Features Diana's Month AheadPerformance Published 8 October 2012

Performance Map: October

The archive, the document, the memory.

Diana Damian Martin

“One needs only to press one’s ear against the walls  to hear the weak voice of one’s own desires, fears, and presentiments—the voice of one’s own  meanings and predestinations…. You only need to press the ear against the wall. . . . “ Andrzej Welminski

There’s a sense of displacement I can’t shake off, trawling through this dark cavern, filled with someone else’s memories. I can’t tell if they’re real or imagined, performed or re-enacted, sketched out or interrupted. It’s dark, and I’m stepping over a range of surfaces with my bare feet. The cold concrete floor that seems to balance out the empty sound of a projector, echoing through the vastness of this circular space; the warm carpet whose delineations contradict my inhabiting of this space. The wood onto which someone is lying in a cinematic reverie, triggered by the image of a little girl holding a veil in her mouth, shivered by the wind. I gaze into two screens at once; on my right, a vast landscape of grey blocks, then an aerial shot of people invading the terrain of a thick forest, all colorless and eerie; on the other, the paper thin, dark hair of a little girl covering her eyes, almost like a ghost to the overlapping drawing tracking another portrait; she has wings and speaks of her father looking up like a fallen angel. I try to find the tangible outlines of screens and structures that inhabit this space, yet my vision is shifted by the shadows of people invading the soft light of floor-level projectors, like tourists through a narrative that, with time, has taken over this space like a public dream. I’m a visitor haunting someone else’s story with my own.

At least that’s how it feels like, experiencing South Korean artist Sung Hwan Kim’s recent commission for the Tate Tanks. Rich in poetry and atmosphere, what feels really powerful about this exploration of the politics of personhood is the ways in which tradition and history, genres and forms are bent to a nomadic shape that affects and recreates a space with no taught rules of engagement. It’s a space that’s too dark; confusing; eerie; like you’re inhabiting a science fiction reality  whose strains of fantasy reconvene into an exercise in national ethnography. This video work is a journey, and one which speaks loudly of the ways in which performance inhabits, flirts and deconstructs memory- and with such a range of work for this month’s Performance Map, it’s an apt prelude.

Taking memory as its direct cue, the Serpentine Gallery is organising Memory Marathon , the seventh annual durational event bringing together artists, writers, historian and scientists. Translating memory as an active practice and navigating the wider remit of culture, the marathon provides an interesting platform through which temporal, spatial, material, personal and historical approaches can be condensed and reanimated. The marathon begins with Lebanese artist Tarek Atoui’s La Suite, a durational sound performance, moving to a range of thinkers and forms, from the cinema of David Lynch through to the writing of John Berger. As a public provocation and an unlikely archive, Memory Marathon is an interesting displacement of historical considerations of memory, unlike, for example, Hayward Gallery’s most recent exhibition, Art of Change: New Directions from China, which carries throughout its work an engagement with art as a transformative process, weaving cultural and social memory into its formal explorations.

Tino Sehgal’s Unilever commissions for Tate Modern brings forward the question of performance and memory in its immateriality, probing the ways in which the personal and the associative can displace and expand an encounter. At the same time, the Tate Tanks are hosting Performance Year Zero: A Living History, a series of performances and a symposium seeking to challenge the ways in which the museum as a site of knowledge can engage with performance art history. Given the problematic context of the Tanks’ engagement with a particular narrative of this history, it’s an intriguing exercise in mapping with inherently potent juxtapositions. Nina Beier’s The Complete Works features a retired dancer re-enacting a personal and chronological history of dances learnt, referencing the body as living archive and document, whilst Steyerl and Mroue perform Probable title: zero probability, a lecture performance about an impossible event. Here probability becomes performative device, as the two artists confront concurrences and superstitions between the live and the cinematic, the personal and the mathematical abstract.

Navigating the landscape of re-enactments, collectivity and practice as research is this year’s ambitious Dance Umbrella season of work, taking place in the didactic context of Central St Martin’s newly built Platform Theatre. Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion will be performing a trilogy of duets looking at the architecture of musical composition in the context of spectatorship and performance; in Counting to One Hundred and One Flute Note, they engage with the structure of John Cage’s compositions, excavating the space between time and memory both personal and cultural. Rosemary Lee recomposes her 2011 commission for Brunswick Square, looking at the ways in which the urban space reconfigures and contextualises through an ensemble of thirty dancers, whilst Norwegian artist Mette Edvardsen recalls spatial and personal memory in Black, her solo piece encountering movement, words and the body. Movement artist Wendy Houstoun, who has collaborated across performance and dance with artists such as Tim Etchells and Nigel Charnock, explores ageism through formal activism together in 50 Acts.

Sacred returns to Chelsea Theatre as a season of work, mapping out a landscape of contemporary performance and live art. This year, body-based work is at the forefront, with artists such as Shabnam Shabazi, returning with a new version of Body House exploring embodied notions of exile, as well as Dominic Johnson’s Departure (An Experiment in Human Salvage), exploring the ways in which disaster might be represented outside of sacred imagery via an engagement with live tattooing as a process of image-production and a permanent archive. Goat Island’s Karen Christopher and Gerard Bell, who has performed alongside Improbable, Punchdrunk and NTW, join forces in So Below, a duet exploring distance, pauses and interstices intermingled in personal and historical memories and extrapolating the encounter and finiteness of a moment, whilst Tim Etchells presents Sight Is the Sense that Dying People Tend to Lose First, a solo exercise in free association in collaboration with BAC.

Spill Festival returns with over fifty artists in a new festival of performance in Ipswich at the end of the month, featuring Forced Entertainment’s exercise in performance memory and narrative aesthetic strategies, The Coming Storm and Empress Stah in Space, a collaboration between cabaret artist Empress Stah and live artist Ron Athey that brings together 3D mapping, sound, projection and performance in a gaze across human experience. The fifty works forming this year’s National Platform range from formal explorations through to playful iterations and encounters, from artists such as Ira Brand, Adam Young, Lucy Hutson and Neil Luck. Accompanied by a new iteration of the Spill Think Tank, featuring a curated version of LADA’s Study Room and a range of collective discussions, feasts and parties, this year’s festival looks towards the theme of proximity, underpinned by an exercise of mapping across a range of practices whilst inhabiting a local area.

From embodied through to fragmented memory, we return to the archive and its live counterpart in Finland’s Anti Festival, featuring an exhibition that deconstructs the ways in which live art is documented, looking at the impermanence of images in a collection of photographs of performances from festivals across the A Space for Live Art network. Engaging mythology as a performative device, Finnish artist Heather Cassils is performing Teresias, a piece where the sculptural and the embodied collide and exploring queer masculinity.

Exploring the ways in which memory, experience and identity coincide, and paying recourse to psychoanalytic techniques, The Freud Museum’s exhibition Saying It travels the terrain of the familiar, the narrative and the repetitive in its audio-visual interventions. In Mining Memory, Renate Ferro explores the ways in which personal objects disclose personal memory. At Riflemaker Gallery, Alice Anderson presents From Dance to Sculpture,  an exploration of the archive through ancient rituals that sees the artist produce sculptural works through live performance. Engaging with the process of binding through copper-thread and red fibre, Andersen creates what she terms to be wound objects, resembling mummified curiosities, inspired by and featuring objects from her own studio.

The autobiographical also features in the double bill of work from Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair, Hitch/Crunch at the Arches in Glasgow, exploring politics, power and value. Resident artist Adrian Howells engages with the emotional and psychological effects of water in Lifeguard, his collaboration with dancer Ira Mandela Siobhan at Govanhill Baths, a piece devised with members of the local community.Excavating architectural memory, BAC’s The Good Neighbour seeks to engage in another collective experiences of celebration, made up of threaded journeys throughout the building and on to the streets, whilst Hackney Wick’s Yard Theatre welcomes an exploration of public memory in a merging of verbatim with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in Qudz, mixing music, animation, drama and dance to tell the story of everyday Iraqis and the madness of a warzone.

Performance Space is one of the venues hosting the culmination of three year research project Performance Matters, Potentials of Performance, an investigation into the possible future of performance practice in its interaction with the social, cultural, vital and critical. Questioning the ways in which subjectivity is produced within performance, and positioning this in the context of a contemporary Europe with a failed promise of democracy, PoP investigates what performance might be able to do as a personal, social and political site. In its excavation of memory

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Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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