Saturday, November 29, 2014

'I AM / THE ISL△ND' by Cluster Bomb [Collective] at Wells Wall Pop Up, 28th November 2014

Cluster Bomb [Collective] have been dissecting and reassembling J.G. Ballard's Concrete Island for about two years.  The text has been chopped, screwed, slowed, thrown, mangled and fucked every which way; the artists treating it with the same ferocity as a pack of lions tearing apart a juicy antelope.  Some aspects change: the location, the duration, the style of performance and role of the audience.  Some remain static: scraggly red wigs, car parts wielded like religious artefacts, the repurposing of found objects.

Last night's performance took place in the shell of The Old Library in Burgess Park.  About fifteen years ago the building suffered a full-frontal lobotomy, the books, people and community emptied to leave a damp shell populated only by dead wasps and flies.  In the last few months fresh life has been breathed into these peeling walls, the council granting permission for it to be used as a temporary art space.  So with the boiler cranked into spluttering life and local beers available behind the counter a miniature urban resurrection has taken place. 

That makes it an excellent location to host a tale that sutures the personal to the urban, blends flesh and concrete into mutant forms and ponders precisely what separates man from his industrial creations.

We begin with a suit-wearing man taking the stage clutching the rusty wheel of a car.  He lies on his back, slowly spinning the wheel with all four limbs.  He's lit from below by harsh stage lighting, throwing a perfectly defined silhouette onto the wall behind him.  We're to see a number of odd hybrids tonight; and man/car is the first.  There's a whiff of Cronenbergian body horror in this Frankensteined combination of man and machine (as well as a smidge of 80s trash cartoon Turbo Teen - hey I never said all my references would be classy ones).

He's soon joined in the performance by a sinister, combative clown and the sexually aggressive Jane Shepherd.  The two of them toss him around the stage in inner tubes, manhandle him to the floor, squirt him with water and draw him down to some weird primal dirt-smeared caveman state.  

There's a very loose narrative, though telling a coherent story is obviously pretty low down Cluster Bomb's list of priorities.  What sticks in the mind are fragmented individual actions and interactions.  There's a moment where, drawn into combat with the clown, our 'hero' wrestles her to the ground climbing above her and sprays her with water.  There's a curiously sexually dominate tinge to this behaviour, as if in defeating his demons he's had to regress beyond human to the animal, figuratively marking his territory.

Though we spend much of the performance scrabbling around in the dirt and dust, there's the occasional moment of the divine that seasons the mix.  There's a tremendously powerful sequence where Robert's body is washed with water from a petrol tank by Jane.  The care with which she anoints his body with the liquid recalls Mary Magdalene washing Jesus Christ and/or the preparation of a sacrificial victim.

There's a ritualistic power in these motions, and even though we're never going to get a direct explanation the meaningful thrum and vibration of what's taking place is palpable in the air.  This peaks in the final sequences when Patrick rubs concrete dust over his wet, naked body.  It crumbles gently off his shoulders, falling to the floor in microscopic waterfall-like plumes.  Above him we see a looped film of a building failing to be demolished, ending up as half a building perched on top of its own ruins.  It's a nice series of parallels; linking the organic to the artificial and the biological to the mineral.

Afterwards I spoke to those running the space, who gave me a quick history of the location. Uniquely for London Burgess Park isn't some time old protected green space, but rather reclaimed urban land.  The Luftwaffe wiped out most of the housing here and rather than redevelop the land was bequeathed to the public as an open space.  The Old Library thus stands as it's own concrete island in the midst of the greenery.  Still, lurking just beneath the grass and trees lie dormant, buried networks of piping, cable and tunnel, the forgotten anatomy of the bombed out Victorian terraces.

It makes for a neat psychogeographic coincidence, the location elevating meaning - sprinkling a tiny yet welcome garnish of temporal grace onto an already fascinating performance.  I'm sure I'll soon see more reconfigurations of Concrete Island in future events.  Bring it on!

I AM / THE ISL△ND has it's final performance tonight at Chisenhale Dance Space London E3 5QZ.  Entry £6.  Doors 19:30, performance 20:00.

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