Monday, October 30, 2006

Aims of Communion

For my MA, I am investigating the presence of pretence and absence as substance in a performance and an installation.

I devise, write, direct and perform a play with the amateur dramatics group that was my introduction to theatre. The piece explores amateur dramatics as an act of communion and the events that take place in the church hall – weddings, christenings, funerals, plays. There are no stage directions.

I exhibit an installation with the drama group’s old stage. I record stage directions from plays they performed on the stage blocks with silences where there are lines. These are the words that were never meant to be heard. The first acts are played back in an empty theatre as an act of communion.

Press Release

Sent to Nottingham Evening Post, BBC Radio Nottingham, BBC Online, Saga FM and Metro on 30 October 2006. Evening Post requested a photoshoot and Radio Nottingham hosted an interview and a BBC online feature. Read the preview and hear the interview here.

Press Release
Acts of Communion

‘The Church on Rise Park Drama Group presents Acts of Communion. The setting - The Church Hall. The time - now. The drama group will be playing themselves.’

The Church on Rise Park Drama Group stages their annual production in November. A Double Act includes: Breakfast for One a comedy by David Foxton and the World Premiere of Acts of Communion by Nottingham artist Michael Pinchbeck – writer of The White Album at Nottingham Playhouse

Michael Pinchbeck grew up in Rise Park and performed with the Drama Group in 1993 before studying Theatre Studies at Lancaster University. He was a founder member of Metro-Boulot-Dodo Theatre Company until becoming a writer and live artist. His play The White Album was performed at Nottingham Playhouse in March and is now touring the USA. He is studying for an MA in Performance and Live Art at Nottingham Trent University.

‘Acts of Communion is part of my MA project’ says Pinchbeck, ‘I wanted to explore the acts of communion that take place in the church hall – weddings, christenings, funerals and plays. In the end, I wrote a play about a wedding, a christening, a funeral and a drama group performing a play. I was interested in blurring the lines between actor and character so the drama group play themselves. It’s a celebration of the drama group and the role it plays in the church and the community. Amateur dramatics is itself an act of communion.’

A spokesperson for the drama group said ‘We feel very pleased and fortunate to have the services of Michael Pinchbeck as playwright, performer and director for this production. We would also like to thank Shloer for the Shloer!’

Venue: Church on Rise Park, Revelstoke Way, Rise Park, Nottingham
Dates: Wed 22 / Thu 23 / Fri 24 November 2006 7.30 pm
Cost: £5.00 / £4.00 conc.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The installation beta test

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Station House Opera

Review of Roadmetal, Sweetbread by Station House Opera at Nottingham Arts Theatre on 24 October 2006.

Roadmetal, Sweetbread occupies overlapping realities that collide in a hinterland between past and present, onstage and offstage. That the two protagonists enter and exit the stage and the screen, repeatedly questioning our notion of live-ness – until one spots an erratic tic or an out of position table – is testament to Station House Opera’s craft. They make a habit out of creating worlds that sit as uncomfortably as the viewer between media, genre, time and space.

The piece is tied to the theatre – we see a man on film arrive by tram and walk, whistling, towards the venue. As he enters the auditorium, the door slams behind us and we turn our heads to watch him wander down the aisle. The play between filmed and performed bubbles over as a woman struggles to fit a lightbulb and it falls to the floor. On screen the bulb is fitted and we sit in silence contemplating her failure to live up to her video self. Then the man walks onstage with a broom and sweeps up the broken glass as if to say ‘This was meant.’

This is a study of absence. As scenes are re-enacted with performers missing or misplaced. An exploration of domestic violence. As violent undertones are presented as an onscreen counterpoint to the onstage action. A digital love triangle. As a third character enters the fray to create an extra tension between the two existing characters fighting or performing for our attention and their survival. Whether they are slave to themselves, each other, the technology or the audience is up for debate and perhaps the question the piece is posing. But as the last onstage image renders itself – a meticulous recreation of the detritus of a murder scene on screen, we see the live finally bleed into the recorded.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bock and Vincenzi

‘Everything that appears is an image of the invisible.’ - Dance Theatre Journal Vol. 20 no. 3, 2004

Frank Bock (performer / choreographer) and Simon Vincenzi (director / designer) have worked together since 1995. Together they have explored the relationship between the language of movement and mystery of the image through a series of theatre / dance projects. They have undertaken extensive research into notions of absence and nothingness. Information taken from

On the 20th March 2003, in a 'dark' theatre in London's West End, Bock & Vincenzi presented: invisible dances from afar: a show that will never be shown.

In the empty auditorium sat just one person; the poet and theatre maker Fiona Templeton (The Watcher). As she watched, she recorded her experience of this extraordinary two-hour long performance, so that an audience might later hear it on the telephone. The nine performers knew that if they stopped performing their audience would have nothing to describe and that if she stopped talking that the show would disappear. Individually the dancers explored different relationships between the external body, communication technologies and absence. Through personal earpieces they responded to different 'soundtracks' - a specially commissioned work inspired by the internal sounds of the body, specific instructions for the performers' movements based upon journeys undertaken by someone unknown to them. James Brown (The Medium) was also invited to investigate and record the presence of a spirit audience in the theatre building during the performance. Outside the auditorium sat artist Rose English (The Witness), writing about hearing but not seeing the performance. A fourth person, Henrik Thorup Knudsen (The Photographer) documented the entire show from the back of the stage, taking images with the Hasselblad shutter open for the full duration of each of the 36, three minute, 20 second scenes. As 'part of' the show he also took portraits of the performers, capturing their image as they finished presenting work.

This work explored how an audience could experience a physical event that can not be seen; how a poetic world that is open to the personal interpretation of those present is translated; how you describe the indescribable. The vivid and haunting account of The Watcher could be heard as a sound work for the telephone, by dialling the number advertised on fly posters designed by artist Duncan MacAskill. The piece could only ever be heard by telephone and will never be performed in front of an audience.

Interview with Simon Vincenzi commissioned by Dance 4 exploring absence as substance.

MP Michael Pinchbeck
SV Simon Vincenzi

MP How did your research process begin for Invisible Dances?

SV We began by going out and making dance you could perform in the street that noone could see. Like using a bus-stop pole, organising movement in a public space that was invisible as a dance and then bringing that back into the studio. Going out and trying to recall the directions of the streets you were going down.

MP Here, As If They Hadn’t Been, As If They Are Not is a play with no plot, no beginning and no end, that reveals the stories that are contained within the absent body. You describe the piece as ‘Elegiac in its search for narrative’. Why?

SV In Dance Theatre a lot of it has become about stories. In Dance a lot of it is about the body and how it moves. We had no space. No money. So all we had was nothingness. The use of nothingness changed into the idea of absence and stories that are contained within the absent body and how it moves or doesn’t.

MP How do you see the research as sitting alongside or within the practice?

SV Research and creativity blur as a result of people working together for a length of time. The show isn’t fixed – there is no internal structure – it is always different. Because it is always different – we’re always exploring the idea of liveness. Even though it is always different – it still has to be done incredibly precisely.

MP If it is never fixed and not there how do you know when it’s finished?

SV It’s never complete. I don’t know what complete is.

MP Twelve performers, both blind and sighted, present different ‘states’ created and guided by different rules and interpretations of representation. How?

SV We had dancers wearing blindfolds. Dancing with wild abandonment. We filmed them dancing. Then made them watch it. Then got them to recreate a dance that was never made to be recreated. This is a world of abandonment and beauty, exploring appearance and disappearance and whether all is ever visible.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

John Newling

Interview with John Newling exploring mediating an idea, currency and value, responsibility, site-specificity and context, the ontology of absence, sacred and secular, theology and philosophy and acts of communion.

MP Michael Pinchbeck
JN John Newling

Mediating an Idea

MP There are three strands I want to explore: ideas of site-specificity, working within a community and working with references to religion. One of my research questions at the moment is Theatre in and for a community – does it have to be dumbed down to succeed? It’s a problematic question but working in Q Arts I have experienced participatory work that I always had issues with – how did you put it in your talk on Chatham Vines? – ‘I’d always thought of community art as abhorrent’ and I wondered if you could take that as a starting point:

JN I think certainly my education was early seventies and the idea of community artwork then was a mural. And the idea of that having any value whatsoever was never there. Commissioning money often means there usually has to be an education strand. Up until about 5 years ago I would say ‘Well I’ll do the work and then you can sort out the education strand’. Then I became interested in what people were doing and I realised it was something very important. They were mediating an idea. One of the central ambitions that I’ve had has been that you can take truthful but difficult challenging ideas to a wider public but in order to do that a) you’ve got to know what you’re talking about and b) you’ve got to be able to articulate that not in simplistic terms but in simple terms so that people can understand it. You can’t start off by saying ‘My work is about free will and it’s relationship to Heidegger’. But you can say ‘How many things in life do we think are predetermined?’ Then you can start to get access.

One of the revolutions that I think is perhaps happening in arts practice is much more attention is being paid to the dissemination of ideas around the project – not describing the work ever but exploring the ideas that the artist is exploring. I think art’s too important as a proactive tool in society just to allow it to be a commercially driven marketed product from metropolitan cities. The other option is to talk about what is happening and what it is felt by those experiencing work.

Currency and Value

MP You’ve just had your estate valued – what value does the work have to that community and that audience?

JN Currency and belief and currency and art fascinate me. The history of money is interesting because it’s moved from weight to electronic transactions. In a way ‘value’ is a key word for arts strategy and production and artists need to evaluate the ‘value’ of art as well as the ‘value’ of their art. I think traditionally we have had a problem with the fetishisation of the individual where artists are immensely articulate about their art but less articulate about art in general. The really good artists I know are highly articulate about art not just their art.

MP By that do you mean they can place their work within the broader context?

JN They can value the transactions that take place in art as playing a crucial part in culture and society and that is a completely different type of value – it could have a monetary value attached to it but it’s not really about that. I think questioning things and displaying risk and courage is dampened down by the situation in which we’re living, The fear of doing that is prevalent. Art is one of the few things that displays risk and courage and part of its value is that it does this.


MP You also talked very passionately about the responsibility you have as a funded artist. When you receive this financial transaction you have the responsibility to the community in which you are working.

JN I think that’s a responsibility that’s grown over the years with a dawning realisation that I wasn’t just getting away with it. None of my work can happen without a team that I support and manage. My work often arrives in a town in another country and it’s cost a lot of money. It’s very important that a community gets as much out of me as possible and that a debate takes place to try and stop the arguments that actually don’t happen in other countries but only happen here. Which is the cost of it. That’s starting to dissipate a bit. People are less obsessed with the fact that an artwork could cost the same as an air ambulance.

MP Yes. A nurse’s salary for a year or even a tabloid journalist’s salary for a year. And in terms of Chatham Vines how did that dialogue work with that community?

JN It worked globally because of the remote cameras. Very good marketing was involved prior to the cameras going live. Locally – and this was luck – the editor of the TV station is a wine expert so he did monthly bulletins on his news programme to inform people about how the vines were progressing. Then the local newspapers picked it up and the people of Chatham had public events they could go to. Part of the deal was to do a series of lectures at local universities. Visually you could see what was happening because the lights were on all night so the church was illuminated. The whole community knew what was going on.

Site-specificity and Context

MP My question is can something be site-specific to a community without it being exclusive to that community?

JN I think it can be contextually specific. Round by us there’s a sweet shop that’s grey but it’s referred to locally as The Pink Shop. I found out recently that at one point somebody owned it and painted it pink. It caused quite a rumpus in the area and was eventually painted back to grey. It became mythical. The gap between the event and how people refer to the event gave it a name. That place will forever be called The Pink Shop.

So in a sense one has that local investment in context and places and if you jump into you’ve got to be quite conscious of histories. Also if you go into places like factories or prisons you have to be very conscious of context and the work often isn’t a response to that context but if it isn’t then I wonder what the point of that work is. I think it has to be. It can be wonderfully useful for other things e.g, social services or a parallel education or community project that is related to the work but is just an excuse to talk about unemployment.

Artwork can open all of that up because people don’t consider it to be important. In a sense it has a wonderfully impish way of sneaking into places which it wouldn’t normally sneak into. The debate is very interesting.

MP This idea of The Pink Shop puts in mind your project in Temple Bar – Mad Helen’s – and that building’s importance, history and resonance to a locality. Also in that talk you mentioned the Ontology of Absence.

The Ontology of Absence

JN The Ontology of Absence influenced a lot of artists in the late seventies and early eighties in Europe. Boltanski, Sophie Calle, myself, a lot of us were interested in working in disused spaces. You’d walk into a place and it might be an old hospital ward and you might see evidence of where the bed legs had been, four shadows on the floor. You might go into a disused factory and see a hammer or a pay slip. Artists view those objects in a different way or a heightened way. The pay slip becomes not just a pay slip but all the pay slips, so you need to think about the consensual responsibilities of occupying the space.

MP Do you see that pay slip in a different way because of your interest in value or currency?

JN I think so but it’s also to do with walking into a disused space where there are objects. Most people have a tendency at that point to almost fetishise, not to sacredise, but make important the objects that were mundane at a certain point. A hammer’s a hammer. But a hammer left alone on a disused factory floor and the poetics of that hammer is different to the poetics of a hammer in Wilkinson’s hardware store. Artists work with that a lot – really from the 20th Century.

Du Champ was classically aware in theological terms of the ontological absence, Anselm of Canterbury, the always beyond argument. Duchamp was also aware of Aristotle’s argument about substance which is again connected to the ontological argument. And when Duchamp put a urinal in a different space he opened up a medieval theological view. That to me is his great legacy. Not just that he knew it but that he did it. Transubstantiation. Ontolological argument. Secularised it by using a urinal. Revolutionised art. Great. He’s a good artist.

MP Again I think you see these objects and you create narratives. The history of that urinal and if someone pisses in that urinal as somebody did it creates new narratives and a new legacy. The ontology of absence also relates to the absence within the church in Chatham Vines, just the fact that it had been abandoned, and those clues you found within it. Abandonment creates new narratives. How does that then inform the process? I read the installation within it and the detritus of the community, the remnants of congregation as separate things. They were already there. You were installing alongside those traces.

JN The first idea of that project was to data collect to make an inventory. It was extraordinary. No tidying up had been done. Then the next impetus was how do you make something living and hugely problematic within the space. It was hugely challenging and hugely risky. The responsibility there was really heavy. The nightmare of making sure the plants were looked after was massive. That feeling of getting the money and then thinking ‘What I’m doing?’ I get that a lot.

It was important to have something that was alive of nature. That was given ‘plant heaven’ and we all felt that enormously. That connected to an American project I was doing called Mine – which involved small gilded calves with the word Mine stamped into them like a logo. Part of the deal for that was we purchased a calf and we looked after it for a year and gave it everything we thought it could ever want. They wouldn’t pay for it in the end but it would have been great. So it was a responsibility, if you like, to look after something living.

MP The project I’m planning is located within a suburban church. Rooted in the site-specificity of the church site. It was a Methodist church so they use Shloer for the blood of Christ. So when they host wedding receptions you can’t drink alcohol. Every year they have an amateur dramatics show. The funds go towards the church so the funds buy the Shloer. I’m exploring symbolism and iconology. The dichotomies between the live and the recorded. Populism and elitism. Secular and religious. Am dram and MA dram. The similarities of both communities. Could you talk a little bit about the religious and wine symbolism?

Sacred and Secular

JN I recently did a lecture at Ludlem University of Poland. I’m doing a project for the museum of modern art there. It’s a place that’s highly charged religiously. Catholic and Jewish in a cultural sense. They wanted me to talk about sacred art. I don’t consider my work to be sacred. I started off by saying when I was a kid I really hated singing ‘There is a green hill far away.’ It made me sick I hated Christians. I couldn’t work out when I was a kid how Easter eggs connected with killing someone. I was not an easy kid but they let me paint the Easter Service backdrop it was a huge crucifix and it had them gasping as the curtains drew back. I started with that and the audience stood up and started applauding.

My view comes from being at distance from religions. I am interested in all religions and in the difference between belief and faith. I think faith is absolute and belief is easily changed. In Poland they thought I did ‘sacred art’ because I’d worked in Cathedrals and churches. It isn’t sacred art but what it does is gently challenge the premises of religions. I am much more of a humanist. I understand the perceptions of God because I’ve researched it and I believe that we need it. We need psychologically the notion of a constant other. Of something beyond ourselves.

MP By researching it did you find that you don’t need it?

JN No I need it. All of my writing I about these areas is based on personal experience. I know that at very difficult times like anybody else I’ll pray.

MP To an unknown other

JN To an unknown entity. At very good times I’ll pray to say thank you. Have done since I was a kid. I don’t know where that comes from but I’m willing to go along with it. My interest is personal because I think religion is personal in many ways if you start to really unpick it. It is part of what makes us human and the need for it and the community aspect of it is increasingly important. Also it is completely taboo in terms of artists. If you say to an artist you are making work in a cathedral they’ll immediately assume that you’re making religious work and therefore that’s not valued in terms of contemporary arts practice.

Theology and Philosophy

MP So you don’t refer to your work as religious work?

JN A lot of people say ‘Are you religious?’ And at first I used to say ‘No’. Now I won’t say that because I don’t think that’s correct and it sounds like I’m copping out. What I will say is that I’m really interested in religion and that I have a personal sense of the necessity for God and the elegance of communion and all the rituals associated with the Eucharist. I have a personal sense of the danger globally at the moment with religions getting it wrong. Getting very confused in their powerbases and using religion for political gratification. Theology is a parallel to Philosophy. So I’m not anti-religion.

MP Could you say your art is your religion?

JN I think if you take the deepest thoughts not necessarily in faith but in theology and the deepest thoughts that exist in philosophy you find parallels. If you take a 20th century Theologian like Paul Tillock and the essay he wrote when he was 23 which is when we all stop trying to identify God because that’s a fruitless task. He talks about risk and courage being the evidence of God. I can buy into that and I think artists at their best display risk and courage – sometimes naively, but to keep going as an artist requires it. Problematics arise when you question the relationship between God and contemporary art. I have done talks for the Arts Council and they are aware of the resources of empty churches and theological, philosophical thought that people like Damien Hirst have played with – in my opinion with a lack of understanding. It’s no good saying things like ‘God is Dad’. It just doesn’t work. You’ve got to throw yourself into it and really try to work it out. Warhol’s multicoloured crucifixes are amazing. His work is beautiful and it becomes sacred when it’s agreed. Sacredness is an agreement between people. A flower can be scared. Chatham Vines can be sacred.

MP Interesting how that can be used as a secular adjective.

JN I think it is. In all the work I do I look at the secular. I look for comparison. Sometimes connections between what I’ve read and thought about between the religious and the secular. I find parallels.

Acts of Communion

MP How does your wine, the gestation of this immense project, being filtered literally through this communion service fit into this idea and how does it make you feel as an artist?

JN It makes me feel very nervous because we’ve bought the bottles, made the labels – we’re going to have 24 bottles.

MP Is that a symbolic choice?

JN No it’s how it turned out. The final phase of Chatham Vines which is the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Rochester Cathedral is a much bigger deal than I thought it would be. It isn’t a service it’s more that that. It’s an all night vigil. It opens at Five O’Clock in the morning. It’s the first Eucharist. And to think people are actually drinking the wine. In a way I distance myself from that. There was a moment in the church where the Chatham Vines project was where we had Bishops turning up to bless the vines. It was absolutely amazing. What I can say is that what people are drinking there is wine that has come out of a very particular context that has been made with a full sense of responsibility and a huge amount of work. That it’s been blessed all the way through. You sense that the next thing is that it will be out of our hands when it enters the communion process. It will become the responsibility of the Bishop of Rochester.

MP How important to you is it that the congregation know that?

JN It’s not important at all but there will be a reference to it in the service. TV wanted to film it but I don’t think it’ll be allowed because it’s a very personal act. They will be filming it but from a distance. Very discreetly.

MP To what extent is it an art project or an act of communion on that day?

JN The first time I used communion wine was at the V&A. It was laminated between glass and you looked through the wine at the objects in the Church Plate gallery really reflecting their purpose and function. People don’t understand why they exist. They just think they’re really ornate gold things but they’re really important objects some of which have been melted down and recast. They know their history at the V&A. They gave me a 1304 Irish chalice to work with. That was the first time but I am still enchanted with the notion of communion and the notion of transubstantiation and this notion of drinking blood. Wine is chosen because it’s the colour of blood and vines are things of nature. Difficult to grow. They are amazing and I think religion is predicated on nature.

MP Will you be taking communion? Would that sit well with your faith?

JN I think I might. It would be my first time. I’m not sure. I’m still not sure.

MP Will you actually taste the wine?

JN I will

Doug Fishbone

Interview with Doug Fishbone exploring site-specificity and context, high art and low art, audience and culture.

MP Michael Pinchbeck
DF Doug Fishbone

MP I've seen your work live at the Powerhouse and at the Angel Row annex. Site Gallery on my own and Beacon project with my parents. Different contexts. Different content. Different locations. Different audiences. Different responses. How do you edit / rearrange the content to suit the location or nature of the showing - live or recorded, gallery or theatre? How definite is the structure - i.e. do you have a narrative thrust that you can achieve with different material or does it vary?

DF Not sure exactly here as you are talking about two distinct projects. In Sheffield and at Angel Row I showed a video work, as opposed to the live performance. The video and performance work share the basic gesture of spoken word and still images but they are distinct projects with different intentions and modes of operating. That being said they are strongly linked, as my style in using this type of gesture was developed out of an artist talk/slide lecture I did on my MA, which was the first time I ever played with found imagery in that way. That being said, I have only been doing this performance work for a short term so it is too early to generalize. I make some local variations depending on cultural reference - It started out in Lincolnshire, and then I made a slightly more vulgar variant for London, since I was showing it in a gallery space as opposed to the more open community based idea at Beacon. The London version incorporated a few dirty jokes and a smattering of pornographic images. I have also performed in NY and Milan. The basic project is the same, though I have added bits and bobs here and there. In NY I changed a number of the British references that would not have made sense to an American audience and added a few more US specific jokes. The vulgarity remained as well, and it was fun to present the work in a nightclub environment. Given the importance of stand-up comedy in the conception of the work, it is a coming home of sorts.

Using the stand-up model for construction, as I do, things can be added and changed around, more in a syncretic way than a standard approach to narrative might allow. That is a strength and potential weakness in the work, as it sets the stage for allowing it to go all over the place. I play with this looseness quite often, allowing things to go off the rails at times. That is a general feature of my mode of storytelling since I wanted to adopt a framework to allow for maximum flexibility. I am planning future work that will be much more literary in tone, which will need more coherence visually and narratively than I have been working with up until now. In terms of changing content based on context, then I would say it shifts somewhat based on location then, to allow for different cultural reference to make sense, and on other variables - the Beacon guy asked me to keep it cleaner than I might normally. The performance is not meant to be seen recorded, so the live/recorded issue is not one I confront. That is a video versus performance issue which is a whole other kettle of fish. And that being said I have only worked through the one performance, so I hesitate to generalize too much about a new project.

MP How did the preparation for the Beacon performance in the village hall differ from this in terms of the audience you were expecting? How did their reception of the work differ from an urban audience and from your expectations of their response?

DF I did not factor the audience into the preparation except in a generic kind of way. I wanted to write the piece and perform it, that simple. My interest was in developing a live way of working with similar devices that I use in my video. It was more of a pre-conceived intention that I was glad to have a venue to try it out in, than a site-specific, purpose-written thing as it were. The audience at the point of reception was quite different in that there were many children and older people who might not normally visit galleries, and they would not have known about the work in much detail in advance, whereas a London gallery audience might have more idea what to expect given my other work. It was interesting to see how the edgier political bits went over in the Beacon - people laughed at some of the racist humor more than I expected. However, people have tended to laugh at the same points as they did in London or NY. The London version had a few extremely nasty jokes that would necessarily change the reception of the piece, adding an element of confronting the audience that the Beacon version might not have had, but all this is mediated by the self consciousness of an art audience watching an art project in a gallery. Things are taken immediately as art, which certainly affects the vibe. So how might a porn-infused thing have worked in Beacon? Or how much does it change the flavor to make only a few changes but have them be dramatic - such as the inclusion of vulgarity? Not sure.

MP What discussions did you have with John Plowman about how to engage with the audience within the Beacon project?

DF None of any note. He offered me a platform and I decided to develop the performance. We discussed issues like my panhandling (which John actually did, shaking the hat), but he had no editorial involvement in the creation of the work, except as mentioned, in asking me to be generally aware of a certain sensitivity - ie no porn.

MP You say in the BAS brochure that you are 'investigating the language of mass media to critique some of the more problematic aspects of our culture... by using its own delivery of imagery as the basis for the work.' How much is the language and your critique of it cynical - and if so - can it be aligned with Oscar Wilde's view 'A cynic knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.'? Does your piece not cancel itself out - like the Chinese proverb about the fish?

DF It is certainly cynical. I see myself primarily as a satirist, so that would be hard to do without cynicism. In terms of investigating media language, I aim to reflect the kind of visual overload and bizarre visual juxtapositions that we are bombarded by and exposed to at all times. I think it is important to note that I don't identify a particular agenda. Sometimes the narrator seems pc and fairly wise, sometimes vulgar, offending the very ethnic groups he seems to be a part of. It is a mirror of sorts. Whether that cancels itself out, I cannot say. I think not, because I think the work has a very ethical and political stance because of the way it operates. The evenness of tone in the voice over is very studied, and it is actually a gesture to highlight thing rather than minimize them, but through the act of minimizing, there is a point in one video in which I am talking about a whole series of very significant things as thought they were merely simple lifestyle choices. As though obesity and bulimia were equivalent choices with cannibalism and shit-eating and people rooting through the garbage for trash in Indonesia. Clearly eating trash is not a lifestyle choice in the same way a sexual fetish like shit eating would be. However placing them all in the same framework allows some of the dichotomies between developing and developed world to be shown - gross excess versus deprivation, and so on - in an unexpected way. Evening them reveals how truly uneven they are. It is cynical, of course, and one might question the exploitation of images of suffering of others. The broader question of whether art is politically effective, or makes any difference in any larger way, even social critique of this nature, is a different story, of course.

But I think using the tones and gestures I work with does allow for a powerful cynicism that has a distinct if not blatantly stated message. That is my intention and my means of operating. The cancelling out is very studied, and is its own critique of how that process operates on a larger media level. My work is meant to be viewed many times, though, as it is tightly designed and the various stories and jokes tie together. So what might come off as gruff indifference or whatever in one viewing shifts when the viewer gives the work more time. The quieter way it operates reveals itself.

MP You said in your talk at Nottingham Trent University as part of the British Art Show that you don't want your work to be just a one-liner - how does a piece of work that is a string of one-liners fit into this ambition? Where does it sit between political satire, stand up comedy and academic lecture? Why?

DF I would say the same as above. Stand-up is a stylistic influence - the huge range of topics, piece-meal approach to form, ability to change directions without any real segues. The formal use of still imagery relates to a wider range of contexts - academic lecture, business talk, and so on. I am interested in the authority that obtains when still photographic imagery is used. Because of the various associations with different contexts of information delivery, it allows for a lot of fun - things stand out against the formality in some cases, in others the format can be exploited to different effects. My point about the conceptual tightness of the material - in particular in the video I have in the BAS - is to say that it is not merely a string of one-liners. The jokes all reflect the broader themes of cultural misunderstanding and relativity between different world views. So they reflect my broader points about the arrogance of Western thinking and the fluidity of notions of scientific truth, or what have you, and are not a series of empty one-liners. I cannot of course determine fully how people take the work, but I can explain the intention behind its creation. It adopts many conventions of stand-up but isn’t fully that, since it tries to fail at times, tries to hit walls and derail its own momentum, things that traditional stand-up would not risk perhaps. I see it as operating fairly fluidly between a number of modes - nor do I see any necessary distinction between political satire and comedy.

Reckless Sleepers

Interview with Tim Ingram of Reckless Sleepers exploring the company aesthetic, (de)construction of text, attention to detail and tracing the arc in contemporary performance.

MP Michael Pinchbeck
TI Tim Ingram

MP How was The Last Supper conceived?

TI All artists attending the Ghent Festival in 1999 were invited to present a new piece of work inspired by The Last Supper. Mole, Pascal and I decided to create a piece with the idea of eating people’s last words. We collated the last words and these were written onto rice paper. There was a fine line between fact and fiction, perhaps faction. We experimented with fictionalising the last words of the living e.g. Elizabeth Taylor. About eating or not eating. We explored the mythologies around the death of Che Guevara. There are many different accounts of the last ten minutes of his life. This created a mini-argument onstage with contradictory evidence presented – discrepancies in describing the same incident but described within the same time-construct. We focussed on the minutiae of the details in descriptions of the assassination of the Romanov family. Military accounts of the time were forensic but suffused with the political – there were discrepancies in how many bullet holes were in the ceiling and who was shot first etc.

MP What was the thinking behind the aesthetic? There is something Perecquian in Reckless Sleepers attention to architectural or spatial detail, The description of a room and its contents in In The Shadow for example.

TI We were describing locations with the text so needed an ambiguous space. Mole comes from a Theatre Design background so the set design always comes first, He is fascinated with the architecture of the space and it was important to reflect Da Vinci’s Last Supper. We looked into the numbers of disciples, theories, sciences. 13 disciples mulitiplied by 3 gave us an audience maximum of 39 etc. We looked into the ritual and symbolism of the head table at a wedding and biblical references such as water / wine / apples – the blood of Christ. The people in the text are all in some way connected to Christ or numbers or in some way connected to each other within the narrative. For example Marie-Antoinette and Marilyn Monroe were both wearing Chanel no. 5. Elvis Presley was apparently reading a book on the toilet about the Turin Shroud. John Lennon famously said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. We were threading these connections.

MP What were you as performers focussing on within this narrative and how did you shift modes from direct address to audience interaction?

TI We as performers interact and how much we interact with the audience is up to us. The text is a bombardment of facts so the presentation of the meal – their last supper taken from the final food requests of prisoners on Death Row – was a device of pace. Giving audience time to breathe. Any move we make is very significant in the stillness. There is a fine line between casual and formal, humour and pathos and in many cases we kept the delivery the same tone to let the words speak for themselves. For example, the last words of Bobby Sands create a very emotional and politically charged piece of text. It would seem wrong to characterise or to ‘act’ it.

MP Why do you think it is a trait of experimental theatre to almost resist acting?

TI Contemporary theatre avoids emotion to get away from the distinction with mainstream theatre. There was a love letter in Schrodinger’s box that I had to read. This text is based on real experiences and putting emotion into it does it no good at all.

MP In mainstream theatre where there is this temptation to inject emotion into everything actors often speak of ‘tracing an arc’ through the character and action.

TI In The Last Supper there is an arc, from meeting and greeting the guests, toasts, speeches, drinking and the piece shifts from very formal to more casual and laidback. We wanted it to reflect the pace of wedding reception. Where the mood becomes more laconic after a few drinks. The last few pages of text are more humorous and yet there is a neutrality of a newsreader to the delivery. After all, the piece is a choreography of facts – all facts apart from the lies – and we as performers are restricted in our expressions.

MP Are you conscious of your stage persona and how this might caricature yourself?

TI Of course you are always aware you are onstage – always conscious of your stage persona and always reining the persona in. Sometimes you think ‘Oh my God, I’m acting! Stop it. You know it’s right when you’re not acting but if you stop and think then you probably are. It is easy to ‘ham’ especially when working in another language. But more than anything we ate trying to be just ourselves. The hand gestures are our own. Something new to put in or to develop when’s good to eat an apple of drink the wine.

MP There is an aural texture to the performance that adds to the musicality of the voices.

TI The Last Supper could be a voice piece. Could be a radio show. The soundtrack is a series of lasts. The end of the music to Marilyn Monroe’s last film. The last track John Lennon recorded. The last few bars of a composition of a classical composer. The music stops when he stopped. This adds to the solemnity of the text.

MP What decisions were made in terms of mood and the atmospheric journey?

TI We mix up and make up last words – from the mundane to the profound. From Einstein gazing at planets and stars saying ‘My work is done’ to a victim of Hiroshima saying ‘I’m going to the shops do you want anything?’ Often the ordinary is more poignant – to commemorate and pay homage to the everyman – like on death row.

MP How does your work evolve and are you conscious of your practice over projects?

TI We take the experience from one show and it becomes something else. Houes on the Hill – a one-man show I was involved in – was the bi-product of another project. We are always using and reusing material. Moving on, developing, referencing, taking forward etc. At the end of the devising process so much is thrown away. We are constantly trying to reanimate ideas and devices otherwise it is a waste of material.

MP Are you a different performer in different projects – e.g. non-Reckless Sleepers?

TI I suppose there is a Reckless Tim and a non-Reckless Tim but I have to strike the balance between frustrating and liberating, concentration and compromise. All the work I do tends to have a fragmented form of text or language but with one overall voice.

MP So who does this voice belong to? The company / the collective / the director?

TI In Schrodinger – it is a series of monologues united by the presence in the same space. In the Shadow was more interaction-based, using questions and answers, facts and descriptions. I suppose the voice is always that of Reckless Sleepers but the voice is different. The audience know someone is going to say something but don’t know what. Is it pre-conceived? Does it matter? In Spanish Train Mole referred to the door banging because the door of the venue was banging but it still becomes part of the piece’s voice. In In the Shadow there was more of a storyline and when I was nervous it was my persona not a character. I am still Tim being nervous, Tim being angry through a shift of delivery or physicality. There must always be a way of surprising an audience. People come to see us as a company and may know us as performers but do they know what we are going to say or how we going to say it? That is the voice of Reckless Sleepers.

Performance Practice Lecture

Performance Practice Lecture

Delivered at NCN, Nottingham on 18 October 2006

When I first arrived at Lancaster University in 1994 the first show I saw was Forced Entertainment’s Hidden J. The show starts with a cast assembling a small shed in which one woman spends most of her time shouting in some made up language and out of which a man emerges drinking vodka and holding a balloon over his cock. As the closest I’d come to drama before this was Shakespeare – I didn’t do GCSE or A-Level Drama which some universities said was a good thing - my first thought was ‘What fresh madness is this?’ What made it worse was that everyone around me was nodding in some kind of silent, knowing approval.

I felt like an outsider on an in joke. Students around me with an A Level or a B-Tec would say ‘It’s very Brechtian.’ And I’d be sitting there thinking ‘Who’s this Brechtian chap?’ The other question I was asking was ‘Why?’ and frankly at that stage ‘Why not?’ wouldn’t have been a good enough answer. But then I guess I wasn’t asking them – Forced Entertainment – and I was too scared to ask the students around me – I was asking myself. And I spent the next ten years trying to answer the question. So when you ask yourself ‘Why?’ after an exercise or a movement we do or make for no apparent reason at the time you might want to ask yourself ‘Why not?’ That’s what I mean when I say your jurnal should focus on the why not the what. Because sometimes the why can only be found by doing the what in the first place.

As Goat Island Performance Group who I’ll talk about later say about their work;

We have discovered a performance by making it.

I’ll give you an example. I devised ten shows with Metro-Boulot-Dodo. The company name means commute work sleep but we did plenty of commuting, plenty of working and not a lot of sleeping. That’s eight weeks to make each show and then about 12 weeks of touring each one. That’s 20 weeks a show. That’s 200 weeks. That’s nearly 4 years of making and touring. Waking up at 5 in the morning. Sleeping in the back of a van with a hat over your face to keep warm. Eating pot noodles from service stations with pliers. I made more shows than had hot dinners. Sometimes we’d get to a motorway junction and couldn’t work out which way was north or south. I called it Disintouria. And sometimes when we worked our 20 hour days for £50 a week (between four of us) we asked ourselves why? It wasn’t for the money. It wasn’t for the fame. There was no money. There was no fame. It was for the love. But it was more than that. It was for the love of making something live. The happy accidents. The moments of madness. The moments of beauty. The moments what would never happen again.

In one show we needed to sense time passing – four academics were observing an experiment. Bored. On the edge of angry. On the cusp of drunk. We had four beer bottles. For some reason during the devising process we were doing an exercise and one of us put their bottle on their head. Then another did. Then another did. So we all did. And it stuck. And it said bored. And it said on the edge of angry. And it said on the cusp of drunk. But noone would ever come into rehearsal and say ‘I know, let’s all put our bottles on our heads.’ That would be stupid. It just happened. And sometimes that’s not the why, because if you stopped to ask yourself why you wouldn’t do it. That’s the why not.

I always preached a do then think attitude when making work – then after 200 weeks of doing without thinking I decided to stop. I’ve been thinking ever since. Sometimes thinking gets in the way of doing but generally it means what I do is better. I had 18 months to think about The White Album. And that was just the words. That’s 16 months more than we had to think about every aspect of each show. No wonder we didn’t have much time to think. We just did. But I don’t think the thinking would make the doing better if I hadn’t done the doing then thinking first. If in doubt put a bottle on your head. Although, if you are in doubt, it’s probably too late. Devising is a bit like clothes – never discard anything without trying it out. Yes. Devising is a bit like clothes – sometimes you can’t explain why something fits you just know that it does.

I’ll give you another example, Blownup the last show I was involved with was like the show we will see tonight. A show without words. Only movements. We were going to interview many photographers – to find out how they felt capturing moments, using photographic terms like focus and exposure to structure the piece. But one photographer told us of how he met his first wife. He asked her how and when she would like him to take her photograph and she said ‘Turning cartwheels in a field.’ We couldn’t write poetry like this as beautifully as he could say it during the interview so the interview became a voiceover and the only voice heard in the show. We wanted to tell a story of love and loss against a backdrop of the development of a photograph. A real-life love story taking place against a real-time process. We used Focus to introduce the characters, Capture to illustrate the moment when they first met, Negative to show when they separated. All the time a photograph was being developed onstage which emerged at the end of the piece as an image of the Hindenberg exploding. The Hindenberg being constructed, flown and blowing up was shown on video throughout as a metaphor for the rise and fall of the relationship. The reason the Hindenberg was there was a conspiracy theory about it being blown up by the flashlight left by an amateur photographer.

This idea of time passing is something we will return to. And something that has emerged in my own practice. It is perhaps one of the key aspects of working in a live media. You are conscious of something happening against the construct of time. In The White Album, the play was written to the duration of the record, the duration of the Beatles watching The Girl Can’t help It, the duration of a man dying from an overdose. Timelines colliding within the narrative like the lines that denote spaces have collided within Take Out. As Tim Etchells says about their nine year retrospective in which time and space were reconfigured and the company slipped in and out of first and third person narration. ‘They knew that something strange had happened to time.’

So it begins with Forced Entertainment. Except it doesn’t. That was just the beginning of my education. And it never ends. And it never begins. You can trace it back but not to a beginning. Only to a begetting. Let the begetting begin. Forced Entertainment beget most experimental theatre today because they’re on the syllabi of most universities likely to produce companies to take on the mantle. The question remains can you be seen as experimental when you are accepted and studied within the academic arena? What are you providing an alternative to if your work is prescribed viewing? As Forced Entertainment slip onto larger stages in front of more mainstream audiences are they still experimental? The question remains if students inspired by FE create similar theatre which is in itself to a reaction against a reaction then what does theatre have left to react to. Will it be experimental to be more conventional? Certainly the profliferation of technology-led performance in the nineties is dying down to show a return to the purest values of performance. As Tim Etchells says of their piece Speak Bitterness;

As if after years of evading it we’ve finally come down to some irreducible fact of theatre – actors and an audience to whom they must speak, and in this case, confess.

ETCHELLS, T., 1999, Certain Fragments. London: Routledge (p94)

Over recent years the experimental scene has seen companies such as; Deerpark, Imitating the Dog, Metro-Boulot-Dodo, Third Angel, Stan’s Café emerge from contemporary performance degree courses with performative or workshop contact with the work of Forced Entertainment. Something about these grey, municipal, post-industrial landscapes inspired a dearth of paradoxically named companies. More would follow, as if tumbling from a tombola; Desperate Optimists in Ireland, Uninvited Guest in Bristol, Lone Twin in Nottingham. The names reflecting the polarities of the 80s and 90s. Boom or bust. A generation of theatre makers were born into a climate of anti-establishmentarianism determined to protest – but not about the climate of the culture but about the culture itself. The conventions of performance, both how it was supposed to be made and the stories it was supposed to tell.

Interestingly at about the same time as Forced Entertainment were emerging in Sheffield, Mole Wetherell graduated from Nottingham Trent University’s Theatre Design Course to form Reckless Sleepers still based in Nottingham. Again interested in the real time and the real life Reckless Sleepers often work from found texts of hostage situations, crisise both personal and political and trace a forgotten or imagined language onto a forgotten or imagines landscape. For Last Supper they recreated the last words of the famous whilst serving an audience the last suppers of inmates on death row. The audience take up 13 seats on each side mirroring the seating plan of the table in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Each performer has a glass of white wine, tears, red wine, blood and an apple, knowledge and devours the last words written on rice paper after reading them out. The myth of the death often collides with the reality of the death e.g the Romanov Family or Che Guevara and we are left sitting somewhere between the perceiver and the perception, the virtual and the actual. Baudrillard refers to this in philosophical and cultural theory;

Reality has passed over into the play of reality, radically disenchanted.

KAYE. N., 1994, Post-modernism and Performance. London: MacMillan Press

It is this tone of resignation and condemnation, this combination of activism and apathy that is conjured up by the names and works of experimental companies. Sometimes the activism is just an act, Sometimes the apathy is just an act. Sometimes it is hard to discern the difference. Disenchantment of a different kind emerged from Forced Entertainment’s show Club of No Regrets. Performers onstage at the whim of directors calling out stage directions and hurling water as tears, flour as smoke and ketchup as blood. Again the set is assembled as part of the action. As Tim Etchells explains;

In the end, as far as set design went, all we could put on the stage was another stage. Inside the larger building of the theatre, our crude wooden stage on the theatre's own stage, our crude scaffolding and worker's lamps proscenium inside the existing proscenium of the theatre. As if to say: this pretending is our topic.

HEATHFIELD, A. ed., 2004, Live: Art and Performance, London: Tate Publishing

As my contemporaries at Lancaster would have said ‘Very Brechtian.’ And yes Brechtian or Brecht as I came to call him did beget Forced Entertainment but not directly. The link is more Schechnerian than Brechtian but they shared certain traits. And what was Brechtian was also in some ways Beckettian.

Rather than live or 'be' the character, an actor must show and portray them - become a representation of that person. Brecht, in rehearsals, advised actors to speak in the third person, the past tense and even say their stage directions in order to help this. Another way to achieve this is to show the actors changing costume and becoming different characters in full view of the audience; the play is cemented as not being real and the focus can move back to the message.

In Beckett’s Waiting for Godot two characters wait for, as Beckett put it, ‘Nothing to happen, twice’ but at one point as Estragon heads for the toilet from a set that represents a wasteland in the middle of nowhere, Vladimir reminds him ‘End of the corridor, on the left.’ This is clearly a reference to the location of the toilets in the venue where the piece is being performed. This is self-referentiality. Aware of itself as a piece of theatre performed in a venue. These real life moments and recognition of the relationship between self and source, performer and audience permeate Beckett’s text.

For the self is ever-elusive, split into the perceiver and the perceived, the teller and the told, the tale and the listener to the tale and ever changing through time, from moment to moment, that after all is what all art is trying to capture. That is the aim and objective of Beckett’s art.

ESSLIN, M., 1984, Theatre of the Absurd. London: Penguin

When Forced Entertainment first arrived at their universities in the early 80s. Incidentally they all got 2:1s. They might have said ‘What fresh madness is this!’ to a video of performers building a house on stage blacked up with a backdrop of hardcore porn featuring themselves performing explicit acts. They might just as well have asked ‘Why?’ They probably spent the next 20 years finding out. The video they did see and to which Tim Etchells refers in Certain Fragments was of The Wooster Group’s seminal 1981 performance LSD – Just the High Points. The Wooster Group beget Forced Entertainment.

Constructed largely through a collage of found texts, actions and images, The Wooster Group would seem to put the formal and thematic boundaries of their performances into question.

KAYE. N., 1994, Post-modernism and Performance. London: MacMillan Press

Formed in 1979 and named after the Wooster Street where they found and still run their garage studio performance space. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, herself a protégé of Richard Schechner’s Performance Group, and featuring Spalding Gray and Willem Defoe, The Wooster Group are the pilgrim fathers of Forced Entertainment and the current generation of experimental work. And it was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, set not long after the Mayflower found land that would see the group’s reputation really set sail.

LSD - Just the High Points started out as a hybrid concoction of accounts of Timothy Leary’s and Aldous Huxley’s 60s experiments with hallucigens taken from recordings of symposia at the time and readings of the author’s works. Juxtaposed with this were excerpts of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible performed at breakneck speed by a blacked up cast. The common denominator was LSD as the company chose to film themselves performing The Crucible on acid and then recreate it as part of the performance. Apparently, the performance was so dreadful – lines forgotten – performers lost in their own meanderings – that only some of the film was chosen, Just the High Points.

The show went well until one of the company thought it would be a good idea to invite Arthur Miller. Two days later a letter arrived stating that unless the text was removed from the performance straight away Miller would sue the company. Apparently he objected to his words being ‘mangled.’ Instead of choosing to cut the text as requested, LeCompte simply urged the company to mangle the words even more. Lines were rewritten, performed at even more breakneck speed to render the text unrecognisable. The legal requirements affecting the new version were almost more potent than the LSD affecting the first. However, when there were slippages and performers uttered a discernible fragment of The Crucible a buzzer would sound. This then made apparent the use of Miller’s text even though it was no longer supposed to be present and no longer readily audible. The absence became a presence. The buzzer simply triggered the response in an audience fully aware of the legal situation ‘That’s the space where The Crucible takes place.’

In fact, Miller’s protest merely guaranteed the show’s longevity and gave the piece the added subtext of authorship, censorship and artistic persecution. Issues Miller was fully familiar with having been tried in the McCarthy witch trials for links to communism that he refused to yield. An experience which inspired The Crucible in the first place. The Wooster Group were not staging The Crucible they were reappropriating it. And by Miller withholding the rights they were reappropriating the rights as well. As Elizabeth LeCompte says;

The performance is calculated to distance the spectator, to transform him into a ‘witness’ before whom the play becomes an ‘exhibit’, a historical and theatrical document.

SAVRAN, D.,1986, Breaking the Rules, Michigan: UMI

The Performance Group beget The Wooster Group. Richard Shechner’s Performance Group performed in the Garage before LeCompte’s own splinter group took up residence. It was used as an experimental forum where audience was treated as a mass, a chorus and the lines between performer and audience member, protagonist and witness became blurred. It was also a culture in which, like Julian Beck’s Living Theater also in New York at the time, the process was as much if not more important than the final product. These were not just companies but communities with not just directors but leaders. This system was beget by Jerzy Grotowski – a Polish American director who achieved such a fusion between the emotional and physical fabric within his laboratory that performers could manifest welts and bruises just by thinking of them. One of the tangents to this is that Grotowski also beget Goat Island Performance Group. Karen Christopher – one of its founding members studied with him in the States and would later say;

Memorize to perform. Perform to remember.

Letter to a Young Practitioner, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 16 March 2000

As Adrian Heathfield describes in his workshop notes observing the creation of their piece Earthquake in my Heart, the notion of process rivals product;

Their aesthetic is deeply engaged with an ethics of performance. As with their immediate contemporaries such as the Wooster Group and Forced Entertainment their aesthetic arises from a sustained practice of living with the material with which they work, so that a ‘final’ piece takes the form of an organic melding of elements, a life-world which the performers inhabit… One might say then, that Goat Island’s ethics of performance is resident both in their process of creation and their aesthetic: the two are inseparable.

HEATHFIELD, A. Notes from a Process. March 2001. Chicago.

Goat Island were formed in 1987 and bring together performers and directors from a range of backgrounds; writers, dancers, film makers, musicians, carpenters. The work they do borrows heavily from Black Mountain College. In the sixties Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Yvonne Rainer developed a way of working together that embraced serendipity and was based on task and response. Goat Island start a process by gathering material but are always open to accidents. Their director Lyn Hixson will set them a question e.g How do you repair? And the process will be made up of responses to these questions in the practitioners chosen artform; text, movement, film. The responses will be incomplete. For example the task might be create a dog but rather than the detail of the dog the dog will just be hinted at. The audience colours in the dog. The outline is drawn to be filled in by the viewer. Responses only come in fragments and often Lyn Hixson will interrupt the thought process to break up the field of enquiry if it is becoming too narrow. The aim is to retain a sense of openness in the work – for it to be writerly not readerly. Importantly the company do not sit and discuss the work. The work itself is the discussion. Also – the collaborators are encouraged to crossover into non-specialist fields e.g. the dancers may write, the writers may dance. Goat Island are obsessed with process and structure – how the piece sits in space and time – often a work is presented in two versions with two different structures to investigate how the structure can affect the meaning. Often the work is given a time code, like a film and edited to a sequence e.g. Fibonacci. Space configuration is affected by the research e.g. playground. Whereas the Wooster Group work with deconstruction of text to build in connections. Goat Island research the work and make constructions to build out connections.

So Goat Island were beget by Grotowski. Grotowski in turn was beget by Antonin Artaud and his Theater of Cruelty. Artaud was the pinnacle of an arts movement post-surrealism which insisted that the man and the art were inseparable, Artaud was seen as a visionary and his theatre was the vision. The line between life and art has rarely been more blurred and it is often stated that Artaud’s greatest work was his rapid rise and equally rapid demise from feted film star to forgotten lunatic. Artaud publicly dismissed the surrealist movement in pursuit of his own form of performance detailed in his very failure to find it in letters that would become The Theater and its Double.

We abolish the stage and the auditorium and replace them by a single theatre of the action. A direct communication will be re-established between the spectator and the spectacle, between the actor and the spectator, from the fact that the spectator placed in the middle of the action is engulfed and physically affected by it.

ARTAUD, A., 1938. The Theater and its Double. (s.n.).(s.i)

And so contemporary performance carries with it this baggage, this debt of begetting, this lineage for both performer and audience, where each is aware of each other and aware of the context and unspoken contract between them. Work now focuses on the very nature of performance and is no longer placating or appeasing but confronting and problematising this relationship. In the words of one of the performers in Forced Entertainment's Showtime:

There's a word for people like you, and that word is audience. An audience likes to sit in the dark and watch other people do it. Well, if you've paid your money - good luck to you. However, from this end of the telescope things look somewhat different - you all look very small and very far away and there's a lot of you. It's important perhaps to remember that there are 'more of you' than there are of us. So, if it does come to a fight, you will undoubtedly win.

Readerly and Writerly

Taken from

Readerly Text: Both the "readerly" and "writerly" are ways of reading which Barthes implicitly interrogates throughout his texts; "S/Z", however, is perhaps the best and most explicit text in terms of watching how these definitions are fleshed out ("From Work to Text," an essay from "Image--Music--Text" (1977) also serves as a great analogous parallel look at the active and passive, postmodern and modern, ways of interacting with a text). As has already been implied, it is important to note that the "readerly" and "writerly" are more like positive or negative habits by which the modern reader brings with him or her to texts themselves. Regardless, there remains a spectrum of literature Barthes terms "Replete Literature," which are "any classic (readerly) texts that" work "like a cupboard where meanings are shelved, stacked, [and] safeguarded" (S/Z p.200). A readerly text, in other words, is one wherein the reader need not "write" or "produce" his or her own meanings but one where one can find, by passive means, meaning "ready-made". In another variation upon the "readerly," Barthes writes that these sorts of text are "controlled by the principle of non-contradiction" (156), that is, they do not disturb the "common sense," or "Doxa," of the surrounding culture. The "readerly texts," moreover, "are products [that] make up the enormous mass of our literature" (5).

Writerly Text: Unlike the required passivity before the readerly text, i.e. one which is "replete" with meanings already easily discernable, the goal of any "writerly text" for Barthes is the proper goal of literature and criticism: "...the goal is to make the reader no longer a consumer but a producer of the text" (4). "Writerly texts" and ways of reading are, in short, an active rather than passive way of interacting with a culture and its texts that Barthes implies should never be accepted in its given forms and traditions. As opposed to the "readerly texts" as "product," the "Writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages" (5). In the end, for Barthes reading "is not a parasitical act, the reactive complement of a writing," but rather a "form of work" (10).

Barthes, Roland. S/Z: An Essay. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974.

Happening and un-happening

'Writers and artists have always veered between contrasting versions of history. On the one hand, it is argued, history is about global events - war, conflict, famine, terrorism, mass movements of people around the planet - and to record history means being in the front line, at crisis point, bearing witness to violent change. On the other hand there are those who see history as the slow march of time, with most of us largely untouched by political turmoil, since our lives consist of what human life has always consisted of: birth, work, procreation, friendship and play. One view values journalistic reportage, the other eternal verities. One view is happening the other, un-happening.' - Faith Blakemore, Different Views - The Guardian 21 October 2006

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Last Supper

Questions sent to Mole Wetherell Artistic Director of Reckless Sleepers re: Last Supper 20 November 2006:

1. How do you deal with the idea of last-ness?
2. How do you deal with the idea of absence?
3. How do you deal with missing information?
4. How do you deal with the words of the dead?
5. How do you deal with the gigantic details (or the massive narratives)?

Answers received 29 November 2006:

Last - there is a predictability about the Last Supper, or the last meal requests, to know the number of seconds left in your life must be a terrible thing, to know that you will no longer eat anything because this will be your last, its planned, its no accident, it is going to happen...

Its very present, and very much about something that will happen in the future, In this respects its very orchestrated, or choreographed, I am sure that there are a whole number of rituals that go with an execution, it is very planned, And i get an impression, that it isn't a very upbeat experience.

There is a drama about knowing that something is going to another person, I cant imagine for a minute what those last things are like, I remember on a school trip we wen through the Doges palace, through the bridge of sighs, which is the last view of the outside world that prisoners get, before they are executed, executed between the statues of the devil and the deep blue sea, but then i remember having a series of firsts, i think that it might have been 1984 with my friend Neil and i had my first cigarette of 1984, my first cup of Tea, told my first joke, laughed for the first time and crossed over the road in a minor drunken fashion, for the first time.

I've had my last drink, and that is the last thing that i will say about that.

Its late its not that late, but i don't want to make too much noise,

In the Last Supper there are several references (i had to go for a walk to the kitchen to get that Last word in my brain) references to Last, Last meal requests, last words, last moments, Last works, painters musicians, there is a whole series of last compositions, which was created by Gerrit especially for the last supper, so we
have within the piece the last composition (unfinished) by Mozart, the film score from the last film that James Dean was in, the list is long

There are 19 tracks in total, but in the last supper, its not just about the last words, there is a morbid fascination with them, and plenty of sources of information about last words or last statements, and for some its important to know, but these may be the last words uttered by someone in a morphine state, not making much sense, but we hang onto these last words as if they were precious, as if these words will continue to live on, like the maid who was asked what were Einstein's last words and she said I dont know i dont speak, German...

For me my favourite last words are the ones that I have invented, and it starts with Newton, - Marylyn Monroe - Einstein with Newton his last words seemed fake, they seemed fabricated too complete too long winded, and so what we get from Tim is what was an improvised section, but is now clearly set,

Newton - his last words

Tim - I dont know? I dont know how to, i dont know what i may seem to the rest of the world...and then he rambles on, its pretty much set, but has the impression that this might take a long time, he is gently
interrupted, By

Leen: Norma Jean Mortenson"

Mole: Later"

Leen: Norma Jean Baker"

Mole: Later

Leen: Marylyn Monroe

Mole: Later

Leen: around 10 A.M. Wearing nothing but channel no 5, a telephone in
one hand...Jo...Jim...Arthur..Jim...

Mole: Lying in his deathbed, Albert Einstein a flashback to his early youth making little sense in German, refusing to take morphine so that he can think straight, see straight, think of one last thought...

(i have the whole text of this I send it...

These are fabricated moments and idea of what might have been their last moments, its a very sad moment in the piece, because there is a sense of loneliness with this part, its MM calling to her X husbands and lovers, alone.

I felt a real sadness there because my mother died this year, i wasn't around when she died, i went to get a cup of tea from the hospital canteen, whilst the nurse was busy, we came back and she had gone, I think that she had waited,

But i know what her last words were, and it wasn't anything grand, or huge or massively important, it wasn't what she said, it was how she said it, My mum was a nurse and she worked worth old people so she knew the ropes, she knew the drugs routine or ritual, and she refused to take the morphine, i could see it in her eyes she didn't want to give this life up, she wasn't ready to go yet.

And so her last words take their place in the new version of The Last Supper,

That may be the Last Time that i mention this,

My mum, and the reason why i bring her into the last Supper is that she is everywhere in it, her favourite perfume Channel No 5 the last bottle that i bought her for Christmas has replaced the one that we lost in that place, her birthday is July 14 Bastille and when she came to see the performance as the Marseilles is playing in the
background on the announcement of the largest of the last meal requests, the Birthday Cake, it seems fitting that my mum should get the Birthday cake, which she did.

My Dad who was dying when i was writing the last supper isn't in the Last Supper, there is a moment in Spanish Train where i always think of him, and there is a moment in The Last Supper when i will always think of my mum,


Question 2,, there is a sense of absence, a strong sense for me of people who arent there any more, its more prevalent for me because ive lost 2 very close people in my life, very recently, so i cant put this Last Supper show to bed, to sleep as it were its too relevant for me at this moment in my life.

We do start with a, no we dont we start with people choosing a seat a bingo ticket, the performance starts with a toast, which starts with I am ready which was someone's last words, or its the most common last words before an execution.,and then we toast those who arent there any more, a list of nicknames to Al Tikriti (Sadam Hussein), To
shy Di (Diana Spencer) these are familiar names, and i always think of the New year celebrations, not like my first crossing the road, but the strange dance that is done, or was done, in the house parties that we used to have, in the 1970's and 1980's (early)

And i always had to first foot, there was no coal, but i always had to go outside at 12 and ring the bell and be let into the house even though i had a key and even though i dont even think the door was locked any way, but there is something nostalgic about the last supper, there is something about not being there also, about only really understanding these moments as a witness,

These are people who are not here any more but we still celebrate their Ideas, Relativity was 100 years old recently it was Mozart's 400th Birthday, and we are still bound by Newtonian physics, Gravity still exists so far many of the celebrities their ideas or work are still relevant, or celebrated they arent here but we still remember them, the prisoners however are different, this is the strange thing
about the Last Supper as there are moment within this piece where the audience or visitors reaction amazes me, for instance the food when presented normally gets a small applause or laugh, after the candles are blown out of the birthday cake this action receives applause, and yet these are the last requests of someone who isn't around any more, and this meal has everything to do with death, is celebrated,

Of course this isn't wrong.


I like that gaps are left to be filled, and what im trying to say here is that i dont think its necessary to say everything and these absences are crucial to the last supper (we the audience fill in the gaps) well i hope that we do, i always have an image of MM and Napoleon and Einstein playing in my head when i speak or hear these

Missing Information, well, we cant know everything can we, i dont have a clue what you thought when you read that last line, you perhaps smiled as i am now, well im imagining you smiling, we cant know everything and we cant describe everything, we cant describe how to move across the room, i cant describe every painting in Van Goughs room the one where he died, the room that he painted with the small single bed and a couple of Van Gough chairs in there and i think on the walls there is a painting of sunflowers or a vase and a filed there's a small window, and i imagine that his brother in the room holding his hand.

Im not saying everything there that happened, but im trying to do is paint a picture plant an image in your head, so that you can move the scene on you can imagine it, and i think that is what i really like about the last supper, there is too much information at times, dates and locations, and thats not theatre its a list of who said what and where and when and you can but that in a book.

This is why i like the Newton-MM-Einstein part because we dont really have any information about what happened, just someone else's impression, in The Romanovs we have too much information so much so that the room is filled with the noises of the information that we have, and in a way this is used like a machine we broadcast as much information as we can, and what we have is half of what information that we have as i cut so much of it because there was too much information about where a person was shot what happened how they fell, pages and pages or accounts of what happened, and so i deal with that by editing it out,

In Che we had many conflicting ideas about what actually happened and what he said, so we show this, Franz Kafka wrote his last words on small pieces of paper, which we have (the small pieces of rice paper that we eat) JFK 'thats obvious" was his last words, but we are so familiar with the events surrounding his death that we dont have to say that much, Lee Harvey Oswald follows "I have nothing more to say to you"

The wicked witch is the only fictional character in the Last Supper, Sadam Hussein No 2, 3, and 4 dont have jobs any more Saddam Hussein No. 1 is now on death row. i dont know what im saying here perhaps you can make sense of it tomorrow..

Dealing with the words of the Dead, I dont put too much weight on them, i dont hold on to it any way, and part of me doesn't quite believe what passes as credible research as fact, in the original LS we found the last words of Oscar Wilde, iN Paris in a hotel room which were quoted as either that wallpaper goes or I do, well after
a bit of time and some space id had time to read the final pages of the biography of Oscar Wilde whos last words were reportedly My Wallpaper and i are fighting a duel to the death, one or the other of us will have to leave, which sound more credible, but no one got it, people used to hear the quick wit of the first, and the second just
didn't work so Oscar isn't in it any more, well he might be if we ever do the show in Paris. Because if we did the show in Paris there would be plenty of references that we could link in.

I think that we are pretty sympathetic about how people are presented, Bobby Sands we keep to his last diary entry its such a strong piece of text, and there are so many associated images surrounding that whole time that its always very strong.

In The Hiroshima scene we eat 38 last statements in quick succession were not pointing a finger at anyone, and again this is a scene that doubles our visitors laugh at this scene because we find it difficult to speak, but then there is normally a realisation that these are the last words of people in a city, and this really happened, and it can happen to us, i could have easily said 9/11 or Tsunami, or another event in history,

So the words themselves arent that important to me, and i dont trust many of them I'm suspicious that many of them, especially Victorian reports of last words are jokes, rewritten modified, I believe John Lennons, JFK's and Kafkas last words, so they are in, but we dont even Know what Elvis's last words were so we dont say them, and no
one seems to mind,

The Last bit, i think what i want to say with the last supper is that the massive narrative is that this happens again and again throughout history we go through the same conflicts and same arguments and the same love affairs and the same things happen and we all have one last thing to say,

And that cycle of history repeating itself is very clear to me.

French Revolution - Russian revolution - Velvet Revolution - Invasion of Iraq - Civil War

Scapegoats and executions

Marie Antoinette - Tsar - JFK - Sadam - so this for me is the big narrative, and then the smaller things are the bigger things too like the small conversations in the Hiroshima scene, MM desperate to speak to someone, Andy Warhol on the Phone to his brother Van gough holding his brothers hand.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Goat Island

'We have discovered a performance by making it' - Goat Island

Akin to Michelangelo's claim that he was merely finding the sculpture within the marble, Goat Island find the performance within the process. The company place as much if not more importance on the process as the performance and their task and response devising strategy means the performance is almost a bi-product of the process. This post will present a review of a Work in Progress performed by Goat Island Performance Group at Chelsea Theatre, London on Friday 8 September 2006 alongside excerpts from an interview with company members Lito Walkey and Karen Christopher. This will form the basis of a research paper entitled The Detail of Worship, The Worship of Detail. Taken from

The performance situates between two audiences. Its temporal structure reflects the historical trajectory of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, a triple life: church/mosque/museum. We consider these not conflicting theologies, but movements encountered on different planes.

Part 1: A dance in 13 rounds. Each round adds a triad of detailed movement. Through the course of the 39 movements, the performers diverge and reconverge, in accordance with hybrid mathematics, to a regular beat with irregular measures.

Part 2: Not performance, but instructions for performances. The community enters the work as instruction-givers. A micro-performance on a bare stage answers each recited instruction: a universe in simple words, a journey of attention with no destination.

Part 3: A concert begins, a Vaudeville Deluxe, of three-minute acts, a weave of The Last Waltz / The Last Picture Show: how to take a stand; how to spurn a lover; how to look at a building; how to recall “the beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning”; how to say goodbye.

Interview with Goat Island exploring absence and compositional structure of time and space.

MP Michael Pinchbeck
KC Karen Christopher
LW Lito Walkey

MP I'm fascinated by the way your time and space structures are come upon and how they're balanced.

LW The structure of how we work. That's where balance finds itself. The structure that is directly connected to the content e.g. mathematical pattern. And the structure of how we work. I think that one of the essential things about how we work is based very much on never having enough time. There is this leaving for short periods of time. We are going to answer one question or bring things in to show each other or we're going to redo something we've done before. There's just enough time to touch on something. That structure of never having time to say 'This is our concept and this is our time to achieve that' but instead there are just these little sparks that along the way tell us how to approach the material and how to shape it.

MP And that idea of doing exercises for 55 seconds rather than a minute does this tie in with the idea of never having enough time?

LW I think that comes in connection with 'unfinishedness' - the idea that you're not going to have enough time. So in that state of non-completion comes another kind of specificity. You have to ask yourself other questions when you know that you have to cut yourself short. You detach. You let yourself go. Contrary to that there is this approach of saying what happens when you don't indulge in things taking over because you feel that's where they're going but you think 'This is the border of where I have to go to'. Somehow you cme back to how a very small thing can fill up that time. One of the things we realised is that a tiny fragment can take over a whole structure. Take over a whole hour of what you want to pay attention to.

MP It's the 'gigantic detail'?

KC Also I think originally why it was 55 seconds instead of a minute was that people don't really listen when you say a minute. Because that sounds like a generic time frame. Oh a minute. Oh an hour. Oh a couple of minutes. So if you tell them 55 seconds. When we said 2 minutes we meant 2 minutes but people thought we meant a short piece. What we wanted was for people to be rigid about time. What matters is that they've spent time considering time. When you consider a choice of words. In some cases people don't listen if you just use ordinary words. It's like the flight attendant who says 'I found a brown wallet... I have to tell you some safety instructions...' Especially in the workshop and in rehearsal we use it a lot. I'm not standing here on my own worrying about am I good enough is my idea good enough. I'm standing here with time and the time it takes me to stand here.

MP How do you reconcile the idea of 'unfinished-ness' with 'last-ness'?

LW We’re showing the first and the third section.

KC It’s only a five minute section of the third section. The third section will be longer. We’re in a situation where we have to present something that feels like a piece even though it’s not. Whoever comes to see this this is the show they’re seeing. The first work in progress we did there was a first section and a second section. Now we’re just doing the first section and a short part of the third section. I think that’s why the second section isn’t quite there. It’s problematic. It’s stopped there. It has its own integrity. But it’s not ready. So we do the first and the third section knowing what already happens in the second section.

LW We did have the idea that we would try for the first time to not show the third part ever.

MP So it would exist?

LW So we would work on it but it wouldn’t be in the work in progress. We would only show part one and part two so there would be an unfinished form in it. Now we want to show a part of it to show the energy it has. I like this idea that because Goat Island has used work in progress over the two year process there is a lot of generosity in that. It’s a nice idea to keep something.

KC So we broke our rule about not presenting the section.

MP. There are echoes of End Time Now. Adrian Heathfield describes how Tehching Hsieh paints for 13 years but never presents the results. He only presents the statement ‘I survived’. I’m exploring the notions of absence and presence. Heathfield talks about the images of the same artist punching in and taking self-portraits of himself as part of his One Year Performance

KC It is just stills but when you see them all together. You see his hair grow. You see his face change. And he stands in the same position every time.

MP He talks about this as ‘nowhen’. An absent presence. This moment in between. I wonder how this notion of ‘nowhen’ applies to the shifting structures you have. The gaps you have. The missing beginning. The entering of the void to find it. The way you turn the work inside out. Do you have any thoughts about your work in terms of absence and presence?

LW In September Roses there was a specific focus on these missing parts. These moments when we would be still for 55 seconds and then move again. We were missing out words. We were pointing out voids. And if we approach these spaces by letting those absences be there then we’re questioning what happens to the presence. Maybe something that is a little more real that connects directly to the nervous system. The non-presence is there. We had a question that we each asked someone out of the company to answer with five steps. We came back to make a performance that followed these steps. The performance that resulted in these tasks there is the idea of doing these things without representing the body. Instead of making the focus on the body the focus is one the instructions on the body and the traces made by the body in the space. This deals with absence and presence. In contrast to the first section when we are very present in our bodies.

KC I want to say something about the void in September Roses. There was a sense of the idea of repair. How do you represent something that is unfinished, broken or incomplete because everything you show is complete. So some of the stuttering and stopping was an attempt to do that. Also – I feel that people are terrified of nothing. Of that moment when nothing happens. ‘What am I supposed to be doing?’ There’s a line somewhere you can draw between that discomfort and how we deal with this void? This emotional void. There was a connection to the idea that we were responding to the United States reaction to 9/11. We were on tour when it happened and the effects of it were going on in the world. The idea of the void. The response to void. The response to the missing. The response to death. The reflection on existence. The idea was repair being a response to that sort of disaster instead of attack.

MP It’s a much more healthy word than fix.

KC So we looked at Paul Ceylan who set out to repair the German language after the holocaust and part of his method of repair included holes or absences because so was much was missing in the world. We would all have very different ways of explaining the absences within the work.

LW We circle around the same notion without discussing the work.

KC The discussion happens in action. In making the material. That’s the converation.

LW I think the conversations we carry forward are about the happy accidents.

KC I don’t think any of the performances tie something down to the meaning we had when we thought about it. One always hoped there is more than one meaning. It’s interesting to see the effect it has on other people. The mystery.

MP Sometimes the balance happens in the ambiguity. Not defining meaning.

KC It’s one way of avoiding argument. It’s also a way to live in a community.

MP There’s a quote from Stephen Bottoms about ‘negotiatiating community’ – about how you exist as a unit and your unique way of working. Also – you say ‘Memorize to perform, perform to remember.’ I wonder what that means to you?

KC How do you remember anything – there’s an activation of some internal thought process. Something that moves you. Something that makes sense. There now you have a memory. You need these memories to have a fertile thought process. In some ways performance causes this – an alchemical thing – a reaction in your brain – something catalyses – and you all either performer or audience have some intellectual or emotional response – you have a new memory.

MP Are you flirting with that chemical response by reconfigurating material?

LW Then that becomes a sequence of course the path is changed but what we perform becomes a sequence that doesn’t have open ends on a ‘what we do’ level. We make it complex but when we’re performing we always get to similar points. We have our routes.

MP How much freedom do you feel as a performer within these structures? Is there a frustration in working within such a rigid outlline?

LW There’s a frustration that comes with a liberation. There’s a surprise that comes from doing something always in a similar way. An extreme example. It’s 25 minutes long and there’s a beat every second. There’s a movement every beat. I have difficulty breathing. Because I start to lose the movement. That’s where a freedom can take over but it’s a question we’re asking but still we can’t let go of it because we’d lose the beat.

KC We can’t lose ourselves in it because we have to find the movements. Everytime I get to 8 I panic because I can’t remember whether I’ve started over. There’s always a panic that you’ve gone on automatic.

LW This is the difference between meditative and automatic. How I do find it exhilerating is that it becomes very concrete. The epression as the performance of this measured movement is in the urgency of the action. It is not feeling. It is in the doing.

KC I have to remind myself of that everytime I start. Why did I agree to this purgatory? It’s really hard. It’s not difficult to do. It’s difficult to get it right. If you’re looking at it from the point of view of a very structured dance and everybody is doing it the same where uniformity is the idea – then we have freedom – because though we have a structure our movements are radically different. Our personalities imbue the movements with an individual quality.

LW Another point is how Lyn directs us or how Lyn doesn’t direct us. It is never in relation to how we are doing something. Those details are up to us. Very quickly what we do in rehearsal becomes part of that path. That’s another point where we do not have a discussion. The doing is established.

MP You allow yourselves to show.

KC It’s not about personality but there is an individuality. It’s not a phsycology or an emotionality but it is an individuality.

MP I’m making a peformance with an amateur dramatics group and it started with the idea of them as themselves. There’s a sense of self and comfort within that role. Is that sense in your work e.g. Brian’s clockwise lecture in September Roses.

KC It depends. Brian brought that in and performed it as himself and that was that. Then there are times when you imitate someone else. It’s still us. There is no pretend going on. But it’s us showing you how we do this person. There has still got to be an availability in how we do it.

MP What do you mean by availability in the transaction between performer and audience?

KC I don’t know what that means ‘availability’ because it’s more permeable than that. It’s not definitive. Less interior. I don’t think soulless is quite the right word but you have to give something of the performer. Make yourself more available. More permeable. Less like a shield I think. Because it’s important to keep the small connection to people. When we have an actual connection between actual people we care more.

MP Can that connection remain if it’s something that you’ve done before?

KC If I enliven it. But I have to enliven it each time.