Features Festivals Published 3 June 2019

Somewhere different, somewhere else

Andy Edwards writes on four encounters with Glasgow's Take Me Somewhere, an annual festival of live performance.
Andrew Edwards

‘Listening Party’ by Ásrún Magnúsdóttir, part of Take Me Somewhere 2019. Photo: Owen Fiene

1. somewhere else, as I’m cradled into a new shape. I find myself heavy headed and drifting, temporarily blinded by the move from outside to in, dazzled by patches of flashing white. The black cushion is softer than I expected; I sink. Beyond these walls it is a warm and sunny day in the south of Glasgow, within them it is dark, quiet and somewhere else. Nestling in the upper reaches of Tramway, gathering echoes from distant corridors, rooms and open windows, I drift off to the hum of traffic, conversations and footsteps. In the same breath I jolt upwards, eyes widening, wrenched back into the gloom. Because someone is saying something, blinking through the dark, from somewhere different,

2. somewhere else, as I’m crouched in the Bridge Library. Time pours between chambers, gathering in unsteady heaps of sediment that repeatedly fall away to the edges. At first, we’re alone, then others join. We come to know them as ghosts over our shoulders, disruptions in the air that come and go, sometimes wandering and other time dancing. Within the hourglass, everything continues much the same. Sand gathers, then falls. A man starts speaking, poetry. We separate, taking our own weight and resting it on other, seemingly more solid, structures. I lean against a pillar that connects to the roof, with eyes closed, and listen. Because someone is saying something, whispering through the bookshelves, from somewhere different,

3. somewhere else, as I’ve taken my seat. Bunting adorns the stage and the lights turn in the unmistakable colours and patterns of a school disco. I’m reaching backwards for my Calypso Cup and Pokémon Blue when back in the present, someone steps forward and refuses my nostalgia. They’re young, younger than I can remember ever being and with an unheard voice they announce that this is the song they chose, because they like it. On stage, the party shuffles into a circle, cross-legged on the floor. Off stage, the audience are summoned to listen, to attend. Because someone is saying something, swirling around the dance floor, from somewhere different,

4. somewhere else, as I’m struggling to breath. Haze catches the lights and we are being reawakened to our raucous world of applauding and screaming the pursuit of capital at all costs. Ear pleasing notes and tones soar in the distance, kept out of reach by our hysterical laughter. Through the mist, two bodies are naked, faux-fucking in a hardcore pornographic style while calling out empty-hearted and fatigued declarations of love. Bent over laughing, confused and overwhelmed, I am relieved when they finish. Asked what they will do with the not inconsiderable sum of money that they have earned tonight, one of them replies that they “will put it towards their rent, because they’re a bit short this month.” I drop, quite deeply. Someone is saying something, hiding amongst something different, from somewhere else, becoming something known, from somewhere here.

What struck me about Take Me Somewhere, Glasgow’s annual festival of Live Performance born out of the Arches closure in 2015, is that it didn’t take me anywhere. Rather, in the work that I saw, the experience was one of uncovering what was near, already here, that I either couldn’t see previously or chose not to. Over the course of the month I see four works pieces of work: The Museum of Hope In The Dark by Forest Fringe, In the Ink Dark by Luke Pell, Listening Party by Ásrún Magnúsdóttir, and P Project by Ivo Dimchev. What unified my experience of them all, besides their artistic quality, which was undoubtedly high, is an attentiveness to the acts of listening, receiving, and seeing. Throughout the month I glimpsed the voices of hope, struggled with the ebbs and flows of grief, was brought to know the songs of those younger, and became uncomfortably embroiled in the movement of capital.

The Museum of Hope in the Dark is an exhibition of texts from what the programme describes as local and international older women, each reflecting on the idea of hope in a darkening world. Developed for this site, the texts are written by community activist Geraldine Baird, playwright Jo Clifford, retired teacher Tanseem Karim, shop-keeper and taxi driver Shamshad Waheed Ghani, and artists MAC and Lois Weaver. Each text has been translated into Morse code, speaking through flashing lightbulbs, that hang alone in an otherwise empty space.

There are copies of the texts, pieces of paper, pencils and guides to Morse code, just in case you want to decode them on your own. In the time I’m there I never see anyone try. Watching the exhibition is a hypnotic, soothing experience, offering a contemplative space in which my strongest desire is to speculate. Lying down on large black cushions, it is deeply pleasant to speculate on what these voices of hope might be, how they might sound, what they might have to say. Moreover, it is not only pleasant but hopeful. This exhibition, remarkable for its commitment to simplicity and a clarity of a single idea, engenders in me a great deal of hope. By making the room, carving out the time, I am permitted somewhere to imagine, to let go of any need or desire to understand or decode. By the time I stand up, I feel considerably better than when I arrived.

On my way out I pick up the copies of the texts. What I discover is an interesting cross-section of the local area, of different lifestyles, backgrounds, day-to-days. Most striking to me is how personal they are, dealing with moments of ill-health, individual grief and personal trials. I had expected to find rallying calls, defiant messages, big statements about the big issues of our time. Instead, I feel soothed by quietness, the sincerity of these words. Brought together these individual stories offer a shared experience of getting through, getting by, figuring it out, dealing with individual darkness through patience and resolve. After my visit to the museum, the darkness doesn’t seem as scary, and hope seems much closer to hand, a background noise always available to tune into.

In the Ink Dark, created by Luke Pell, is, in this instance, a performance within a site-responsive installation at the Bridge Library at Platform in Easterhouse. The work also exists as a series of podcast, through other performances (the work has previously shown at Leith Theatre and toured to Dundee after Take Me Somewhere) and as a collection. Described as a living poem, Pell has created a space in which the audience are encouraged to pass through and use as to their liking. There are places to sit, books to read, ways to wander. In the in-betweens there are bodies, materials and sounds. People, dressed in loose grey clothes, dance. Others write in black ink on thin paper. Someone draws. Hourglasses are turned over and slowly pass. Underneath it all, plays Scott Twynholm’s beautiful composition.

The work is unapologetically emotional, unafraid to be demonstratively loving in its honesty about loss, mourning, remembering and grief. Describing the experience is difficult, as is offering a critical perspective. Language tends to breakdown around strong emotions and all I can offer is to say that I was significantly moved, and I’m not sure why. It has something to do with how the space is held, with the commitment of Pell and the other performers to the moment in which they are. There is space to grieve together and apart. What’s more the whole experience looks beautiful – I can readily recall multiple images, moments of glimpsed bodies between bookshelves, of ink on paper, audiences meeting and bodily contact.

At the work’s end, Pell reads a long poem created from conversations between the artist and participants, conducted across multiple sites. Each fragment has been created with the participant to represent an experience of them loving and losing something. Put side by side, and simply read, the text is delightful to listen to. It is playful, nonsensical, confusing, a little overlong and rich in possible meanings. Such were the feelings that In the Ink Dark had brought me into contact with, I then spent a fair chunk of the poem wanting to throw something at Pell’s head and denounce the moment for its wholesomeness. That’s grief though, working in the strangest of ways. By no means a criticism, it is surely the highest praise that an hour spent in their company doing little more than wander through the bookshelves could give space for such things to emerge, feelings that otherwise go unheard.

Listening Party, following straight after in a double bill, is a more joyous occasion. Here, the audience are encouraged to listen to those whose voices are often not heard; teenagers. Created by Ásrún Magnúsdóttir, the theatre is reimagined along the aesthetic lines of a school disco, where the ensemble of performers aged 13 – 17 years old take it in turns to play their favourite music. They then dance, sometimes choreographed and sometimes freestyle, occasionally they both sing as a group and alone, and then as the party nears its close, they ask the adults to join in.

Sitting down to watch, me and my friend both confess a fear that the experience will be an uncomfortably voyeuristic one. We’re not of the same gender but share the same concern that this is an experience for them and that our spectatorship is in some way transgressive. Thankfully our concerns prove ill-founded and while the work is most definitely in some way a space for these teenage performers to express themselves, to have their moments, it is also a space in which they demand our attention. We have to be there.

It is this quality to the work that is most intriguing, the notion of a listening party and the specificity of what we end up listening to. Hearing their music choices acts in some way as a gateway to their experiences and concerns. Much of the music is new to me and through its strangeness, denies me the opportunity to wallow in my own nostalgia, refusing a collapse of their teenage experience into mine. Giving space to the voices of teenagers to make this work, to channel themselves through song and movement, anchors the work in the now. Spending time at their party gives me a lot to listen to, to learn from, attempt to understand.

Ivo Dimchev’s P Project, part of Take Me Somewhere festival. Photo: Nada Zgank

P Project is the first piece I see at Take Me Somewhere and I purposefully don’t see anything else for a good while afterwards, having had my brain smashed open and stepped on. Created by Ivo Dimchev, P Project is hilarious, thought-provoking and utterly terrifying, making apparent the discomforting financial structures in place around the creation and display of art, while delighting in an abundance of Piano, Pussy, Poetry and Poppers. If you plan on seeing P Project I wouldn’t read on any further, the less you know about what to expect the more interesting experience you are likely to have.

As soon as Dimchev enters and addresses the audience, he gently savages any sense of high-minded artistic pretence with a casual, coarse, flippancy. Lazily, forgoing po-faced attempts to seem worthy, he discusses the finances behind his work, detailed how he was commissioned (by someone from some venue in Belgium), what the fee is, and how he has come to deciding to share it with us. True to his word, Dimchev then pays audience members (I think) £20 each to come up and write improvised poetry for five minutes, which he sings live.

Then the work begins to escalate, as Dimchev pays increasingly large amounts of money for audience members to come on stage and make the show. People are instructed to tap dance,  perform hip-hop, make out with each other, then pretend to fuck. All of this is underscored by Dimchev’s gorgeous song; like an alchemist he turns the clumsy language before him into gold. Last but not least, Dimchev pays someone £100 to come up on stage and do whatever they want. A hand shoots up and someone walks proudly out front and pisses on the Tramway stage. They walk away with the cash, cheers ringing in their ears.

Beyond being a pretty interesting night out (and a pretty good anecdote for the future), P Project is fascinating and, beneath the casual presentation, incredibly complex – that or I’m over-reading it in a desperate attempt to make sense of the evening. It’s curious to note when, on a personal level, the money seems worth it and what being “worth it” means. You can earn £250 for pretending to fuck, which I find hard to turn down, that amount of money would certainly make for a less stressful month. Moreover, it’s curious to think that people in Glasgow are the direct beneficiaries of Belgian state subsidy, and where the lines of responsibility blur when payment is involved. We as the audience are swept up, intoxicated by the absurdity of it all, perhaps sharing a tentative agreement that it must be alright if we’re getting paid? Speaking with another critic, a couple of weeks later, who saw a previous performance, they remark that they left because they felt (and feared) that the crowd were brought to a state where they would clap anything. Watching someone drop their trousers and urinate, they might have a point – and I’m not sure what that says about the work, how audiences work, or urinating in public.

Dimchev opens the door to the audience, much like capital opens the door for people to do things. In doing so, the mechanisms of the push and pull of financial gain, both within the art world and beyond, are made clear. The work at times feels exploitative, morally grey and quite good fun if you’re into it – which is perhaps a fairly accurate reflection of how it feels to participate in and be affected by the flow of wealth from place to place, person to person. Questions of responsibility might not be the most exciting, but I find it hard to stop thinking about who cleaned up the piss after the audience left.

Take Me Somewhere is a festival of live performance in Glasgow. It ran from 11th May to 2nd of June 2019.

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Andrew Edwards is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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