Thursday, June 5, 2014

CEREBELLUM at The Macbeth, 3rd June 2014

Lately I've been on the outs with performance art.  The thrill of experiencing someone translating meaning into movement, sound and interaction has been deadened due to overexposure.  All too often there's the sense that these performances take place in a hermetically sealed box.  Artists perform to audiences of artists, everyone smiles and says "well done" and "won't you come to my next performance?" rinse, repeat, nothing is achieved.  There comes a time when you seriously wonder what the purpose of all this abstraction is.  Is it performance as a bicycle pump for the ego?  Is it a public form of therapy for the artist?  Worst of all, is it merely just a way to kill some time?

I believe art should aim to change the world.  It's not that I expect every performance to kick off a coup d'├ętat, but at least there should be a fresh flickering of neurons within the brains of the audience.  Hitherto unconnected concepts become entangled with human motions, sound and music are linked to fresh visuals; mental metaphors spring to life within the flailing limbs of the participants.  I want art as electro-shock therapy, a jab to the brains of the audience that encourages them to evaluate their own behaviour in terms of what they see an artist accomplish.

This whirl of ideas has been clumsily spinning around in my head for a couple of days, so it was with some reservations that I headed off to The Macbeth for CEREBELLUM.  After all,  the last thing I want to do is show up and be a full on Negative Nancy.  Hoping to stave off any possible criticism I could have of the audience being the same old 10 or 12 East London performance art vets, I also brought a load of friends along with me. 

Charlotte CHW
  As if echoing my frustrations with stilted sterility, Charlotte CHW's piece Artist Submission was a jagged and aggressive assault on a canvas.  Hands and ankles bound, she wriggled caterpillarlike onto the stage.  Taped down was a large piece of paper, on top of that three pots of blue, red and yellow paint.  Lit by a strobe, the light of which mirrored the geiger counter/typewriter slam of the music, she thrashed around, covering herself and the canvas in paint.  About half way through the fucked up, discordant screech of a saxophone began to wail, sounding like someone had attached electrodes to the balls of whoever was playing it.

As the wet paint leaked through the paper it began to tear apart, causing damp, multicoloured flesh to grind against the splintered wooden floor of the stage.  As everything collapsed into destruction amid chaotic sounds it felt like an embodiment of frustration: "I'm going to both create and destroy at once".  With a hole torn in the paper and the combination of paints under the stage lights beginning to look grossly biological the piece took on a decompositional, putrid tone, an artist carving through a corpse.  After everything had wound down, Charlotte went back on stage and began to gather up the shredded, slick remnants of her materials.  As she began to roll it up it looked like zombie labia, a hole torn in the fabric of things.  Messy, chaotic and frustrated stuff:  I liked it.

Milche Grande
The discordant, aggressive atmosphere continued with Milche Grande.  He sat cross-legged, a panel of effects pedals and sound looping in front of him.  He turned himself into a one-man choir; emitting a distorted looping monkish chant that reverberated around the pub.  There was an element of the apocalyptic in it, the thrum of his words rising in and of the mix, overlapping with itself.  There were moments of intensity punctuated with calm, rise and fall sounding like sonic represenation of a fried mind.  Throughout this storm of sound he'd twist dials and gently depress pedals, causing the sound to morph and overlap the next; until it eventually sounded like a chorus of angry angels (that reminded me a little bit of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Dale Alexander Wilson & Chris King
In a similarly experimental muso vein were Dale Alexander Wilson and Chris King.  This was a little more gentle sounding; the music complementing artwork projected behind them.  In gently psychedelic imagery microscopic imagery twizzle and twists behind them, nicely complementing the music.  It's all pretty impressive stuff, as is their equipment, which bristles with wires and dials.  

Last on was Nuria Guix who, after her loud, spiky and aggressive predecessors, came as a palette-cleansing breath of fresh air.  It was about 11pm by now and the crowd had substantially dwindled, so everyone remaining sat up on the stage in a semi-circle waiting for her arrival.  The atmosphere of the pub took an unexpected turn towards the spiritual; we hushed up like a cult gathering.  Nuria kneeled, asked us to close our eyes and recited a short monologue that reminded us of who shared the air that we're breathing.  There's the old (annoying) joke phrase "You are now breathing manually" that causes you to become exquisitely aware of your lungs pumping in and out that seemed to apply here, making us feel organic, concrete and real.  As Nuria reminded us that we were breathing the same air as, among others, John Lennon, ourselves as a seven year old, Alexander the Great and our future selves, we lapsed into a calm, quiet (and by this point in the night slightly drunken) meditation.

Nuria Guix
 That the air we inhale shares atoms with all of humanity is far from the most original observation, but it's still absolutely right.  Anything that underlines our connection to each other is valid, and it's always good to remember that even though our sense of individuality is strong, it's ultimately an illusion. She also reminded me that being loud and forthright isn't the be all and end all of performance, that you can affect people just as much with a focussed and quiet moment.  

I still have some slow-burning issues with the general tone of performance art - I feel that its power to affect change is all too often squandered on masturbatory, ego-boosting performances that benefit only the performer.  Still, at least these frustrations were echoed in these aurally and physically destructive pieces at CEREBELLUM, married to a quieter piece that pointed towards new ways forward.  It was a night that I couldn't help but enjoy.

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