Saturday, June 23, 2012

'LUPA 10' behind James Campbell House, 22nd June 2012

LUPA (Lock Up Performance Art) is a tricky thing to pin down in a number of ways.  It's a series of performance art events that take place outside a row of garages at the back of a block of flats in Bethnal Green.  I don't really have the necessary critical framework to be able to tell whether the performance art pieces are succeeding or failing, so I find it quite hard to review and analyse at times.  It's hard to tell at times whether the audience is supposed to be laughing, or if this is annoying the performance artist and ruining the mood of their set. Semi-guerilla abstract art like this runs the constant risk of toppling over into navel-gazing "aren't we clever" reflexive cynicism.  

Satirising East London art 'happenings' has become almost cliche, and I think the organisers recognise the danger of self-parody, so the atmosphere around LUPA is relaxed, informal and quite unpretentious.  There is a bin with ice and beer in it, and a small bar being run from the boot of a car serving drinks.  Everyone's friendly, and it seems at pains to be as inclusive as abstract performance art taking place behind some flats can possibly be.

Kate Mahony (with cool personalised van)
The first performer was Kate Mahony.  Her piece consisted of loading cardboard boxes into a van.  That's pretty much it.  She was wearing a paint-spattered boiler suit, and opened the titular lock-up, which was full of cardboard boxes, some marked with the numbers of different LUPA events.  There were maybe 100 boxes in the garage, and we watched as she loaded every one into the van.  The simple repetition, and the punchline (her driving away in the van with the driver without a word) we could see coming a mile away, and she got quite a bit of laughter from the audience for her sheer audacity in making us sit through this.  I half wondered if this is a sort of audience-mocking "you'll sit through anything" Godard type point.  I also wondered if this was some complicated crowd psychology Zimbardo/Milgram style test.  Would anyone step up from the mass of people to help her with her task - is this a condemnation of the audience that we are standing there taking a certain sadistic pleasure in watching her work.  Is she laughing at us, or are we laughing at her?  A slightly more literal interpretation is that as this is the last LUPA event until September it might be a symbolic packing up for the summer and driving away.  But then in this case surely it'd be the last performance rather than the first?

Colm Clarke
Up next was Colm Clarke with a visual demonstration of Marx's theory of value commodity.  The value of a commodity, according to Marxist theory (and bear in mind this is me flying by the seat of my pants political sciencewise) is the combination of different types of value that it has, labour value, exchange value and use/utility value.  Clarke demonstrated this theory by buying 10 cans of Red Bull from a nearby newsagent, before pouring them into a dirty bucket.  He thus demonstrated how physical cash, which is entirely exchange value can be converted into Red Bull, which has labour value, use value and exchange value and finally how merely changing the container in which the the drink is in strips it of all value and turns it into a noxious substance to be actively avoided.  I think that's the basics of it anyway.  It was an effective demonstration of the theory, but presented in this way it felt a little too much like a classroom demonstration to be totally effective as a piece of performance art.

What was more interesting about it was the effect that the performance had on its surroundings, particular in buying the Red Bull.  One thing that LUPA does very well is transform the area around it into a kind of liminal space, where the boundaries between performer vs audience, audience vs general public and performance space vs public space break down.  One thing I've noticed at the LUPA events I've been to is that you generally get  very confused people watching from the periphery trying to work out what's going on, and why this large group of people are standing around a garage applauding.  In Clarke's piece, the straightforward act of buying the Red Bull sucked the shop, it's employees and the people inside the shop into an art space that I'm pretty sure they weren't expecting.  I suspect most people's reaction is "who are those group of weirdos?!", but some reaction is better than nothing.  Recontextualising humdrum activities as art is something that I generally enjoy anyway.

The end of Clarke's performance was notable in two ways.  Once he'd filled his bucket with Red Bull he began to swing it around his head.  Possibly this was leading to a moment of blinding clarity in a demonstration of Marxist theory but we will never know as the bucket handle broke, sending 10 cans of Red Bull flying through the air towards some poor LUPA attendees.  Fortunately no-one got drenched in the sticky, sugary stuff.  I imagine no matter how chilled out you are, getting soaked in Red Bull might put a bit of a downer on your night. It was certainly a dramatic end though.

In between Clarke and the final act, Jordan McKenzie stood up to make a short announcement and while he was doing so a woman walked furiously up behind him, smashed a wine bottle over his head and walked away.  The crowd was in shock.  I had always assumed that the local residents were tolerant of this sort of thing happening, but apparently they've got more seri.. oh wait, it was just another performance art piece!  The wine bottle was a sugar, stage bottle!  I'm not sure that this had that much artistic meaning behind other than giving the crowd a nice surprise and keeping us on our toes.  It was a good shock though, and nicely set up the final act.

Aaron Williamson
Aaron Williamson's act was the most physically daring.  He was dressed all in black, and climbed over the roofs of the garages while holding a big white sheaf, a hunting knife precariously poised on a long pole, and two planks.  The performance concluded with him 'skiing' (or rather shuffling on home-made skiis) down the roof and jumping off onto a pouffe that broke his fall.  Watching this felt like you were watching a live version of one of those Youtube videos where someone badly hurts themselves.   There were so many possible things that could have gone wrong, the knife could have fallen on his head, he could have fallen backwards off the roof, he could have fallen through the roof, he could have missed the pouffe, or tripped and smashed his face on the concrete.  The very nature of LUPA seems to imply that there aren't going to be that many safety checks done in advance, so watching this  made everyone very nervous and there were a few gasps when, for example, the knife slipped off the pole.  Maybe it was just an illusion of danger rather the real thing, but it was a damn realistic illusion.

Note the large knife held over his head.
Walking along the roofs of the garages was just another way in which LUPA recontextualises its downbeat, concrete pre-fab surroundings into a performance art space, and I think this is a pretty noble goal.  While London can be an astoundingly beautiful city, there are also miles and miles of drab concrete misery, and it's nice to something colourful, imaginative and artistic reclaiming a corner of it, if only for an hour every month.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “'LUPA 10' behind James Campbell House, 22nd June 2012”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights