according to Brian Patterson (one of the founders of Bbeyond), introduced confusion for some witnesses who came to our location to take part in the parade, but were unable to fit Bbeyond into a category of either loyalist or nationalist. Our display of bulky costumes and sounds drew attention, but the intentions were unclear based on the binary logic of Northern Irish parade culture, which is divided between loyalist and nationalist expressions of solidarity. Thus, the non-specific political nature of Bbeyond’s Performance Monthlies can also be considered a strategic response to the overt expressions of political sentiments that informed the bifurcated violence of The Troubles and continues to be manifest through the spectacle of Parade Culture in Northern Ireland.

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This is an excerpt from a paper given by EL Putnam at the PQ Symposium “Porous Borders” in the Czech Republic, 13 October 2017. The full title is “Between the Troubles and Brexit: The Minor Gestures of Bbeyond as Aesthetic Ruptures in Public Space.” Photos by Jordan Hutchings.

[1] Karine Talec, “Bbeyond and the Art of Participation,” in Performance Art in Ireland: A History, ed. Áine Phillips (London and Bristol: Live Art Development Agency and Intellect Books, 2015), 103.

[2] Talec, 103.

[3] Talec, 104.