In this third day of Experimentica, I was intrigued to follow the various ways in which performers produced the space they occupied. With ‘Sky, Earth and Stars’, South Korean dance ensemble Atmen (Open Theatre) used so far the most unusual performance space: Chapter’s inner courtyard, an outdoor space cluttered with picnic tables, ramps, railings, and a spiralling staircase. As electronic music begins, three male performers enter the courtyard and take up a series of static positions, in each pose directing their gazes along precise, straight lines. As they move with confident clarity between positions, this has the effect of ‘warming up’ the space itself: the whole courtyard becomes energised with their passage through it.
The three men are eventually joined by a woman descending the staircase, followed by a violist performing live. Their subsequent improvisational dances are fluid and dextrous, each dancer having slightly different takes on a signature style. Having activated the space, the space continues to hold them all together, which enables them to be in sync with each other without having to perform identical movements. They remain attentive to the particularities of the courtyard, and so the courtyard continues to resonate with their passage long after they are gone.
Moving indoors, I came into Karl Price’s ‘installation performance’ while it was already in progress, and I was always aware of the feeling of being an interloper throughout the performance. I think this unease at being present is one of the deliberate effects of the work: in this space, it feels transgressive to be here. Price is naked, moving through the space with a palpable sense of anger or fierceness, while another naked man is seated with a plastic bag over his head playing a toy accordion into a microphone, producing a regular sound like breathing. At the conclusion of the piece, Price burns a tiny paper house in his palm, holding it past the point of pain until he extinguishes the flame with his other hand. He then uses sandpaper to rub his hand until it bleeds, shakes hands with each person in the room individually, and then leaves.
I was struck by the sudden transformation in the room once he left, even though the other performer was still present (but blinded by the bag). There’s a sense of relief as the audience’s unknowingly held breath is released, and audience members begin to examine the artefacts of the performance: finding out what was in the bag he drank from, looking closer at the ash and rubbed-off sandpaper dust, and finally feeling able to look at their own hands, something which seemed prohibited while he was still in the room. It would be fair to say that the room without Price was a completely different room from the one he was in.
In her examination of the neuroses and obsessions of office work, Australian performer Rosie Dennis creates an appropriately claustrophobic sense of space. Working within a small square of bright light in the corner of an immense dark room, she performs what might be called the dance of the accountant: her arms, head, and torso moving in a mechanised attempt to describe and account for overwhelming sensory data; her breath working arhythmically like the sound of information escaping. As we gather around her, agreeing silently amongst ourselves the appropriate distance to leave between us and her, she begins speaking, obsessively working and reworking words and phrases as if there might be some line of escape within them or that might emerge from their exhaustion. What’s effective about her performance is her detailed control over the tempo and volume of both her words and her actions, so that she is able to draw the room in closer and closer around her.
Dennis shared a double bill with South Korean artist Jeong Geum-Hyung, whose performance is, for me, the highlight of the festival so far. It can be appropriately described as a puppetry duet with a vacuum cleaner, but this underwhelming description fails to capture the fantastical, magical, and disturbing work that Jeong does. The long hose of the vacuum cleaner is given a man’s face at its end, with its gaping suction hole for its mouth. Throughout the piece, this face appears to be the only animated thing in the room, the rest of Jeong’s body completely lifeless and inert. In a reversal of roles, the face-object appears to manipulate Jeong’s body to its own desires: lifting her to her feet, rolling her across the floor, and ultimately using her as an object of its own bizarre and disturbing sexuality. The effect should be comical, and at times it is, but it is not the comedy of the absurd but of that which is portrayed with absolutely truthfulness and perfect execution. The piece works within the realm of control and manipulation, of animation and death – which is exactly the realm of puppetry, but I had forgotten how exciting it can be.
Theron Schmidt has been writer in residence throughout Experimentica 07, and is part of Writing from Live Art (www.writingfromliveart.co.uk), a Live Art UK initiative.