Sunday, December 9, 2012

'FERAL' by Jordan McKenzie, 7th December 2012

ah shit they saw me
I arrived in Bermondsey Square a little out of breath.  It was a busy night, and I'd cycled at speed through the drizzle.  I wanted to be sure to see 'FERAL' just to get my required dose of performance art for the month.  Annoyingly I'm going to be missing LUPA next Friday and I had to get my fix of weird, confusing stuff somewhere.  

I didn't really know what to expect from tonight's performance, I've seen McKenzie compereing at LUPA, but I've never seen him actually performing.    First impressions were that this was a bit of an upmarket location for this kind of thing.  Bermondsey Square is a smart little cluster of restaurants and bars surrounded by swank flats and a hotel.  As the hour of the performance rolled around the audience gathered in the courtyard, facing a large white camper van with a horse painted on the side.

horsin' around
Eventually the van opened up, and very loud and occasionally distorted music began playing.  Four people in black and white hoodies emerged from within clutching plush horse heads on sticks and marched around the square together to the Blue Danube Waltz.  After this they stopped in the middle of the square and posed a bit, pointing the horse's heads in different directions.  During this bit, McKenzie marched around, observing them but not interacting.  At around this point the music switched up into a pretty cool dance number, and the horse head carriers began to run around, one after the other.  They rode them around the place like hobby horses, as well as erotically rubbing them between their legs and collapsing on the floor.  

While all this was going on, McKenzie stood motionless in the middle of the square clutching what appeared to be an invisible and tumescent phallus.  After a bit of this, men in high visibility jackets began constructing a wooden box around Jordan, who was by now holding a hobby horse (but slightly different to the ones before).  As they sealed him up inside the box, an unidentified liquid began to seep from the bottom corner.  I had places to be, so I skipped out at this point, but I was told that he was due to emerge from the box at around midnight.  Annoyingly, I also missed the film that accompanied the piece.  Oh well.

A piece of paper was distributed to the audience beforehand explaining the intentions for the performance, setting out what the piece was about and what it hoped to comment on.  Ordinarily I don't really like being told what something's about, I'd rather come at it blind and work it out myself.  If I get the wrong end of the stick, or completely miss the point then it doesn't really bother me.  But I must admit, without this piece of paper I wouldn't have come close to working what McKenzie was getting at here.

The information sheet tells us that this is a look at the way the riots of 2011 changed the way society considers the young.  As it explains:
"The performance comments on the demonization of youth in the current political and social climate of the 'credit crunch' and examines our attitudes towards gangs, outsiders and those who are seen as attempting to exist 'beyond the law'.  Employing the iconic signifiers of the 'hoodie' and bandanna, four girls, sat astride home made white hobby-horses, writhe, canter and trot their way through the city, mixing street dance with ritual and performance art."
The white horse is an interesting symbol to use, and one that has multiple interpretations, both of which seem appropriate here.  In Celtic mythology the white horse is a symbol of the fertility goddess Epona.  There are hill figures of the white horse dotted up and down the country, the most famous being the Uffington horse, which is visited for fertility purposes.  The performers here did pull some pretty sexual moves with their hobby horses, pole dancing and rolling on the floor in paroxysms of ecstasy with them.  The other symbolism of the white horse is that of the carrier of Death, of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse fame.  If we are supposed to be examining the way youth is viewed, them being the harbingers of apocalypse seems faintly appropriate, especially set to a bangin' dance music soundtrack.

horse d'oeuvres
As far as the rest of the symbolism goes I'm stumped though, although I guess the artist being sealed inside a chipboard box has further connotations with death.  When McKenzie was actually inside the box I was weirdly reminded of Stanley Kubrick's '2001: a Space Odyssey'.  People were approaching the box, taking photos and touching it tentatively as if it would bite if they spent too long around it.  I suppose there could be something here about the conversion of the body of the artist into pure information, but then again the Blue Danube Waltz always makes me think of '2001' regardless of context.

I enjoyed watching this, in large part because of the location it was performed in.  Being hemmed in by restaurants and bars means that aside from the people actually there to see this there's another captive and unaware audience enjoying an innocent Friday night out.  I loved watching the confused faces peering out of the trendily lit 'Gregg's Bar & Grill'.  When you're sitting down on a date and enjoying an over-priced hamburger you don't generally expect to be confronted with someone lasciviously frotting a hobby horse just outside the window.

<insert horse pun later when you think of one>
The people inside the restaurant split into two factions.  Some of them angled their chairs to watch what was going on outside, or popped out to watch.  Some, hilariously, pretended that absolutely nothing untoward was going on at all, and steadfastly refused to even glance in the direction of the strange and scary people doing weird stuff outside.  The idea of ignoring all this cracked me up, especially as the surprisingly loud sound system echoing off the walls probably meant you could hear it for streets around.  Hotel curtains were twitching as confused and semi-naked people peeped around them, trying to work out whether they should be getting angry at their illicit liaisons being interrupted by mad horse riding artists dancing to Strauss and bangin' dance music.

getting nailed

Doing something like this in a public space rather than in a gallery gives the piece a confrontational nature: it makes demands everyone in the vicinity, almost forcing them to pay attention to what you're doing.  You see people starting to walk across the square, then changing their minds and hanging back scared.  Then darting across when they think no-one's looking.  Like some of the LUPA events, it creates a little divide between the people who 'know' what's going on and the people that don't.

'FERAL' was surreal enough to be enjoyable just as a subversion of a public area, but make no mistake, it was wilfully hard to decipher, even with the handy information sheet.   Fortunately there was just the right undercurrent of ridiculous to humour to the whole thing that stopped it venturing too far into the realm of the pretentious.  I wish I'd stayed longer to see the film that accompanied this, but alas I was needed elsewhere and had to split.

Contents: 1x performance artist, 1x hobby horse

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “'FERAL' by Jordan McKenzie, 7th December 2012”

Post a Comment

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