Features Diana's ColumnDiana's Month Ahead Published 31 March 2013

Performance Map: April

Action, meaning, context.

Diana Damian Martin

“Thinking is always out of order, interrupts all ordinary activities and is interrupted by them. The oddities of the thinking activity arise from the fact of withdrawal, inherent in all mental activities; thinking always deals with absences and removes itself from what is present and close at hand” Hannah Arendt, Where Are We When We Think: Tantot je pense et tantot je suis

Instance One

Barry McGovern in Watt (Gate Theatre Dublin); the deep voice of a confident narrator, navigating character through a shredder. Silence punctures shifts of mood, of persona, of tone; the emphasis is in these silences, like an absurd poem of itinerancy. His upper body is stiff, the words keep it rigid. His words are always in dialogue (with Beckett’s writing? with Beckett himself?). I wonder who it is we are watching in this contorting narrative with a constant fluctuation of meaning. “A nothing had happened”. The nothing enters the stage. The nothing is in motion. 

Instance Two

In the Outsider Art From Japan exhibition at the Wellcome Collection (currently on), Norimitsu Kokubo’s drawing: an imagined city, endless streets toppled over each other, bicycles and flats, roads smaller than rooms, people larger than buildings, scribbled lines, an incoherent web of journeys, market stalls, train stations on top of ferris wheels. There’s no twisted metal, yet the skyline can’t breathe; these buildings swallow your gaze, and you get lost in the etched maze of the future. (Title: If Azuchi Castle was Located in Kobe-City [Yeah…. as if])

In the Reassembling the Self exhibition at the Hatton Gallery (2012), a lithograph: a fractured skeleton, surrounded by darkness, color focus point amidst the deep dark background, marks and traces of marks, disjointed body parts, imagery drawn and erased. Networks of thoughts juxtaposed like appropriated memories of no particular shape, with no particular specificity. The landscape of the human body, distorted and alert; layers of ink blue and purple: a self portrait of fragments. (Title: Reassembling the self 7)

Meaning is always playful, somewhat nomadic, travelling around somewhere between the act of viewing itself, and our ownership of it. What these two works have in common are the ways in which they hold on to the self; a kind of selfishness of sorts that invites us in, and also keeps us out. There is something really honest about their engagement with representation, and their navigation of the personal to arrive there, at a moment suspended in the second between two seconds. A communication that’s in some ways removed from the usual lexicon of contemporary art; in Kokubo’s case, due to his own social position as someone institutionalised due to his condition, and in Alderworth’s, her examination of schizophrenia as a site for construction, fragmentation and the mythology of identity.

This month’s Performance Map is – as always – an attempt at locating those events that navigate across these modes, that engage with a particular, dislocated artistic lexicon, that seek a particular kind of communication and deal in social currencies (what’s so incredible about Wellcome’s exhibition is its capacity to assert outsider art at intersections that, at least on the surface, seem poised at the meeting point between art and life- capitalising on a different kind of personal). In the shadows of the current Barbican exhibition bringing together the work of Duchamp, Rauschenberg and Johns (Bride and the Bachelor), I wonder about ways of navigating and encountering art; displacing those discourses that have built on and appropriated the formal experiments of the Surrealists and Dadaists, reinvogorating the possibility of an authentic encounter; or at least a truthful one.

In The Happiest Man at Ambika P3, Russian artist duo Ilya and Emilia Kabakov explore the expectations of utopia and the failure of idealism; bringing in found footage from Russian propaganda films of the 40s and 50s in an immersive installation referencing the domestic and the social. Positioned between fact and fiction, caught in a constant process of historicisation, the viewer becomes witness. On the margins of the fictional, Terminal: A Miracle Play with Popular Music from the End of the World examines mythologies associated with the future in a part film part performance project at Rio Cinema. With particular focus on the politics of post-apocalyptic fiction, the project places emphasis on the role and meaning of folk at the end of civilisation. It takes inspiration from the construction of archetypes drawing from both future and history, and draws out the possibilities opened by ritual and social practices through a mix of both conventional and makeshifts musical instruments.

At INIVA, Keywords examines the ways in which meaning and its shift within language can reflect social, cultural and political transformation, drawing on Raymond William’s text with the same name. Accompanied by a range of lectures that examine the linguistic histories of words such as practice, theory, equality and sex, the exhibition uses works from Tate Collection to examine art of the eighties and nineties that engages with such cultural paradigms. At the AA School of Architecture, Cultural Hijack  is an exhibition that investigates the ways in which insurgent public spaces can be regarded as disruptions of public life. Made up of a range of interventions that have dealt with actions such as trespassing, hijacking and agitating, the exhibition presents works that have occupied a range of public sites, from TV and radio to billboards and monuments. It’s an interesting exploration of social politics within urban landscapes, and takes place in three parts: a range of documentation of artworks, a programme of talks and interventions as well as a weekend of lectures, screenings and participatory actions titled CON(tra)VENTION.

The ICA presents Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years, a retrospective of the work of the New York artist collective, from their organisation of parties to the development of faux branding strategies and women’s fashion in the late nineties. The collective engages in a range of real life processes to develop social and political critiques and intervention, drawing from appropriation, hoaxes and fictional representations, engaging with the problematic politics of capitalism in its rise and development.

Taking over the former Police Station in Bristol, Tempting Failure is a platform of work that engages with the relationship between live art and action, looking at processes of failure in situ, taking its inspiration from the topography of the site itself. Alongside a range of works, there will be a programme of talks investigating notions of self through noise in performance, body and body as well as play, failure and duration. In London, What Now Festival returns at Siobhan Davies Studios including works from artists such as Neil Callaghan, Theron Schmidt and Katye Coe. The festival, much like Keywords, examines the ways in which context can define and make visible new developments in dance and choreography. The research programme Performing Documents concludes with a conference, exhibition and set of events on the theme of Replace. Version Control is an exhibition running alongside this at the Arnolfini that capitalises on performance and appropriation, with work from Tim Etchells, The Bernadette Corporation and Seth Price, amongst others.

Spill Festival returns this year under the theme of ‘on contact’, with works at the Barbican, Toynbee Studios, National Theatre Studio and Netil House. Spill Thinker in Residence Tim Etchells will host two Spill Salons examining work in the programme, alongside Spill Folk Academy, a two day series of events bringing together cultural workers, on the basis of sharing strategies, modes and ways of creating resilience and sustainability within the arts. In relation to these sites of discussion and debate, the programme itself is focused around two weekends of work from emerging artists selected from the pieces showcased at National Platform in Ipswich, including Season Butler, Grace Schwindt, Jo Heller and Ruth Flynn, as well as work from Julia Bardsley and Martin O’Brien. Forced Entertainment present a 24 hour version of their piece Quizoola, and Norwegian collective Verk Produksjoner present an adaptation of Par Lagerkvist’s novel The Eternal Smile.

Live Collision returns to Dublin with a programme of performances from artists such as Scottee, Natasha Davies, Alan Delmar and Season Butler, alongside a range of off site work from Rosanna Cade and Michelle Browne. Focused on inquiring about the future of performance, the festival is also accompanied by a publication of texts, with the intervention of a digital project and a range of performative pieces.

Back in London, All Change: New Horizons in British Theatre presents a set of performances, roundtables and workshops that examine the ways in which we might engage with international work, building a wider understanding of a range of practices both in Europe and beyond. The festival includes a talk with Simon Stephens looking at the impact of the premiere of Three Kingdoms at the Lyric last year, as well as a reading of Hamletmachine and a great programme of talks looking at translation, models of practices as well as ethics and strategies for collaboration. Rather aptly, the Barbican premieres an adaptation of Strindberg’s Fraulein Julie by Schaubuhne in Berlin at the end of the month, co-directed by Katie Mitchell.

Last but certainly not least, Forest Fringe returns with yet another residency at The Gate, headed by Ant Hampton and Glen Neath’s Romcom, performed by different Forest Fringe artists every night, as well as work from performance and cabaret artist Dickie Beau. Alongside this there will be additional work from a range of artists, including Tom Marshman, Chris Bailey, Lucy Ellinson and Ira Brand. The Jane Packman company is at the Albany with A Thousand Shards of Glass, exploring the life of a resistance heroine and Sacred continues at Chelsea Theatre with work by Peggy Shaw, Sheila Ghelani and Stacy Makishi.

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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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