Tuesday, February 18, 2014

NEW SPACE ] performance o p e n [ by ]performancespace[ 16th February 2014

New lands, new spaces and new ambitions:  ]performancespace[, cosily burrowed like a hermit crab into a warehouse near the Hackney Wick canal has upped sticks and moved to nearby Fish Island.  Their new building, squirreled away within a maze of drab Victorian brickwork and sarcastic pop-inflected graffiti, feels like a rabbithole away from the frantic outside world.  The decor here is so new you can smell the paint drying, the cushions unsullied by the crease of human backsides and the walls a pristine, virginal white.  But they wouldn't be pristine for long!

Saturday was the inaugural event at this new location; the building freshly stocked with the fashionably dressed, the interestingly haircutted and the artistically open-minded.  Waiting in the wings was a swarm of artists ready to unleash an embarrassment of performance art that would baptise this place with paint, spices, charcoal, makeup, minerals and marbles.

 Sarah Zaltash
Setting the tone for the night was Sara Zaltash, with a durational performance that lasted most of the night.  Sat on the floor she recited a mantra while drawing a neverending charcoal circle around herself.  Round and round she went, the circle getting thicker and more defined as she used more and more charcoal.  In retrospect these marks outlined the themes we'd be seeing tonight; transforming the space into a canvas.  There's something faintly magical about the idea of sitting within a self-made circle, the lines acting as a protective barrier against the outside world. For me this protection extends outwards; the walls of the gallery allowing the artists to safely explore concepts; the water surrounding Fish Island creating a bubble of artistic expression - we can even go so far as to say that Goldsmith's circles recall the M25 - a protective loop around London itself.

Marita Fox
Marita Fox was up next.  Dressed all in black with circular black shades on she moved with a wiry insectoid grace.  With Kafka hanging gently in the air she writhed like a pupae  in a bubble wrap chrysalis.  Emerging from within she unfolded her limbs and with a sudden thump, elbow-dropped a cardboard box.  Within was more bubble-wrap, cotton wool - and deep within that two white hands.  She cradled these with her own black gloved hands, showing them to us with a look of incomprehension etched upon her face. Visually it was striking as hell, Fox mixing theatricality with the kind of style you'd usually expect to see staring out of a photoshoot from a mid 90s issue of Skin Two.

Zoya Sardashti
Zoya Sardashti was on next, dancing to a projection of graffiti.  The picture was of an emaciated, skull-like Statue of Liberty, and she danced an kind of aggressive, strutting semaphore at it.  With a mean look on her face she stomped back and forth in front of the projection, daring it to respond.  As she marched she kept a fixed, fierce look on her face, often making eye contact with the audience, implicating us within the work and subtly asking us which side of this conflict we're on.  It looked cathartic and personal: an opportunity for her to work out her frustrations with a symbol of the unblinking might of cultural imperialism.

Charlotte Law
Soon after was Charlotte Law with a brief (yet memorable) performance.  Nearly naked, she picked up a handful of ochre (I later found out this was a combination of iron ore and olive oil) and rubbed it all over her body.  Then she smooshed herself against the clean gallery pillars, using her body as a human potato printer and leaving a reddish-brown imperfect silhouette.   Job complete she left, leaving us staring at the handprints and impressions she'd left behind.  Once again we see the gallery undergoing some kind of weird blessing; the minerals Law slapped on inextricably melded with the sterile walls of the gallery.  I'm a big fan of brevity, generally preferring the tightly focussed statement to the meandering and freeform, so I liked this.  Within the space of a few quick actions Law created three striking images; first her own body covered in the ore, then her communing with the pillar; then finally the pillar on its own - pregnant with her presence.  

Luisa Amorim's performance marked a bit of a change of pace.  Miming to a backing track (of her own voice I think), she asked the crowd to perform various tasks while standing in a big tub of blue paint.  Perhaps it was the young girl running around in front of Amorim, but there was an air of children's TV about this.  The clear diction and friendly presence was simultaneously friendly and authoritative, and getting us involved in the various tasks she laid out kept everyone engaged.  Throughout people around us unexpectedly piped up, having been given cue cards in advance - dragging us into her light, eccentrically creative and pleasant world.

Performance art generally concentrates on stimulating our eyes and ears, though the immediate aspect of the medium easily allows for all of our senses to come into play.  With that in mind I always enjoy work that gets taste, touch and, in this performance, smell involved.  Nicolina Stylianou's performance involved her mixing various spices with water and spitting that into a jug.  I'm no spice expert, but I think I could detect the smell of cumin and cinnamon.  When she left there were smears of spices mixed with water on the floor, laid out in mixtures like paint on an easel and a tangy whiff hanging in the air.

Tim Bromage
After this we switched gears to Tim Bromage.  Dressed in a smart suit he launched straight into a solemn poem about the story of Icarus.  My heart sank a bit; "oh well, you can't win them all".  But then with perfect comic timing he broke out of his reverie and flipped things around; raising his eyebrows and remarking candidly that this was all a bit too serious.  En masse, we exhaled in a burst of relieved laughter.  But it was what came next that was truly interesting.  Picking up a banjo he began to play, but stopped mid-way through having, (as he put it) "lost it".   Again he tried and again he stopped.  And again.  The crowd grew anxious. Tim seems like such a nice guy that we all wanted him to succeed - and then it struck me that this collective will for him to succeed might have been the whole point of the exercise.  

Charlotte Hailey-Watts
Next up was Charlotte Hailey-Watts with an audio piece.  With butcher's grass lain on the floor, the scratchy sound of the inner loop of a Tears for Fears record infinitely brushing away, a backing track from a laptop playing and a mic in her hand she slowly constructed a sonic soundscape.  The bit I found the most interesting was how she positioned herself within all this.  Supplicated on a rectangular mat  Hailey-Watts looked as if she was engaged in Salat - the Islamic prayer.  It created a interesting frisson between her free-form, outsider style rubbing up against a thousand years of concrete institutionalism. At the conclusion of the performance she lay down and went to sleep on the mat, creating an oasis of calm.  This dead stop was apparently the cue for another performer to begin, but for me it worked as a much needed meditative break.

Emma Louvelle
Entering the final stretch was Emma Louvelle's dance piece, set to Madonna and a musician I didn't recognise (if anyone knows please comment, it was a nice song!).  Louvelle frolicked within symbols of mainstream femininity: makeup, body hair removal, cuddly toys and pop music; transforming mundanity and fluffy stereotypes into a viciously sharp weapon.  Lit from behind like a detective conducting an interrogation she ran a razor over her legs and smeared rouge over her face, ending up as a shamanic, over-the-top caricature of what a woman 'should' be.

After that was Christian Patracchini, who rolled a series of silver-spray painted marbles against a wall.  After the vicious energy of what had just come before this felt a little too austere for my liking.  Sure you can get a dab of kinetic enjoyment from the clickety-clack of the marbles bumping into each other and the randomness of their interactions was at least pretty interesting to look at, but it seemed oddly subdued compared to what had comed before.  We were heading towards the end of the night now, so this sudden drop in momentum was a bit disappointing.  That said, towards the end he started hurling the marbles at the wall so hard that they pinged back towards the us at high velocity.  That's the kind of stuff I enjoy: particularly watching members of the audience quietly yelping in surprise as they took a high velocity marble to the shin.

Ram Samocha & Gerald Royston Curtis
The final performance was a joint work between Ram Samocha and Gerald Royston Curtis. They popped up two black and white sheets of paper on the wall and began to draw on them with huge, exaggerated motions.  I think Gerald was writing 'zapamiętać' in overlaid letters on his (Polish for 'memorise') while Ram was running through a numeric sequence.  As the drawings became more built up the meanings collapsed into a tangled pile of loops and lines, something compounded when they switched sides and began to draw on each other's work. Consciously or not, these pictures summed up many of the marks we'd already seen made that night; the loops of Sara Zaltash, the smeared iron ore of Charlotte Law, the dust in the air the spice of Nicolina Stylianou and the painted footprints of Luisa Amorim.

At the end of the night the gallery felt properly inaugurated, the space now inhabited by the same spirit of playful adventurousness that characterised everything I enjoyed about the old warehouse.  I'm already looking forward to the next time I'm there!

(apologies for anyone's performance I didn't cover - I had to pop out for a bit and I think I missed at least one.  Let me know if I've gotten anyone's name wrong.)

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