Moving from performance to performance within the space that Spill has carved out for itself in Ipswich is an intense sensorial stimulation, each performance piece in turn carving a space for itself within the frame of the Spill National Platform.
The day begins with a talk held at the new Spill Think Tank situated in an old arts school Pacitti Company recently acquired and converted. For the duration of the festival, the building is a base for contextualization, where the ephemeral work that will take place over the course of five days is grounded. The first of three salons is entitled Exploding a National Platform offering a frame to discuss the needs of emerging artists today in terms of resources and modes of production.
The dominating point of the salon is that in the financial crisis, times are about to get horrifically difficult for everyone; the structures in which artists make work are shifting and the Live Art and Performance sector needs to be (remain) sustainable. However, the radical nature of this work makes it adaptable, with artists and organisations equipped to prepare for whatever is coming their way. In that context the National Platform is a catalyst to kick start artists into making an idea a reality and explore D.I.Y structures beyond the platform.
Taking these points and the festival’s theme of proximity into account, a key word that emerges as a starting point for the day is “Periphery” – with Live Art and Performance positioned on the periphery of other, more mainstream art forms. This sidetracked position however also allows performance art to be moveable, learn from other structures and create its own space to challenge and interrogate reality.
Rosana Cade’s one on one performance piece Walking: Holding is a walking piece through Ipswich town centre. The singular audience is given instructions to tap a woman on the shoulder – and she then quickly becomes the first guide through the town, emphasising along the way that everything around the spectator is part of the performance. This quickly foregrounds the passers-by and their reaction to the ‘made’ couple, in this instance two women holding hands. As the partners switch to an Indian man, a man dressed in drag and a woman, the emotions run from nervous to relaxed, with a layer of pride at showing off the different partners to people on the street. Walking:Holding creates a mix of identities and relationships that may be seen as on the periphery of society, especially in a small town such as Ipswich, and places them out in the open. The audience is placed in a hypersensitive space with no choice but to read into fleeting glances, forced to think about superficial differences.
In Amelia Beavis-Harrison’s The Test of Intelligence the audience enter a dark hall to take an exam, the music in the background builds, the examiner reads the mathematical questions and a woman wonders the space accusing the audience of not being good enough. As the tension builds and the panic mounts, personal images of school days make way from the periphery of the memory. Using the recognisable structure of the school examination system to manipulate the audiences’ emotions The Test of Intelligence successfully challenges this accepted structure that strictly separates the intelligent from the dumb. Silent competitiveness that emerges in the audience brings to fruition the educational system that has successfully engrained in its participants a perpetual sense of not being good enough – but the performance then rips this notion apart with humour.
Emma Dixon’s piece, Ice faces the audience with a striking image – a circle of young women, each holding a black ball of ice at stomach level, with black stains on their white jumpers as the ice drips on to the floor. As the women stand in silence for over three hours, this stark and beautiful image evokes an invisible and silent pain. The continuous holding of the ice which becomes heavier over time, becomes an embodiment of an internal scream.
A common if slightly broad theme draws these three National Platform pieces together. They all centralise a feeling or state that exists on the cusp of the mind and body, bringing to plain sight invisible feelings and anxieties. The three works make the hidden visible, revealing abstract emotions, memories and feelings on the periphery of social interaction and bringing them into the performance space: The Test of Intelligence relays a nervous emotional memory, Walking: Holding reveals a politics of difference, and Ice uncovers a hidden, intimate pain.
Similar conclusions can be drawn about the festival itself – it gives a central place to work that normally exists on the peripheries of an already marginalised art form. Along the way the National Platform also succeeds in creating a temporary community in Ipswitch, which itself becomes a new central point for those periphery live and performance artists – emerging forces that have been given a new platform in which to play the central role.
Spill Festival took place in Ipswich between 31st October and 4th November 2012. For more information visit the Spill website.