Nick Steur’s bizarre but brilliant performance is what you might call a hard sell. It is, essentially, a solitary man balancing rocks on top of one another. With a voiceover. And that’s pretty much it.
But it’s also so much more than that. From just half an hour, a few rocks and a text written in his second language, Steur manages to craft a deeply thoughtful meditation on focus, distraction and artistic expression. The piece is at once a tense feat of skill and willpower, a mesmerising act of concentration, and one artist’s beautifully considered statement on his own work.
The rocks that Steur stacks are not simple towers of round, flat stones. His balancing acts are wildly improbable, piling up large, unwieldy rocks in combinations that seem to defy basic physics. This just should not be possible. Yet there is no trickery involved, no glue or technology or visual illusion. Steur even invites us to take a closer look, keen to stress the authenticity of his attempt. Because of this firmly reinforced reality, the space of the performance is immediately on edge; this could all go very wrong. We’re always talking about risk in performance, but that risk doesn’t usually involve the possibility of a delicately balanced structure of rocks tumbling down.
Simply watching Steur balance these objects – weighing them in his hand, examining their surfaces and then performing the seemingly impossible before our eyes – is hypnotic enough. But around this surprisingly compelling spectacle, Steur builds a whole web of other thoughts and questions. We only ever hear his voice as a recording, emanating from a speaker fixed to his head. His thoughts are both rooted and disembodied, attached to his figure yet strangely dislocated. He talks about what he is doing, about the focus required, about distractions – of which this voiceover is one – versus the ability to concentrate absolutely. These musings, delivered in a deliberately slow, flat tone, are interspersed with long moments of quiet, encouraging us to appreciate the contrast.
Steur’s commentary is knowing, thoughtful and often sly, inviting us to both consider and doubt his artistic intentions. He invests his words with implicit importance before quickly undermining them – they are only there to make sure we don’t get bored. There’s a decided wryness to his suggestion that we need words to sustain our interest, but his point about the role of text is a fascinating one. Do we really need language, or can images communicate with equal force? And do the two elements work in collaboration or opposition with one another?
These questions are not quite answered, but they linger long after the brief 30 minute performance. Freeze! offers a lightly thoughtful lull in the relentless buzz of the festival, rejecting showiness in favour of quiet concentration and contemplation. Rapt in the act of watching Steur’s extraordinary performance, his audience also enter into a dreamlike state of meditation; a reflective pause in the midst of chaos.