Saturday, 17 March 2007
Written and performed by Leslie Hill and Helen Paris.
The lights go up on Lesley playing ‘House of the Rising Sun’ on electric guitar. It is an excellent rendition of the well-known blues classic. After a few bars she stops playing, moves closer to the microphone and begins her monologue. But ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is still playing?…….
Lesleys’ first words are the frank admission that, despite taking lessons, she can’t play the Guitar. In what follows Lesley goes on to talk openly about her life’s various disappointments, both small and large, as the music continues to play. It is the soundtrack of this opening scene that both provides the melancholy backdrop to Lesley’s heartfelt story and acts as a poignant reminder of her sad air-guitar mime. But more importantly, this initial and very intimate scene sets the confessional tone of ‘(Be) longing’, in which tales of loss, love and longing are delivered with touching humour and pathos.
(Be) longing is spilt into two parts, with Lesley and Helen each performing solo for thirty minutes. Lesley is a one eighth cherokee cowgirl with a embroidered shirt and a mid-western drawl who longs for home, dreams of a fresh start and of being able to play the Blues. In comparison, Helen is a distinctly home grown disappointment; a UK woman who is tortured by her own thoughts, a longing for love and a routine addiction to coffee, cigarettes and wine. Both women want to fit in, to belong, and ‘long for’ the fantasies they act out on stage. But they ultimately fail to achieve their desires. However hard she tries Helen is unable to feel at home amongst the de-toxed yoga set or successfully dream of having sex with Jodie Foster, and Lesley bravely shows us just how pathetically bad she really is at the electric guitar (and its bad).
It is important for ‘(Be) longing’ that Lesley and Helen fail as it is clearly not the stories themselves but the longing embodied within them that is the main focus. It is a longing that is effectively pushed through Lesley and Helen’s comparatively different styles of acting and pulsates on stage, a longing that transmits out to the audience as painfully tangible and insistent. Throughout ‘(Be) longing’ desire is articulated into an animal; one to be wrestled with, one that tirelessly stalks these two women and-by implication-all of us. Conversely, it is the longing of ‘(Be) longing’ that overtakes Lesley and Helen to become the strongest element in the performance and the subsequent star of the show. Seen in this light, Helen and Lesley’s respective performances merely represent a vehicle for desire personified. And the desire they personify has two faces; the first (Lesley’s) is melancholy but ultimately productive, the flip side (Helen’s) is destructive.
In the end, Helen and Lesley want to belong, whether it is racially, socially or musically, but moreover they simply long. Theirs is perhaps a clear case of the grass is greener and the question might be: have they ever really ‘fit in’ and would they like it if they did? It’s doubtful. But it doesn’t matter. The real issue is the lack, the very longing to belong, that shapes life, love and everything else that lies in its path.
Rachel Lois Clapham
Sunday, 25 February 2007
Characterised by the notion of “creative resistance”, Chelpa Ferro utilise performance, audio and installation modes, often commenting on our collective commercial mores, in particular that of mindless consumerism. Their work is in direct opposition to those artists who strip-mine popular culture for easy content and this gives them an interesting stance that has led to considerable success in a relatively short period of time. Their CV includes an array of Biennales: Venice 2005, Sao Paulo in 2002 and 2004, Havana in 2003, and they won the 4th MTV Video Music Brasil prize in 1998.
Conceptually, their art is set against a Brazilian background of political upheaval, fast social and technological change and rapid commercialisation – all elements present to some extent in Liverpool as it literally builds towards its Capital of Culture year. (The £920m Grosvenor Development is currently remodelling a sizeable section of the city centre to make 154,000 metres squared of new retail space). In a first for the UK, FACT has commissioned Chelpa Ferro to make a piece specifically for the Liverpool context.
On paper this commission looked terrible: the use of disposable plastic bags attached to motors to recreate the “rhythms of Liverpool’s streets”. It is almost impossible to imagine the aesthetic, unless you have seen previous works by the collective, (notably Nadabrahma, 2003 for the Sao Paulo Biennale, which uses a similar model). The publicity blurb also reheats the tired inward-looking paradigm of Liverpool as a mythic centre of outsider genius. Or perhaps the collective were slyly suggesting, given the preponderance of plastic bags and other litter on the streets, Liverpool as a rubbish city?
But these prejudices evaporate immediately on entering the Gallery. Jungle Jam creates a Zen like environment that envelops the visitor and triggers instant and genuine pleasure. It is immediately charming, working on levels that are firstly sensory and only afterwards intellectual.
Thirty unbranded plastic bags, alternating in black and white, are ranged at equidistance and similar height around all four white walls. There is a pleasing minimalist visual aesthetic. Bags twist and rustle, hit the wall with a quick thud and continue their furious crackling perambulation against a soft background hum of whirring motors. Several more bags twiddle on opposite walls, the sound directional like early stereo. A half silence, a couple more flaps, then many, all, revolve at once, a cacophony from all four walls. It richly evokes the sound and image of a flock of birds on a telephone wire, shaking out their wings at will and in various combinations, getting ready to fly. The sound is crisp, determined, rhythmic.
Programmed by computer in group sequences on a ten minute loop, each motor is set to turn at slightly varied speeds, allowing for unexpected texture. Aurally, it is rhythm, not melody, but harmonious, in pitch, resonant. Visually, the motors work to animate these bags to a surprising degree, so that they become something weird, more than their banal actuality. They are at once completely recognisable as functional commercial detritus, and yet transformed into some far more interesting other. It is an aural and visual representation of experimental sound, well executed and effective.
These are all well trodden themes from Chelpa Ferro, and Jungle Jam combines seamlessly with their previous body of work. It is a useful and pleasant introduction to these artists for a northwest audience, but it doesn’t progress the Chelpa Ferro oeuvre much.
FACT, on the other hand, is fast becoming the coolest venue in town, with the visual art equivalent of reliably high production values. Under the guidance of Director of Exhibitions Ceri Hand, it has been curatorially sure footed in the last twelve months, mounting bold, critically convincing exhibitions that have also proved accessible to big audiences. Since opening its shiny new city centre building in 2003, it has relished the role of being Liverpool’s fifth visual arts institution, dedicated to commissioning and presenting film, video and new media art forms. It is now coming of age with some style.
Saturday, 10 February 2007
She enters a poised, raven-haired, pale-skinned, red-lipped, pearl-wearing, woman bedecked in her ‘famous Flamenco dress’ of Farquhar tartan. She proceeds to dance unlearnt steps of, first Flamenco, then Scottish, gawky, brash and energetic (gracefully ageing as she is she’s not as young as she used to be, and she lets us know that she’s well aware of this throughout, especially as this is the repeat performance of this work seven years on). This introduction that was generous, vivacious, and dashed with the kind of self-deprecating humour that suits British, middle class funny women, set-up her style succinctly. It was almost overplayed though, compared to the outpouring of the informal, seemingly loosely scripted monologue of narratives that accompanied each dressing and undressing of the 49 items of clothing along the rail.
Let’s state both our positions now, as Farquhar did in the opening sentence of her performance, she’s forty-nine, I’m twenty-six, and the evening is punctuated with feelings of offspring wonder for the parent. I can’t stop myself from fantasising about her in the role of the brilliantly eccentric middle-class mother, the kind with stories of youthful wild abandon at the feet of soon-to-be the biggest rock stars of the 70s. The kind who has a wardrobe full of designer gems that twenty years on she’d pass down to me and I would emerge the coolest retro kid around, eliciting envy while I recounted her stories.
There are little things that punctuate her performance, details and mishaps that mirror the details and mishaps in the stories. There are two gigglers in the intimate audience, and I like them, they are shrill and one constantly tries to muffle them into her friend’s shoulder. Farquhar drops her chewed gum on the floor and picks it up and carries on chewing. Who has the gall to chew gum on an occasion like this? The kind of woman who’ll tell that this was the dress she wore to a wedding when suddenly and unexpectedly menstruation came upon her and she passed the wedding under tree, most of which with the groom’s mother. The kind of woman who’ll stand up and cry “yes” to muffs – the furry sort you place your hands in, but can also fit 10 Euros, a key and a condom in the zip pouch. The kind of woman who doesn’t mind admitting that she got through post-natal depression by dressing well, and at least she looked good in all the pictures. The kind of woman who’ll squeeze herself in and out of outfits too small, down to silky slip, sturdy pants and nylon 60 deniers with the gusset for all to see, at 49 years old.
Some of the humour is almost cliché, but I like it all the same, as does everyone else appear to be. It’s graceful and elegant and she’s wonderful. I want those clothes and that life. I wonder if everyone else does? I’m a girly-girl and I have my clothes that’ll I’ll pass to my as yet imaginary daughters ready and waiting in the attic with my stories. That her performance bases itself on this simple, pleasureable, delicious, middle class stereotype doesn’t bother me. Maybe I should lend a more contextualising, critical eye, but like Shirley Bassey would say ‘something in the way she moves’ doesn’t make me want to. Guiltily enjoyable it is then.
‘Good stuff’? I only caught two performances from the second day of this intensely packed, international festival of the “most radical type of art today.” Silvia Ziranek, an exquisitely graceful, veteran (if that’s not too rude) artist and David Izod, a stocky artist-cum-English teacher from Herefordshire, or somewhere equally wayward and suitably suburban romantic. In questioning whether there is some gesture towards curatorial programming that would disuade taking every work of the festival in isolation, I’m writing them together.
When two works are so close in form it becomes more difficult to see the lines of enquiry one might make. Both solo performances by performers in total command of themselves, their stage and their audience. Both carefully scripted, rehearsed works with powerful panache in their delivery, that assured you that you were in good hands, weren’t going to be embarrassed, and didn’t have to try very hard.
Izod’s expulsive first-person monologue ‘The Bill Dixon Memorial Tour’ comprised of an academically crafted script, telling a narrative personal and exhaustively painful in the description of emotion. Starkly set in a blacked theatre Izod was simply lit, simply wearing white T-shirt, jeans, brown leather shoes, behind a desk equipped with water and printed script (used occasionally but unobtrusively to prompt). The suspension of disbelief in regard to his work was a curious question. All evidence pointed to the fact that this was his real life story, dramatised into the epic proportions of a story-teller, but nonetheless real. To make beautifully, funnily, candidly written stories of your life and deliver simply is confusingly frank. I just don’t know where to contextualise this in a history of theatre.
In Ziranek’s ‘MORE OR LESS ORder’ similarly personal ideas were camouflaged through indulgent layers of costume and kitscherati fluoro papers & Post-Its, tiaras, glittery silver platform shoes, Twix’s, pinks, purples, and all things to be found in a small girl’s version of a Pound-Land store. These layers were stripped off, put on, thrown out to the audience, and placed at intervals across the stripy wall-paper grid laid out on the floor. The stilted script of skipped, silenced, said, and plumily pronounced verbs (and maybe adverbs and even some nouns?) was accompanied by an intermittent finger-pegged nose dictating “Poodles and dictionaries first” , an Alabama drawling: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man” , and a system of signage accompanying her words that lead to a tale insistent on order and structure that edged towards pseudo-feminist meaning. I think. It was funny in places, complex, and generous.
Perhaps you can’t curate works together in the writing of them, perhaps that is to do disservice to the individual works. But there has to be something beyond a string of disparate works held together under one boiler-house roof, beyond a free-for-all ‘go forth and see’, beyond joining the dots of the fairly simple constellations that make up the chapters of performance books in this condensed world of the NRLA.
There is something repellant about
But it is pointless. There’s nothing intrinsically interesting about the doors themselves: they’re cheaply made but fit well. There’s nothing intrinsically interesting about the lighting, even as its altered with each opening and closing door. It’s not strong enough to make a difference to the room, and
Her action must be a physical and spatial experiment, which would explain the specialist equipment (gloves and earplugs) and her concentrated frown. But an architectural experiment doesn’t need to be repeated for four hours to an audience. The object itself – the four door contraption – could be an interesting piece of sculpture, but
Perfect by design, the pencil of ‘Until My Pencil Runs Out’ never falters. Its function is dedicated to the mark-making task in hand and cannot fail. Any resulting squiggles and blips evident in the output are human error: Ginny is to blame. Ginny is also wholly responsible for the fragmented nature of ‘Until My Pencil Runs Out’ due to the ultimate discontinuity of the pencil line. This is because the studio door is open, leaving a gaping door-sized hole in the performance through which flocks of bemused viewers come and go. On every circuit of the studio wall Ginny casually passes over the open doorway, seemingly oblivious to this oversight in her ‘continuous’ line. The pencil, however, feels this void acutely. The surface of the wall, its footing, suddenly falls away from under its tip. The lead stutters and is forced to stop in the path of the vast hole over which it cannot draw.
The factor of the open door in ‘Until my pencil runs out’ was a critical oversight. Had the door been shut and the audience enclosed within the same time and space as the performing line of pencil it would have been a much more productive live encounter. However, as it stands the importance of ‘Until My Pencil Runs Out’ as a durational event is negligible. Moreover, given the already missing parts of the line over the open doorway, the exhibition of the spent pencil nubb as the culmination or ‘full stop’ of the performance is meaningless. Ginny could have saved herself the trip to NRLA by better realising the performance on the page.
This piece was originally written with a pencil, whose lead ran out towards the end, soon after the third paragraph….
Rachel Lois Clapham