It’s now a year since Bryony Kimmings’ titular binge and 7 Day Drunk arrives in Soho like delirium tremens in a Day-Glo catsuit. The result of a week-long scientific sozzling-cum-Gonzoid artist’s retreat, Kimmings’ latest show is a strange brew. One part sobering social critique, three parts DIY glitterfuck, it’s a spangly, free-wheeling examination of the link between alcohol and the artist.
Loose-linked snatches of song, comedy, performance and lecture tumble over one another as we watch Kimmings drinking out loud: pitching from midnight highs to maudlin morning woes as she unpicks her own relationship with the bottle and takes a surprisingly sombre look at Britain’s wider booze-culture.
Kimmings assembled a team of doctors, psychologists and arty accomplices to monitor her progress through seven days of increasing inebriation. Beginning the first day relatively compos, she established a pattern of tabula rasa artistic creation followed by a daily performance in which an invited audience assessed the artistic merit of her day’s work. Each day her blood-alcohol levels were incrementally raised with the aid of a Disney Princess beaker filled with vodka cranberry, and monitored via breathalyser. By day seven in her tipsy captivity (sort of a Big Brother house if Channel 5 relocated it to Shoreditch) she was hammered by 9am and completed her work one tequila slammer away from vommy-oblivion.
We see plenty of this Orwellian bender via frequent video inserts, and the level of care and attention (if not scientific rigour) applied is truly impressive, creating a satisfying incongruity between the box-ticking process and lairy, rainbow-crested results. Kimmings is seeking to discover whether alcohol consumption actually improves her artistic output, and her entire performance was conceived and written during that one-week period. 7 Day Drunk doesn’t feel like a satisfying answer to her question, or even a conclusion to the process, but the range and quality of insights it brings together is often deeply impressive.
The songs Kimmings croons over a Yamaha keyboard pre-set are funny and smart, a routine in which she rattles off the story of a night out on London Fields is flat-out brilliant, and its hard to fault the self-indulgence when the audience is so comprehensively indulged too. The kind of risky audience integration that got Ontroerend Goed’s Audience in such hot water is here flipped on its head, as one girl is singled out to knock back a hefty vodka cocktail in seven minutes flat. Others (including me on this occasion) are invited onstage for a boogie in Kimmings’ imaginary flat; if you’re not feeling brave or drunk enough to slow dance with a stranger it’d be advisable to sit towards the back.
Despite these appeals to the pleasure principle, 7 Day Drunk is probably at its best when things take a more serious turn. Kimmings’ child’s-eye-view description of the pub as a palace of forbidden pleasures, where the uncle you’re not allowed to talk about gets talked about and adults have adult fun has the eloquence of personal experience, and her stories of drunken defecation and Bacardi Breezer fuelled sexual discovery ring honest and true. Alcohol and anomic behaviour are vessels of escape, and Kimmings draws persuasive parallels between flight from social deprivation and from normality. Her observation that alcohol provides the working class artist with the same degree of social mobility and exclusion from societal expectations is both fresh and convincing. If there isn’t room in the hour to explore these ideas in any detail, it’s no real surprise, not when Kimmings also finds time to masturbate with a hair dryer and dissect a doner kebab like a monkey studying a stag party under laboratory conditions. Speed and eclecticism are the virtues of Kimmings style, and if 7 Day Drunk rarely pauses for breath, it never flags either.
With unicorns, teddy bears, Trumpton remixes and Kimmings’ own East end chic the presentation is a bit twee-er than thou, and the abundance of paper hats, piñata and silly string comes close to confirming my suspicions that the British performance art scene is shoring up the fortunes of Smiffy’s and whoever it is that makes party poppers; but laying such conspiracy theories aside, 7 Day Drunk is a funny, sad, daft and entirely convincing experience.