Friday, March 12, 2010

Turning the map upside down

Thought I'd just take a few minutes out from making my upcoming performance Who You Are to remind you about my upcoming performance Who You Are, which happens, one time only, now-or-never-style, this coming Monday, 15th March, 6.30pm, at Tate Modern. The piece is for performance actually inside Miroslaw Balka's Turbine Hall installation How It Is, and closes the gallery's 'Experiences of the Dark' season. The performance runs about 45 minutes and I'm really enjoying making it: I hope it's as playful, poetic and provocative as I'm aiming for. There are still tickets available but it would definitely be worthwhile booking in advance if you think you want to come.

A treat earlier this week, in the context of making Who You Are and its diptych partner Where You Stand (which I'm creating in collaboration with Kier Cooke Sandvik and Jonny Liron for Queer Up North), was seeing a smith and Amund Sjolie Sveen's piece Where Are You?, which obviously shares some nice common ground with my current projects -- especially given that the tickets for my Tate piece incorrectly render its title as Who Are You?! A[ndy]'s gentle, witty way of working with ideas around phenomenology and human geography in helping audiences to experience their own agency and authorship and confront their own habitual assumptions has been very inspiring to me over the years that I've known him and his work, and I liked the sly generosity of Where Are You? very much indeed: despite its low-key style and simple presentational methods (it's a piece devised with youngish schoolkids in mind), it builds to a clinching sequence that I found moving and exciting.

The piece reminded me a little bit of a film that I think I may have mentioned before, Jorge Furtado's short documentary Ilha das Flores from 1989. Here it is in its entirety: it's a little dated in some ways but its message and its methods could hardly be more pertinent right this minute:

And while I'm in embedding mode/mood, one brilliant sequence in Where Are You? inverts a map of the world, which seems to me a really important thing to do, not just in front of schoolkids, but in front of anyone. Fellow West Wing fans will recognize the theme:

It was really nice seeing Andy and Amund's piece immediately after a scratch of a new piece by Ryan Stevens, the collaborative [id]entity of composer / sound artist Nick Ryan and performance / event maker Tassos Stevens, the latter in not-too-customary storyteller role as both narrator and part-embodied eponymous hero of the splendidly titled Jimmy Stewart, an Anthropologist from Mars, Analyses Love and Happiness in Humans (and Rabbits). I had the great pleasure of helping out a little bit as an eye and ear in the room in the very final stages of preparation, which meant I saw the show three times and saw (and heard) a little more, more richness, more patterns, each time. Lots of imaginative work to do as an audience member, which makes a nice link to Andy's work, partly because T.S. borrows a particular performance structure from Andy (just as I did for a separate occasion last year), but mostly because Andy's frequent collaborator Tim Crouch came to mind with his insistence, which I feel more and more relaxed about, that an audience can hold both is and if in its collective mind at the same time: that it can both exercise a game / pretend / projection mindset and simultaneously know and feel and experience the room that it's really in and the relationships that really are in motion. I hope Jimmy Stewart... will ride again, it's really an inordinately beautiful piece which, the night I saw it at least, held everyone in the palm of its hand with great care and delight.

Two other recent performance-going experiences have demanded a little more stamina. I won't say anything about Lone Twin's Catastrophe Trilogy at this stage, partly because I messed up on timings and consequently missed the last part: but I will say that I really enjoyed seeing Alice Bell, the first of the three, again: it's a piece that really gets under your skin with its simplicity and care: and, again, it does a very solicitous job of balancing the is with the if.

And then last night I was in Cambridge for the second night of the fourth annual Miscellaneous Theatre Festival. (I think in its promotions, Theatre is somehow punctuated, with a question mark maybe, so as to make it look problematic or pressured, and I think in the circumstances that would be right.) I think I've dropped in on all four of the Misc Fests so far, and was impressed and even moved by the critical mass it seems to be achieving. Jeremy Hardingham, who manages the Studio where the event takes place, has finally got the rather inert black-box surroundings to yield a little, to meet the people who come; partly this has at last happened because a lot of people, these days, are coming: so everything felt vital, engaged, warm, relaxed, attentive -- perfect, really.

The wholly open curatorial policy (if you want to be in, you're in) made for a forbiddingly long programme of events: with a start time of 7pm I was braced for a five-hour evening, which seemed intimidating enough, but by midnight we were still only two thirds of the way through the programme, and the last of the work didn't come down till a little before 3am. I went through phases of feeling cross about this -- it's kind of unfair to the acts, as people's attention obviously has its limits, particularly when there's a (very welcome) free bar; it must be hard not to feel more pressure to earn your keep when you're showing a messy under-crafted suck-it-and-see bit of live art at half past one in the morning than there would have been at half nine in the evening...; and it's kind of unfair to audiences too. Nonetheless, as Morton Feldman reminds us, after a while we cease to perceive duration and confront only scale, and as the wee small hours ticked by, digging in for this extremely long haul became a test of character and an effort of solidarity, which was not unhelpful.

I was there mostly to support Jonny Liron, who was showing his first ever solo, 'Wound Response (Preoperative Preparation)'; it was last on the bill, save for a valedictory squib from Hardingham and cohorts, but a decent sized audience remained, and tuned in, and were attentive and appreciative. Hard for me to be impartial, and why would I want to be, but Jonny's piece was quite breathtaking, particularly in a sequence where, having removed the last of his clothes (black women's briefs, thigh-length boots and a plastic crucifix around the neck), he scaled the walls of the Studio and hung naked from the lighting grid, perilously but with an odd serenity that had me gulping for air. Like the whole of his piece, it was incredibly disarming, but not coercively so: I mean it just made you want to lay down your arms. I was very moved by it, and by other people's reactions to it.

Just as importantly, there were at least half a dozen pieces in the programme that I thought were really good or important or useful, which is a strike rate way higher than the Misc Fest has normally achieved or, even, sought. One interesting feature was the yoking of the experimental and the mainstream: nobody seemed bothered about using quite avant styles and procedures right up against straight-down-the-line cabaret or musical theatre. Another interesting feature was Justin Katko, whose performance as Harold Pinter and/or Aileen Wuornos in Will Stuart's brilliant and audacious 'Transfigurations' was wildly compelling, hugely expert (without being virtuosic in a banal way) and, in the end, deeply worrying. I'm reading with Justin in Brighton in a couple of weeks, alongside Marianne Morris: it would be derelict to want to be anywhere else that night, just so you know, and I'd say so even if I wasn't luckily among the three.

And that will have to be it for now -- lots more to say, but Monday is looming large in my thoughts and I'm still at least a fortnight away from finishing, so it's off to work I go. More soon, my hens, and see you maybe, or not see you at all but sense you otherhow, inside Mr Balka's big dark container.


simon kane said...

I've been thinking recently that the next cartographic step of course is to put the Pacific in the middle, thereby giving a far more accurate picture of human migration.
We wouldn't be split in half then, and Britain would be at the ends of the Earth instead of at the centre, which I like... has a nice Anglo-Saxon ring to it.

simon kane said...

Oh here we go:
Innit lovely? Hands across the Ocean.


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