Features Diana's Month AheadPerformance Published 3 September 2012

Performance Map: September

Our Performance Editor looks at the month ahead.
Diana Damian Martin

Disintegration Loops are a series of experimental, ambient sound pieces that emerged from recordings on magnetic tape, transferred in digital format. During this transfer process, American sound artist William Basinski noticed the ways in which the magnetic tape began to physically deteriorate, until the ferrite completely detached from its backing on the morning of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. Basinski watched the towers collapse from the rooftop of his Brooklyn apartment; later he juxtaposed the first section of Disintegration Loops with footage of the smoke released by the fall of the towers. The ways in which the real-life context gave significant weight to this transference process and, inevitably, the music itself, serves as a reflective lens through which this month’s Performance Map can emerge. The result of these coincides adds a potent symbolic and political layer to Basinski’s experiment in sound, which, in its acquired meaning, presents us with an eerie, post-apocalyptic sonic landscape which we inhabit. Accidents, shifts, changes in contexts have the cultural and symbolic capital to reconnect meanings otherwise imperceptible, and render the framework of artistic practice an essential element of focus.

Basinski’s Disintegration Loops came into focus in a conversation I was having with a friend whilst watching Peter Strickland’s new cinematic experiment, Berberian Sound Studio. In a similar way in which the loops gain meaning via a certain timely juxtaposition, Strickland’s film, about a sound engineer working on a violent B-movie in 1960s Italy, questions the ways in which meaning emerges in film by displacing and playing with our expectations of the cinematic frame. It’s a movie that pays tribute to the numerous parts which sound plays in film- from shifts in perspective and meaning to character portraits and narrative disruptions- but it also interrupts the different spaces which we inhabit in a cinematic experience. It draws attention to the most minute details of, for example, foley, in a rather overtly theatrical gesture; we see the process yet still attempt to conclude its meaning. The film never allows us to be conclusive; instead it prompts us to navigate its world unaided, travelling from the dreamscapes to reality, whilst exploring an intriguing moment in cinema history.

This month’s Performance Map navigates a range of work that seeks to disrupt and defy conclusion; it crosses a terrain of processes, shifts, interventions and disruptions that reconfigure the way meaning emerges in the encounter with live work. The subversive and playful create a cross-section that reveals an impressive range of explorations, from body politics to re-enactments.

With the start of the Paralympics, disability arts is gaining more visibility, bringing forward not only playful explorations of body and identity politics, but also problematising questions of value and access in the arts.  The introduction of spectatorship involves a shift of paradigms in disability’s presence within the cultural and social landscape, marking an important moment in which artistic and performance practices have the significant cultural capital to recontextualise public perceptions.

Southbank Centre’s Unlimited, a festival of disability arts, are providing an important platform for presentation of work that stretches public understandings of what constitutes disability arts. Process is at the heart of the festival. Bobby Baker’s seminal exhibition Diary Drawings: Mental illness and Me 1997-2008, comprising of photo prints of the artist’s paintings and drawings reflects on her process of recovery and treatment, and accompanies her performance Mad Gyms and Kitchens, in which she demonstrates “how to achieve the ultimate well-being factor.” Baker’s work navigates the domestic and the participatory, and in its playful subversion draws attention not only to public and medical constructs of illness, but also the processes of recovery; you might remember her dressed as a giant pea in her 2007 show How to Live, or perhaps you navigated her interactive project Housework House or eaten one of her baseball boot cakes.

Over the first weekend of September, Caution takes residence in the Royal Festival Hall, producing work over two days which audiences can view at any given point. This series of collaborative works, ranging from video to performance and installations, aims to question discourses on invisible disability whilst also recontextualizing the artistic identity of the artists involved. Curated by Sinead O’Donell, the project is a result of year long work on notions of invisibility and materiality taking shape across this sharing process. Also placing emphasis on process is Sue Austin’s Creating the Spectacle!, a film documenting the artist’s performances in a self-propelled underwater wheelchair. National Theatre Wales stage a production of Katie O’Reilly’s In Water I’m Weightless, in which six deaf and disabled performers cross identities and use movement to interpret the writer’s script, emerging out of conversations with disabled people across the UK. National Theatre of Scotland bring Menage a Trois, Claire Cunningham’s dance theatre piece inspired by her relationship with her crutches, and Candoco Dance company are presenting new works as part of the festival.

The Hayward Gallery is opening the much anticipated exhibition on Chinese performance art and installation work, Art of Change: New Directions from China. The exhibition explores work that engages with constructs of transformation, disruption and continuity, focusing on change as an artistic device. It’s a promising endeavour that, following on from exhibitions like Invisible: Art of the Unknown, sediments the venue’s commitment to challenging ways of presenting live performance and its documentation. Artists include the nomadic Chen Zhen, whose work explores the social dynamics of globalization, using his own experience of illness to frame his work, the cross-disciplinary artist Wang Jianwei, whose theatrical work explores narrative in its spatial inflections, as well as Xu Zhen, whose politically charged work explodes public perceptions of notions such as voyeurism and exploitation. The range of artists and work is framed by its immediate socio-political context, from China’s cultural revolution and leading up to its rapid commercial development, whilst drawing from Eastern philosophy as a mean through which artists anchor their own work.

With its new Cook-Up season, Battersea Arts Centre are launching Scratch Online, an interactive, digital space for collaboration and sharing. The platform attempts to open up discussion on an idea’s development, from inception through to performance, and capitalise on the mistakes, accidents and interventions that shape it in its process. Maddy Costa and Jake Orr of Dialogue will be starting up conversations with artists throughout the building and Unfinished Business’s Only Wolves and Lions will bring together performance, cooking and philosophy. Continuing on its commitment to participation and opening up process, the season of work also features an audio piece for two in an urban car park, Andy Field’s Motor Vehicle Sundown, as well as Lucy Ellison’s One Minute Manifesto, which offers one minute to any participant to share personal thoughts across a variety of sites. Celebrating one hundred years from John Cage’s birth, Indeterminacy is a re-enactment of the 1959 recording which features ninety stories of one minute each read out over a piano score, performed by Stewart Lee with Steve Beresford and Tania Chen.

A range of outdoor work will be presented as part of Albany Outdoors, including movement based work from C-12 Dance Theatre as well as an interactive installation from fanSHEN inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Ockham’s Razor return to artsdepot with Not Until We Are Lost, an immersive performance in which moving sculpture and their signature designed aerial structures construct shifting and transforming environments playing with perspective shifts as storytelling devices.

The Freud Museum will be hosting an exhibition exploring the relationship between psychoanalysis and audio-visual storytelling. Saying It uses a mix of video and installation work that challenges modes and categories of presentation, each visitor immersed in a process that renders different meanings depending on their own engagement. By providing an elastic space between public and private, the exhibition creates a psychoanalytic experience in which works of art begin to shift. The Dramaturgs Cafe will be hosting a talk on Affective Science and Performance at the Institute of Contemporary Arts at the beginning of the month.

After its hosting of a series of international artists from Poland to Australia for its summer residency, presenting a mix of work crossing a range of disciplinary territories, from live art to sound and visual work, Performance Space will host a workshop with Alastair MacLennan at the end of the month. His live art work ranges from durational pieces exploring issues of social and political malfunction to interventions that serve as potent political critiques. Over at Sadler’s Wells, Berlin based Sasha Waltz premieres her show Continu, inspired by her launch of two major architectural projects of 2009: David Chipperfield’s Neues Museum in Berlin and Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI in Rome. Waltz is one of Germany’s most renowned choreographers, working across a range of disciplines from visual art to architecture. She is founded of Sasha Waltz and Guests company which has seen an impressive range of collaborations, founder of Sophiensaele, a dance training centre in Berlin, and she was Artistic Direcotr of Berlin’s Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz alongside Thomas Ostermeier and Jochen Sandig. Her work is often political, continuing on a formal discourse both with postmodern dance and German expressionism, whilst punctured by an interest in deconstruction.

Arnolfini are presenting Performing Documents, a project that uses performance documentation as a starting point to explore notions of re-enatcment, appropriation and interpretation in performance practice. Framed by a two-day symposium  titled Remake, which brings together theoretical and practical discussions on re-enactment both in its historical and contemporary guises, the programme also sees collaborations with Robin Deacon and Matthew Goulish (of Goat Island). Every House Has A Door’s 9 Beginnings brings together nine documented performances in the Arnolfini, re-imagined by a new set of artists, whilst Performance Re-Enactment Society’s Group Show is an exhibition that seeks to tease the material presence of performance documentation, taking the form of a set of performances, choreographies and conversation recontextualising particular sets of works from the Arnolfini collection of visual art and performance.

Performance artist Marisa Carnesky’s Tarot Dome will occupy the Old Vic Tunnels, exploring the historical and the personal in an encounter with tarot cards in the flesh. Dissolving the boundaries between the real and the imagined, Carensky’s installation uses ritual in an intervention featuring live music, sculpture, burlesque, body and live art. Back at Sadler’s Wells, a live cadavre exquis, a collaboratively written poem in which the individual poet writes in isolation, will occupy the stage in a collaboration between Tim Crouch, Nicole Beutler, NT Oaklahoma and the Dutch company Kassys; each collaboration will begin with the last image of the previous without knowing its context.

Tate Tanks’s Art in Action season continues with Boris Charmatz’s Flip Book, inspired by David Vaughan’s book with the same title and embodying the history of dance, bringing to life the book’s images. In addition, a section of Moments: A History of Performance in 10 Acts will be screened, looking at the notion of living archivea whilst examining a cross-section of live work by artists such as Lynn Hershman Leeson and Sanja Ivekovic. Commencing at the end of the month, Performance Year Zero also addresses the history of performance via a focus on gesture, and in a series of contemporary interpretations. Given the problematic relationship between the Tanks’ own approach to curating performance and its link with visual art history, it’ll be interesting to see what historical narratives emerge from these projects. On a different note, The Barbican will be opening In The Face of History: European Photographers in the 20th Century, an exhibition placing the historical and  the contemporary alongside each other in the socio-political context of a changing Europe, navigating conflict and cultural transformation and their impact on the practice.

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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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