Saturday, March 16, 2013

'LUPA 17' behind James Campbell House, 15th March 2013

Marcus Orlandi
My flimsy shoes have soaked through and my feet are freezing cold.  Rainwater is running down the back of my neck.  Shivering and shaking, my teeth chatter.  I'm glaring at a man balancing on a folding chair, a bucket tied to his ankle.  Here is the routine.  He cuts open a packet of salt and pours it into the bucket.  Then he balances on the chair and waits for the salt to pour out.  Then he gets down, gets another packet of salt and repeats the process.  A sensation of dread dawns upon me as I calculate that he has maybe fifteen minutes to go until he's out of salt.  I realise numbly that I have no sensation in my toes.  

Urgh, what on earth am I doing watching this boring rubbish?  I find myself wishing I was sitting on a warm sofa with a nice hot mug of tea rather than shivering unhappily behind a block of flats in Bethnal Green watching half-baked conceptual bollocks.  The artist is Marcus Orlandi, who I'm sure is a perfectly pleasant and likeable guy, but right now he's evil incarnate for putting through this nightmare.  Even the weather, horrible as it is, doesn't seem particular enamoured with the piece.  The idea seems to be that the salt runs through a hole in the bottom of the bucket and creates patterns on the floor.  The problem with this is that it's pouring with rain, and the salt gets gummed up and won't flow.  It's pretty funny, or it would be if I wasn't bone cold, shivering and soaked through.

Edge of your seat thrills.
I've got a pretty high boredom threshold and though some previous events at LUPA have tested it in the past, I've never actually wished I was elsewhere before.  During this piece I did - for the first time ever I was tempted to leave early and write the night off.  But, thankfully, I stuck it out, and I'm glad I did, because the performances that followed were all good enough to make the weather worth venturing out in.  My mood also picked up because a kindly couple took pity on me and offered me shelter underneath a big union jack golf umbrella.  So thanks to you, whoever you are.

To wind time back before the salt, as I arrived there was a covert piece of art going on around me as I waited for things to start.  As I waited, chatting with people I was frequently bumped into by a girl on a bicycle.  She appeared to be trying to learn to ride and, accompanied by a woman who I assume was her mother, moved in circles through the crowd, gently bumping us out of the way.  At first I was a slightly annoyed, thinking to myself "this is a bit of a silly place to learn to ride a bike". Then I realised that thinking that is probably an indication that this was actually a piece of performance art.

A blurry girl on a bike. 
It was later announced that this was the work of Fran Cottell, working in partnership with local cycle groups.  It's interesting to view everyone semi-ignoring the young girl on a bike as a reflection on how frequently cyclists are ignored by HGVs and other vehicles on the streets of London and smashed across the road.  I cycle to work, and dodging angry taxi drivers, swerving out of the way of hurrying buses and avoiding jaywalking pedestrians works up quite a bit of adrenaline.  It beats a cup of coffee in the morning, but occasionally you see someone get plaited around the axle of some huge meat lorry at Smithfields and soberly think 'hm, that could be me'.  At the end of the piece some cyclists rush through the crowd, one of them on some kind of tiny whirring electrical penny farthing creation.  Lit up, it swooshes through the crowd with a pleasing rubberised buzz.  Pretty neat stuff.

I've always been interested as to what the residents of James Campbell House think of LUPA.  At the back of my mind I wonder who it's annoying, who secretly loves it and who's down there watching it with us.  FrenchMottershead's (Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead) piece last night answered all those questions, along with two very pleasant residents who'd volunteered to speak to us.  The two had been around the building interviewing people about what they do while LUPA is on and their experiences of it.  This ranged from watching it through their living room windows, to being aware of it but never actually seeing it due to it conflicting with their work hours.  One of the responses, from a Muslim woman, was that she enjoys watching it from her house, but can't go down and participate because there's too many men present.  This struck me as a bit sad, knowing that while we're being footloose and fancy-free in an East London art happening that there's somebody very nearby who feels they can't participate directly.  Still, at least she's enjoying it.

Rebecca French of FrenchMottershead
Up next was 'No Collective' doing a faux-Crimewatch sketch about the disappearance of culture from Romford.  No Collective are Natalie Bays and Josef Easeman and their work is based around "investigating micro-cultures".  It was very funny, one of the funniest things I've seen at a LUPA event I think.  Their story explains how culture is 'trafficked' around the city which is personified as an abducted woman.  There's a certain Chris Morris-y tinge to affairs, and they successfully capture some of the ridiculousness in an authority figure saying utterly ridiculous and bizarre things.

The highlight of this for me was Natalie's physical performance.  There was a great mime styled bit where Josef was explaining how the 'kidnappers' of culture looked, while Natalie acted out how she'd imagine this description to look.  More pointedly, there was some sharp skewering of the self-importance of the London cultural scene, which is always nice to see at events like this.  Romford is both an intrinsic part of London and somewhere quite distant and faraway if you live more centrally - so the performance had a sort of 'insider-outsider' perspective that was quite refreshing.

No Collective - Natalie Bays and Josef Easeman
Following this was Tim Jeeves, who'd travelled down from Liverpool for the evening.  He began by creating water balloons using a funnel, putting them in a tray.  Making each one looked fiddly and took up quite a bit of time.  I worried about a repeat of the salt incident from before; I am very much done with torturously slow setups with no payoff.  Thankfully, Tim had a solution.  He press-ganged two people out of the audience to keep making the water balloons, then gave three people bottles of Becks and began reading a short extract of Brechtian theory; explaining that "Catharsis militates against social change by inducing a spirit of acquiescence.  Catharsis is a very good therapy, but it does little to counter the cause of repression".  

Tim Jeeves
We were soon to see this idea being put into practice, a bit more literally than he might have planned.  He stood at the end of the car park, put on a David Cameron mask and invited everyone to throw water balloons at him.  Rather than ending up with a satisfyingly soaked Prime Minister though, most people missed completely, and those that did hit him tended to bounce off without bursting.  I'd guess the plan was for them to burst; the soaking acting as the fun (but not particularly effective) catharsis.  Here though, I think the simple act of throwing them functioned as the catharsis, and the fact that they bounced off without bursting is an interesting comment in and of itself.  But aside from that high-falutin theorisin' - throwing water balloons is fun.  And throwing them at someone in a David Cameron mask multiplies that fun.  So a great way to finish the night.

Even though I was by now enjoying myself, I was still cold and wet, and hightailed it out of there as soon as I could.  Another fun night, and I just hope the next LUPA, on the 19th of April will be a bit warmer and a lot drier.  I'm sure that once the clocks go forward things will get a bit more pleasant.  They've gotta... right?

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