A Welsh Revolution

Here's a tracklist of sorts for the Traw & Emma Macey performance on the Thursday night. Some of these things may have been recognisable, others might not. And they're certainly not in the right order...

Various Artists: Parsel Persain
Various Artists: Dial M For Merthyr
Various Artists: Hwyrnos Glansevin
Various Artists: Disc A Dawn
Gari Williams: Galw Gari
Trebor Edwards: Ychydig Hedd
Y Cyrff: Cymru Lloegr A Llanrwst EP
Dafydd Iwan: Bod Yn Rhydd
Hogia Llandegai: Caneuon Gorau
Hogia'r Wyddfa: Croeso'n Ol
Sioned Williams: Harp Music By John Parry
Fr. Francis of Pantasaph: I Watch The Sunrise
Shakin' Stevens: This Ole House
Pontarddulais Male Choir: Glory In The Valley
Acid Casuals: Filthy Pitch
Cofi Bach A Tew Shady: Bach A Tew EP
Rhodri Davies & Ingar Zach: Ieirll
Islwyn Ffowc Elis: Improve Your Welsh
Shirley Bassey: Something
Tom Jones: Green Green Grass of Home
Super Furry Animals: Phantom Power
Y Tebot Piws: Blaenau Ffestiniog EP
Yr Hennessy's: Cymru Rydd EP
Tony Ac Aloma: Dim Ond Ti A Mi EP
Eirlys Parry a Hywel Evans: Blodau'r Grug
René Griffiths: Y Frwydr EP
Parti Menlli: Barry John EP

Experimentica- Day 5 - Authenticity, fragments of Wales, and the spectacular body

On this last day of Experimentica in Cardiff, several of the pieces directly engaged with issues of Welsh identity, but in a surprisingly fragmented way. Rowan O’Neill’s ‘Cerdded Adre’ (‘The Long Walk Home’) is an auto-historical telling of the performance’s own coming into being, interspersed with short, self-contained performance moments accompanied by O’Neill singing in English and Welsh. These include the soaking of her grandfather’s cardigan in salt water; a slow and painful walk across strewn rocks and shells; and the dousing of earth with milk to create a muddy paste which is smeared on the wall and on O’Neill’s body. Throughout, the piece has an easy, conversational style and is punctuated with self-deprecating humour: as O’Neill prepares to wipe the milk-soaked earth on the wall, she says quietly, ‘This isn’t shit.’

‘Cerdded Adre’ wrestles with ideas of Welshness, performance, and fakery. O’Neill brings together accounts of the ‘Welsh Not’ used to punish the speaking of Welsh in schools; cultural critic Raymond Williams’ critique of the exploitation masked by the idealisation of the pastoral; and Iolo Morganwg, founding figure of Welsh bardic culture (embodied in the Eisteddfod festival), and also voted ‘Greatest Welsh Faker’ in a 2003 poll. O’Neill reflects critically on her own choices and intentions as an artist. What comes across is the sense that the only way to be authentically ‘Welsh’ is to realise that Welshness itself is a performance.

In ‘Capeli Crannog’, sonic arts collective Gwrando create a shrine to lost Welsh music. Dozens of record players and countless old records (predominantly church songs) were salvaged from streets, skips, and charity shops – representing an attempt not only to recycle these objects as objects of beauty, but also to recover the discarded cultural refuse which they represent. The space is arranged like a chapel, lit in the style of arched church windows and decorated everywhere with lilies. Sound fragments from the old records are electronically layered over each other, playing at different speeds and using their gaps and static as percussive elements. One of the collective begins to sing live hymns in a resonant, powerful voice. Beneath her singing, the loops, skips, and scratches build to a climax, ending with different vocal and instrumental versions of ‘Amazing Grace’ pouring out of every record player in the room. This attempt to recover what has been lost is decidedly contemporary. It feels as if what is recoverable is only the distance between, the glance toward, the view from here and the desire to look back.

Each morning of Experimentica, Chapter have hosted an artists’ breakfast for discussion and sharing of ideas. In Sunday morning’s discussion, one of the themes was the use of pain and extreme acts in live art. I was struck by the way in which the presentation of the body in pain can fall on different and contradictory points on an axis between authenticity and inauthenticity. These acts can symbolise the real, the unfakeable, the live presence of the performer and the co-presence of spectators. But they can also symbolise the spectacular, the theatrical, the sensational hook which draws in audiences and solidifies an artist’s fame.

These tensions were at work in Helena Hunter’s ‘Tracing Shadows’, the final performance of the festival. In comparison with the rest of the work in the programme, Hunter brings a veritable arsenal of theatrical tricks: projections and pulleys, meticulous control over sound and lighting, and darkness as cover for theatrical sleight-of-hand to create surprise images for the blinded audience. And yet its central concern is Hunter’s barely visible body, her naked back twisting and straining in the most of sparse of light. In brief glimpses through the blackness we see blue ribbon pouring onto her body, a child’s dress appearing in the darkness, and Hunter’s body writhing and breaking in an attempt to fit into the impossibly small dress. These elements create a fairy tale world that combines the seductive and the destructive, the childlike and the adult, desire and the artificiality of desire. Like fairy tales themselves, this is completely contrived work which falls very much within the mechanisms of the theatrical, and at the same time it is eerie, compelling, and haunting.

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.

sunday night

entering the media point to see and feel the day long event of sound of aircraft attacking britain you are catapulted into a sort of no man's land of sound , image and bodies- effects lights glisten like a concert- the fusion of the music is quite beautiful in a desolating way- moments build then fade as a sort of tension invades the space- it is hard to experience the holistic quality of the piece stepping in off the street for 20 mins- i would have liked to have tased it for longer to gain a deeper insight but my time was sufficient to be thrust into this no man's land where anything could happen- it reminds me of godspeed yr black emperor's lift yr skinny fists to heaven album, with epic moments rising and falling into brooding nothingness then exploding again.........it is a brave and unpretentious piece that challenges our comfort zones and provokes many questions- perhaps blair and brown could listen for a while.just in case..........

then to the "tracing shadows" piece- almsot a church like feel to the entrance and waiting in darkenedsilence- feel myself wanting ot hear a voice but have to rein in those literary needs to focus on the figure that is sprawled on the floor lit by a dim almost grey light-
sound effects and music were beautiful and truly transported the audience into this silent world this feminine world we are watching like voyeurs- at times it is almost painful, other times almost erotic, an ebb and flow of a life of lives fading and growing living and dying- on the theory of moments as i let myself go with the piece and transcend gender and time - i owudl have liked more intro as to why this dress was important and what drives woman to this dress but the getting into it and the moments after are very beautiful, very moving ,very real- it made me think of a woman's body trapped and used by man for his own ends and a poem i have jsut written about female genital mutilation......
(for waris dirie)

eyelids down
drenched in righteousness
spitting venom upon innocent skin

to secrecy
steeped in indignity
parading as,
cultural identity,

stapled sexuality
an egotist's litany
controlling lives
with rusted knives

stitched virginity
with thorns of masculinity

the mouth clings to memory
as blood in dirt
an indelible history
drowned in theocracy

even diamonds slip to insignificance
as the price of purity
rises as does
the perpetual misery

be it religion or cultural
that shape the fear of the clitoral
all are evil and genocidal

eyelids open
drenched in morality
spit reason
upon decrepid ritual

and after returning home tonight the images of the dancer/actor have stayed indelible in my mind and
i was inspired to write a stream of consciousness poem/song/statement born out of this tender fusion of body spirit and society.........................


where drought drips
and doom looms,
like eyebright nectar
suck deep the fissure
of life lipping love
to where growth escapes.

against the grain
like evening rain
for earthshine
we must glow
feed our roots
so we may use our once wings,
spring sprung songs
of growing,
leaftaste on trembling tongue
branchburst birth
streamshimmer and mountainmarch
i know sapflow,
must go
to grow,

and fulfill those skywrote dreams,

that ground our feet.

thnak you helena hunter for yr beautiful moving and challenging piece......................

so, thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts on experimentica- it has been enlightening- rage on....

Experimentica - Day 4 - On framing

Alongside the live performance programme at Experimentica have been a variety of film screenings and installations. These have been too numerous for me to give detailed consideration to here, but one common aspect which struck me was the relationship of the image to its frame – that is, of the relationship of image to itself as image. Soozy Roberts describes using deliberate ‘naivety’ and ‘stupidity’ as an approach to making her short film, and so they are a hit-and-miss affair. Some of the ideas which seem like interesting performance ideas end up being lacklustre in their filmed versions; but conversely, some seemingly simple ideas gain in complexity and richness from being filmed. ‘Divided face’, for example, shows a head-shot of the filmmaker drawing intersecting grid-lines on her face. Perhaps not a very interesting performance proposition, but rendered two-dimensional in the flat world of the film screen, there’s something very intriguing about the effect of her staring out of the image in this way.

Chris Holtom’s short ‘Camera Frame Experiments’ explicitly explore this relation of image to its frame, as the frame becomes an active, physical element in the world being filmed, rather than an abstract entity in the idea-world of the image. So as the camera pans through an image of a cup on a table, for example, the encroaching frame knocks the cup off the table. John Rawley’s ‘Do Something – Do Nothing’, described by the artist in a previous blog post below, expands the idea of frame to include both the experience of filming and of viewing. Individuals were filmed for an hour each, alone in a room with a static camera, with no instructions or prescriptions except that sound would not be recorded. The results are shown in one of Chapter’s small screening rooms, so one’s experience of them is that of being sat in comfortable cinema seats before the nearly real-size image of someone else who is both alone and aware of being watched. It’s a very strange relationship to have to someone else, and there’s a complex layering of permissions and power relations. These became even more apparent when, after having been alone in the screening room for some time, I was joined by another spectator walking into the room. The intimate one-to-one relationship instantaneously became an impersonal relationship of spectators to image.

Neil Davies’ live performance sets up a striking physical framing effect, covering most of the studio theatre’s floor with a large rectangle of salt. In what seems to be a largely improvised performance, he makes tense, muscular movements exploring the lines of his body’s rotation and strength. As his hands make sensuous contact with his own body, his feet make parallel traces in the salt, exposing the black floor beneath. It’s very self-involved work, and there are possibly too many different ideas being pursued here, with some of the most effective ideas being also the most simple ones. The visual effect of the lights slowly rising and falling on his lone figure against the luminous square, for example, are very strong. One direction in which the piece could be developed would be to work with an awareness of its visual effects and how it appears to its spectators, rather than with the internal experience of the body and the salt, which only the performer can feel.

In Joost Nieuwenburg’s durational ‘Common Sense’, the artist occupies an even more restrictive frame: a 3 foot high by 8 foot by 8 foot square box installed in Chapter’s dance studio. Inside this space, only able to crawl, Nieuwenburg has a stove, a sink, and several kilos of onions. For four hours, he peels and chops the onions, adding them to a pot which is always cooking. A swimming pool ladder at one end of the box invites us to climb on top, from where we can see him through a small vented porthole placed directly above the simmering pot. Another small window on one of the sides gives a different view of Nieuwenburg at work. From both windows, the smell and the heat are overpowering, as is the image of Nieuwenburg sweating and crying inside. It’s an exquisitely well-crafted experience: the beauty of the object itself in the room, the seductive glimpse of another world, and the sweaty, pressurised labour going on inside.

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.

saturday visitations

there was a great energy on friday at chapter- i finished my reading which i enjoyed and to have more than 17 people in the audience for a poetry reading is a result!- hung around savouring the atmosphere- good place to be-
saturday and i am looking forward to sampling a few other events- - have to admit the camera frame experiments by chris holtom did absolutely nothing for me- i mean come on taking a picture of a fucking vacuum cleaner then labelling it " vacuum" does nothing for the soul does it?- i do struggle with these sort of artists - i want to shake them and say get a grip do soemthing say something make.me.feel.something. in this deadening world we inhabit why give up and almost say wel lthis is it- this is it. maybe thats the point i do not know?- i just do not get it. and before all the avant garde jump on me or maybe pour fucking apple sauce over me in a happening i do not always want to GET IT but need to feel soemthing need to feel the hair on the back of my neck stand feel my stomach churn in soem vicarious empathy- need to want to say i disagree with you- or indeeed feel ihave communed with something someone as arthur miller said- " he wanted his plays to make people feel less alone" well the camera thing made me feel like saying fuck it life is boring and shit and you ARE ON YR OWN MATE NOw fuck off!-what a waste of a photographic opportunity to explore the human condition...............
sorry- got carried away maybe that is the point!
now in response to our friend in the tank- first of all when i went in- he wasn't even in there- people bending down to see this feat of human endurance, starign thorugh the masses of onions and spilled tears to catch a glimpse of the new david blaine- and he wasn't even there- he'd popped out for a quick piss and maybe to see his mate doing the photos of the vacuums and other soulinspiring stuff- oh come on, ...."l'art est inutile, vont à la maison"...........
it makes me think of a truly great artist.............one who continues to inspire and provoke

"You cannot acquire experience by making experiments. You cannot create experience. You must undergo it."
Albert Camus

right onto peppermintpatti presents- planningtorock- the pitch seems interesting and something with a bit of feeling and actual creativity-- but before we get to that- who were those two idiots on stage dressed in a red kagool with a silly mask that squashes their faces in cycling shorts pretending to run to some bad european music that was probably number one in iceland in 1982 so they think it is cool cos no other fucker has heard of it so is art- well let me tell you this- it is not- my 5 yr old son knows more about art and the act of creation than those two sad fuckers- what is it? were they ignored at school so have to be noticed in any fuckign way possible which on last nights evidence means to be as pathetic and silly as possible doing absolutley nothing of any value- human social emotional artistic economic anyfucking thing but act like ah i cant even find the words to represent my rage at this- but it is done is a smug " oh you dont get our oh so cool act so you're retards and we are the coolest actor artist cultural creator in this fucking room" syndrome-- i was more pissed off with the audience who actually encourage such spectacle by looking at what they were doing and finding a better vantage point to see the confederacy of the dunce dances and shake their adult forms in kid like nutterdom!- say no NO!NO!- then, they walk off stage their egos stroked like bin laden's dyed beard and walk into the audience offering sweets - oh yes it must be a homage to their idle youth sat in cinemas watching old films thinking of theday when they could be stars and see their name in lights and the audience will bow before them- so they have a little torch and walk through the thick audience handing out sweets- you heard it right fucking sweets- oh you are so ironic! when there is death, bombing in baghdad, religions ruling our days, women stoned, houses repossessed and a minimum wage of £5.35 these two fuckers walk around in some darkened room handing out sweets with a high pitched moronic voice-i am sorry but i do not get it and I DO NOT WANT TO GET IT-improvised- bollocks- make it up as you go along more like - look- if you are going to get on a stage and ask people to pay hard earned money to see you, take some time, think about what you are doing, let the spirit take you, maybe even read a book, but please please, be professional, be human, say something.............SWEETS SWEETS, SWEETS, SWEETs!!!!- bored bored bored ironic of course- they probably think they are more dangerous than an al qaeda suggestion box but really theye got as much to offer the world as the problem page in nuts magazine-
phew- thats better than a a dose of the heaven and earth show- maybe thas the point!!
on to janine rostron- sort of a mini zoo tv with a feminine touch- now here you pair in the red kagools and plastic masks look and learn- she's thought she's created she's delved into something and actually worked at it- the music is claustrophobic and epic at different times, sort of takes you away from yourself into another space- i like this- the images fade in and out we follow a business man on a train, nothing happens yet the music makes things happen- interesting i like it i like how i feel- i let loose theres a robbie fowler lookalikey next to me lost in his own world moving to the beat spilling his beer but it doesnt matter we are all in this together yet allowed to find the individual journey we choose- theres a more montage let video that aches for release the music pumps and beats into my arteries i follow the imagery not really caring where it wil ltake me- nice, releasing, searchign finding i like these words and my mind is given space to create my own picture- i have never heard of janine but i believe her, i feel her creation i acknowledge her work and that she knows and is in control what she is creating- it makes me feel like creating myself makes me want to be part of the universe.........
she ends the screen goes dead- i wanted more i wanted more music and images to thread me into her world and................... that my redkagoolled fakers ............... is art....................................

Experimentica - Day 3 - Production of space

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.