Sunday, February 17, 2013

'LUPA 16' behind James Campbell House, 15th February 2013

Jordan McKenzie and Kate Mahony introducing LUPA 16.
Another month, another LUPA.  It's always nice to get to the back of James Campbell house - every time I go I seem to run into a few more familiar and friendly faces.  Thankfully things had warmed up a bit since the last icily cold LUPA, and although the crowd looked slightly smaller than last time that's not such a bad thing as it's easier to get a better view.  I was particularly eager to get there on time this week because Cluster Bomb Collective were first up.  I've seen them performing at ]performance s p a c e [  in October, and having very much enjoyed that was looking forward to seeing what they'd come up with for LUPA.

Their performance began with Sebastian Hau-Walker standing in a pile of tyres, spraying his head with what smelt like (and maybe actually have been) WD-40.  After this he popped on a copper wig, smearily applied some lipstick and began to throw the tyres around the performance area.  Like some weird self-constructing army assault course he hopped slightly awkwardly from tyre to tyre.  As he made his way around audience members had to hop out of the way to avoid the tyres being haphazardly tossed in their direction.   

After his near circumnavigation of the space, he ended up standing next to the garage.  The  front of it had been covered in a white sheet, with a car faintly visible behind it.  Faintly visible projections were playing across the white sheet.  Soon we heard the engine of the car rumble into life, and then *vroom* the car burst through the sheet at a surprisingly quick speed into the performance area.

I always enjoy performances with a dangerous edge to them.  It struck me on seeing this that this car pouncing out of the garage, if not driven perfectly, might well have pancaked a load of bohemian looking arty types in the audience.  Seeing a perfectly normal looking car appear like this added a surprisingly surreal element to it.  It seems obvious really, but using the LUPA garage as an actual garage is neatly and smartly funny considering that the rest of the time it's home for experimental art shows.

After making such a dramatic entrance, the car seemed as if it was enjoying the attention lavished upon it.  Artists began to emerge one by one from it, climbing up and onto the roof, arranging bottles along the top of the LUPA garage.  As Sebastian climbed up on the roof, two performers sat on the roof with a brown briefcase.  It was filled with soil, and they began to throw handfuls of it over the car, the tiny rocks making a tinkling metallic noise as they pitter-pattered over the bonnet and windows.

Sebastian Hau-Walker
Meanwhile, on the roof Sebastian seemed to be assembling himself into some kind of totemic, shaman-like car warrior.  Clutching a length of rusty exhaust pipe in his hand, he began pouring wine into it.  These ritualistic ceremonies gave everything else they did importance, the soil and the wine acting like a kind of baptism.  Meanwhile, on the car, one of the other performers was rubbing some dried grass between her legs and the other was holding a bottle of wine against his crotch as it if were a glass cock.  The contrast between the organic nature of the grass stuffed between a performers legs, the soil they were thrashing around in on the car and the wine now being tossed upon them from an exhaust pipe gave it connotations of some fucked up car-fertility rite.

I was later told that the inspiration for this piece was J. G. Ballard's book 'Crash'.  As Ballard said:
"A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status — all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing)."
This seems to fit pretty well in what I've just seen.  The performance made me think of tribal cultures with animist religions; the veneration of spiritual essences within animals, plants and inanimate objects.  If there were a modern animism then surely it'd make more sense to worship the spirit of things we actually have connections with like the smartphone, the internet or, indeed the car rather than abstractions like wolves, deer and eagles.  This is one of those performances that I enjoy the more I think about it.  From my perspective I saw the transformation of a bog-standard hatchback from a utilitarian tool for getting from A to B into a fetishistic religious object, a being worthy of sacrifice, to be feared and loved in equal measure.

That was great, so it's a pity that the following three performances weren't quite up to scratch.  The second performance was by Eugene Watson, who read a short prose piece about his body mutating in strange ways.  This was done wearing a luchador mask.  At the end of the piece, two other men in luchador masks taped a picture to the door of the garage.

Eugene Watson
This piece on body horror, coupled with the 'Crash' inspired themes of the first performance began to give the night a rather Cronenbergy atmosphere.  My problem with this piece wasn't with the prose, which from what I could hear sounded quite well written, it's that I don't think that the luchador masks added anything thematically, and the piece of art they put up was very underwhelming.  

But this seemed like a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride compared to Sylwester Piasecki's performance.  He stood on a stack of free London newspapers and gradually picked them up and put them in another pile on top of the garage.  I suppose there's something here about the way the information in these newspapers are processed through a person, but goddamn this was tedious to watch.  On and on it went, the only silver lining being that we had a pretty good idea when it was going to finish.  When it did finish he tipped the pile of newspapers onto himself.  I breathed a sigh of relief that it was finally over.

Exactly as interesting as it looks.
Far more fun was Rosa Farber's piece.  She took us on a little walk around the LUPA garage, telling us a little story of her life.  The idea fuelling it was how she always felt on the 'left' rather on the 'right'.  The way she tells it, her popular, confident friends always seemed to be moving in one way, and her in another slightly different way.  Being on the 'right' is to socially fit in, and to be on the 'left' is to be a misfit.  As we followed Rosa around, taking a series of left turns she took us through her life, up to studying art now, and how she's felt through these different stages.

Rosa Farber mid-story
I quite enjoyed this, and Rosa is certainly charismatic and interesting to listen to.  But it ended quite abruptly for my tastes.  She'd built a pretty interesting narrative, and without any clear ending the performance seemed a little unfinished.  But then, I guess this is her life story, and that obviously isn't over.  Also, on a purely practical level, if you were near the back of the group following Rose, you wouldn't get to hear anything at all.  But then if you drag your feet you deserve all you get.

A mysterious box.
Thankfully the final piece by Ipek Köprülü was a lot more interesting.  A large box with a video screen on top was carried out.  We gathered around the box to have a look what was on it.  It seemed to be showing closeup pictures of fish.  Shots of their milky flesh, the silvery scales of the skin and so on.  After a few minute of this the box moved.  Slowly, gradually a black rubberised hand creeped out of it.  Soon, a gimp-masked head poked out, eventually revealed a black, rubber mermaid, who lay on the asphalt preening herself and posing for the cameras.  

I haven't got the faintest idea what this meant, but damn it looked cool.   The lack of any identifying features on the mergimp really added up to a sense of the alien.  The way everyone crowded around to have a close look reminded me of being in a zoo, or perhaps a freak show.  But she had such tight control of her body language and was so utterly confident that even when wrapped in tight black rubber, she still carried herself with dignity. As she was carried off back to the depths of the garage we applauded.

Not the best LUPA I've seen, but like always definitely worth coming to.  Even the stuff that's not so great is at least interesting, and very worthwhile watching.  Looking forward to LUPA 17 in March!

As usual, if I've gotten the names mixed up please let me know in the comments.

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