Saturday, September 29, 2012

'LUPA 11' behind James Campbell House, 29th September 2012

Jordan McKenzie and Kate Mahoney (with dog) outside the lockup
Hooray!  LUPA is back!  Nothing starts off a Friday night better than hanging out behind a block of flats in Bethnal Green watching some performance art.  On the bill was Katherine Araniello with Anne Redmond and Marja Commandeur, John William Fletcher and Josh Breach, 'less.', JB&TheBubbles and the charming Bill Aitchison.  LUPA stands for 'lock up performance art' and takes place out of a lock-up/garage behind a block of flats.  It's a nice environment, and seeing performances like these outside of galleries or designated art 'environments' seems to add a certain guerilla element to proceedings.  Everyone feels welcome here, and while the majority of attendees are smartly dressed arty east Londoners, there always seems to be some curious bystanders who never seem quite sure what they've wandered into.  The organisers, Jordan McKenzie, Kate Mahoney and Rachel Dowle, run a miniature bar out of the back of a car selling various kinds of booze at reasonable prices, with their speciality being warm gin, which comes in useful for warming the cockles on these increasingly chilly nights.

The garage door was closed at the beginning of the night, and all we could hear was a rhythmic heart like beating coming from within.  I couldn't tell if this was part of an actual performance, or just the artists tuning up.  Regardless, it created a quite interesting image of the audience pressing their ears against the door to try and divine what was going on inside.  (I've now found out that this was in fact a performance by 'less.', who seem to be living up to their name, it's extremely minimal performance art when the majority of the audience don't even notice it's happening!).

Katherine Araniello
After 'less', the door opened, to reveal Katherine Araniello, Anne Redmond and Marja Commandeur.  Commandeur was dressed in sportswear, white cap on her head with a string of gold medals around her neck.  She moved among the crowd whooping and cheering, and repeatedly asking if everyone was having a good time.  As she moved amongst us she put large post it notes on each of us with various positive words on them;  I had 'LEGEND' stuck to me on bright pink paper.  As this was going on, Araniello exited the garage, dressed entirely in black with swimming goggles on and began to cut a swathe through the crowd.  Though people were packed quite thickly together, no-one hesitates to move out of the way of her chair.  

|Anne Redmond and Katherine Aranciello
It was an interesting contrast, and the medals and OTT Olympic enthusiasm reminded me of one of her videos:

The focus here seemed to be on the contrast between the ultra-happy enthusiasm of Marja Commandeur as she moved among the crowd pronouncing everyone a winner and the quick way in which people hop out of Aranciellos way, which places the audience in a pattern of avoidance.

A very crowded garage.
The second part of this performance began with a certain proportion of the audience being herded into the lock-up itself.  It was actually pretty exciting being in the fabled LUPA lockup, but it was so packed it was hard to tell what was going on.  After squeezing in just as the door closed (nearly bonking someone on the head) I was stood, pressed amongst the crowd at the back.  All I could hear was some droning minimalist electronica, while Anne Redmond repeatedly asked us if we were having a good time and did we want to turn the music off?  I think the point might have been that being trapped in claustrophobic quarters like this isn't actually much fun, but personally even with someone's knee wedged into my arse I was having a great time.  I'm not entirely sure what the point of this part of the performance was but it's entirely possible that something was going on at the front of the crowd that I couldn't see.  If the first part of this piece was about avoidance tactics, then I suppose us being placed into a confined space prevents us from disengaging with the artists.  Either way, as the garage door opened, and a group of sweaty people tumbled out in a cloud of dry ice I felt happy I'd made it inside.

John William Fletcher
After this finished John William Fletcher walked into the middle of the semi circle and began to strip off.  When he got down to his pants he lit a cigarette, and proceeded to slather himself with some kind of liquid.  From my perspective it was hard to tell exactly what it was, although it may well have been baby oil.  At this point I was wondering where exactly he was going with this.  The question was soon answered when Stuart Doncaster walked into the performance space and also stripped off, covering himself in the shiny liquid.  The two men sized each other up and threw themselves into brutal combat.

As they were pummelling the crap out of each other I realised the line between bare-knuckle boxing and performance art was fuzzier than I'd assumed.  When you're standing behind a block of flats in the East End watching two oiled up guys viciously go at each other you feel like you should be wearing a flat cap and be chewing tobacco.   The weird mood was exacerbated by a quite freaked out dog barking furiously as the two men grappled with each other's oily bodies.  The audience winced as the men fell to the ground, their skin scraping along the rough concrete with a sickeningly slapping thud.  As they rolled around, trying to pin each other we could see the raw, scratched and slightly bloody flesh on their backs.  At the very least, this is performance art with commitment.

While it's difficult to say exactly what this piece was about, it certainly made me think about a lot of things.  The violence of the piece was clearly shocking, especially in the context of taking place in slightly seedy surroundings.  But then if this was happening in an arena with hundreds of people watching it'd be considered sensible, socially acceptable entertainment.  In addition, the fact that we'd seen these two men, who prior to the performance could have been anyone in the crowd transform themselves in a gladiators for our entertainment seems to indicate that the potential for this kind of violence exists just below the surface in us all.  The fact that we're aware that this was all a performance allows those of us watching to kid ourselves that we're enjoying the violence through an ironic lens, people were shouting violent encouragement with smiles on their faces.  I think this irony is a self-imposed illusion; we're all cultured, arty people - far too classy to take pleasure in anything as base as violence like this.  But it was undeniably thrilling to see two people inflicting pain upon one another, and I found the internal conflict as to whether I should be enjoying watching this quite interesting to ponder.

JB&TheBubbles (Josh Breach, Gabriel Duckens and Sorcha Mae-Stott Strzala)
That was a hard act to follow, and I didn't envy "JB&TheBubbles", whose performance was a choreographed dance to Madonna's 'Frozen'.  The three performers were dressed in white shirts, black tights or trousers and white gloves.  They had makeup smeared crudely onto their faces, with a black smudge around their eyes and a red lipstick slash across their mouths.  It reminded me a little bit of the description of the Joker's makeup in 'The Dark Knight' as warpaint.  

After the violence that preceded it, this was a lot calmer.  Madonna's 'Frozen' is a pretty damn good, vaguely surreal song and whenever I hear it I always think of the excellent Chris Cunningham music video.  Here, less. swayed and moved around as one, striking poses that vaguely reminded me of tai-chi.  Mid-way through they burst sacks of paint they'd concealed under the clothes and smeared it around them.  It was pretty nice to look at, but didn't seem to have quite the same 'bite' that I expect from LUPA.  Perhaps this suffered in comparison to what came before it, or maybe I just wasn't in quite the right place in the crowd to get a good view of the routine.  

After this was another departure from what I'd come to expect from LUPA was Bill Aitchison, who gave us a talk about important musical influences on his life.  He sat perched on the edge of the garage with a record player and explained to us exactly why these vinyl records he'd chosen were important to him.  The records he selected were Clive Dunn's 'Grandad', The Portsmouth Sinfonia's rendition of Also Sprach Zarathustra, Europe's 'The Final Countdown', Heino, 'Komm in meinen Wigwam' and the Kinks 'Shangri-La'.  All of these were related to various crucial moments in his life.

When I think of performance art, I generally picture strange costumes and out of the ordinary actions rather than a polite, nice man talking us through highlights of his record collection.  Fortunately, Aitchison comes across as thoroughly charismatic, and what he has to say is interesting, entertaining and frequently very funny.  

Bill Aitchison (I need to buy a better camera.)
I understand that what can be termed performance art is an extremely wide umbrella, and depending on context and setting literally anything can be construed as performance.  This felt more like an entertaining mini-lecture than any exploration of thoughts through art, and while Aitchison has some very interesting insights (especially about life under the threat of nuclear apocalypse in the 1980s) and has a number of very funny anecdotes, it feels resistant to any alternative interpretation other than treating it on face value.  Maybe if I was more familiar with the rest of his work it'd make a bit more sense as a performance.  Regardless, he's an easily likeable guy, and seems wholly comfortable talking to an audience.

After Aitchison finished I couldn't stick around long, I had to jet up to Clerkenwell to go off and see some bands.  A night at LUPA is always refreshing though, and the sheer diversity of performances demonstrates the care McKenzie and Mahoney take in setting this up.  Already looking forward to the next one, whenever it is I'll be there!

If I've got anyone's names wrong please let me know in the comments!

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6 Responses to “'LUPA 11' behind James Campbell House, 29th September 2012”

Unknown said...
September 29, 2012 at 5:43 PM

Hello! This is Kate mahony

Thank you for taking the time to write this review we really appreciate it! Its so nice to get some feedback!

Just a few facts things to clear up!

Rachel Dowle is also a curator of LUPA shes a video artist and prefers to be behind the scenes as myself and Jordan McKenzie are both Performance artists.

Less. were actually the first act on they are a minimalist Performance-band, they were the Garage heartbeat that people were pressing their ears to the garage. It was a recording of a garage band practice they performed in private at the garage site a few days prior to the LUPA event.

Katherine Araniello performed with Anne Redmond and Marja Commandeur.

John William Fletcher wrestled the artist Stuart Doncaster, Not Josh Breach.

Josh Breach (JB&the Bubbles) were after John Fletcher, it wasnt Less. also Josh performed with Gabriel Duckels and Sorcha Mae-Stott Strzala

Loving the photos by the way! if there any chance you could post them straight on to the LUPA facebook? if not perhaps email them to me? at if thats not possible no worries!

LUPA 12 is on: 19.10.12 (8PM-9PM) with artists Corinna Till, Sean Francis Burns, Joey Ryken, Lynn Lu AND Alex Bradley!!!!

Thanks again for all your support! KateX

londoncitynights said...
September 29, 2012 at 5:59 PM

Hah, thanks for all the corrections - this is what happens when I forget my notebook!

You're welcome to use my pictures for whatever purposes you want, but if you do use them pop a link back to I'll post them up on the LUPA facebook now.

See you at the next LUPA!

Katherine Araniello said...
September 30, 2012 at 12:36 AM

Hi Katherine Araniello here, thank you for the review and plugging my "Meet the Super Hero" film. Just to clarify where you have credited Anne Redmond in the review it is actually Marja Commandeur. Marja goes around in the medals, hyping the audience into a feel good frenzy. Anne Redmond is the other artist who is in black and dark glasses.

londoncitynights said...
September 30, 2012 at 1:35 AM

Thanks Katherine. I like your other Youtube stuff btw, I'll say "hi" next time I'm at LUPA.

Katherine Araniello said...
September 30, 2012 at 1:50 AM

Thank you! And please do come over and introduce yourself as I have no idea who you are!

Martin said...
July 2, 2013 at 11:50 AM This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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