Sunday, April 12, 2015

'Cerebellum' at The Stag's Head, 8th April 2015

As I watched a man beat himself over the head with a cymbal, I wondered just what the hell I'm doing here. Most people are probably tucked up on their sofas watching Masterchef or something, while I'm stood in the back room of a pub watching listening to a cacophonous atonal din punctuated by minor acts of mutilation. This, combined with beetle-ish paper scluttings, biorhythmic koto projects, lectures on injection moulding and freakshow prawn-stars (among many other things) comprises Cerebellum, a live art project that straddles London and Hastings.

Packed behind the red curtain of The Stag's Head was an tonne of fascinating art, not just the performances, but self contained exhibits and a plethora of displayed art on the walls. With this much on I can't cover everything - so here's my favourites.

Taking the prize for most cryptic use of materials was Sadie Edginton with room-spanning creative performance. Working with plastic wrap, a roll of paper, charcoal, water and a Styrofoam buoy her dog found on the beach, she explored the idea of 'artist-as-implement'. Dividing the crowd in two she rolled plastic wrap down the middle of the room and sprinkled water on top. Then she affixed a sheet of paper to her back and scuttled across the room, the white paper looking like an insectoid carapace as it unfolded behind her. Following that she worked back and forth, chipping charcoal on the floor, gradually creating a series of smudged black lines across the paper.

It reminded me of a performance of hers that I participated in about a year ago - I was wrapped up in paper and rolling around back and forth on the floor, repetition gradually destroying raw materials. A similar process happened here; the paper becoming torn and ripped, the charcoal ground into dust - even the artist herself getting grimy. I also enjoyed the idea of visually revealing a person's impact on their environment, grooves and erosion that could take years to be revealed happening in the space of a couple of minutes.

Next up was Hysteresis, who are event organiser Charlotte CHW and Jason Williams. The performance began with Charlotte emerging from a paper chrysalis while singing a creepily off-key cover of Smokey Robinson's Tears of a Clown. As weird as that was, it was nothing compared to what was to come. Taking to the stage, the two began viciously assaulting a variety of instruments and objects. An electric guitar got the worst treatment, emitting steady shrieks of pain as it was brutalised every which way by first Charlotte, and then Jason.

Things got increasingly more demented from then on. A gigantic lump of clay thudded rhythmically into the stage, knobs were twiddled and boxes were beaten. Some kind of gigantic home-made stringed instrument was produced from backstage and first played, then thwomped onto the stage in a clatter of bolts. It was at this point that heads began poking through the curtain, the pub locals wondering what the fuck was making such a din. This was capped off with Charlotte stumbling off stage, a hypnotic daze in her eyes. Jason had some part of a lamp attached to him and was beating his head with a cymbal - leaving a solitary trickle of blood down his face.

Despite all the mayhem, I found this performance quite relaxing. As with Sadie's performance, creation/destruction neatly dovetails into one another. Even as the objects on stage (and the performers) undergo violent transformation, fresh sounds and motions poke through like green shoots. It's also a pleasantly honest performance, both performers quickly transitioning into a reflexive, instinctive processes that're completely ego free. It got a deservedly impressed round of applause.

My favourite of the night was Eleanor Fogg's facial projection performance. Sat in front of a three panelled makeup mirror, she placed a miniature projector on the table and invited the audience onto the stage. To the sounds of what (I'm told was) a warped, time-shifted version of No Doubt's Don't Speak, we shuffled around, looking at the illuminated face in the mirror.

Then her features melted, shifted and rearranged before our eyes. It was an astonishingly effective and hallucinogenic performance: eyebrows becoming bushy, lips plumping to engorged redness, eyes sprouting from the side of her head, a beard morphing out of her cheeks. Using a projector in this fashion is a deceptively simple idea - a concept that must have been done before. But to see it done with such precision and artistry blew my mind.

At the core of the piece is an exploration of identity and gender in the digital age. As we blankly stare into our 'black mirror' screens we can become whoever we want - sultry vixen, bearded philosopher, old man, immature child, violent psychopath - the list of possible personae limited only to our imaginations. Here we see this process visualised; versions of the artist swimming in fluid motion across her face. Beautiful, moving and so damn good.

Those three were my favourites, though it'd be remiss of me not to mention Pulses, Michelle Lewis-King and Sumie Kent's collaboration. After taking pulse readings from six members of the audience (including myself) they were interpreted as beautifully improvised music by Kent. Watching someone so skilful at work is pleasure enough for me, the intense concentration and creative skill a pleasure to watch in a pub backroom.  

Similarly enjoyable was Jasmine Lee's prawn performance.This cocktail of maternal/cannibalistic love is precisely as enjoyable as when I saw it at What the Fuck Is Love?" a month or so ago. Samuel Hailey-Watts also gave a masterfully dull slide-based lecture on injection moulding, achieving an almost transcendental level of perfect boredom.

By the time the night was up I knew exactly why I come to nights like this; because they're cool as all hell. Who on earth would  want to be slumped over a ready meal, hoovering up crap TV when they could be out watching awesome people do awesome things? Boring people - that's who. And they were in mercifully short supply at Cerebellum.

Cerebellum continues in Hastings with:

12th April Exhibition continues 11am-5pm with an artist’s roundtable at 2pm

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