INCESTICA

A post-performance experimental text by Ian Deleón, Agrofemme, and Mr. Thursday

 

INCESTICA

A performance collaboration exploring incest, insects, anal/menstrual preoccupations, and the Oedipal family drama.

The Viscose Factory, Art Rat Studios, Roanoke Virginia, USA
September 17 2016

  FATHER                                          Mr. Thursday
SISTER AND MOTHER                  Agrofemme
BROTHER AND PROGENY           Ian Deleón

 

Prologue

“In her, I entered into Hades; with her, I traveled all the way into the oceanic silt, tangled myself in the seaweed, petrified myself into the limestone, circulated into the veins of coral” – Gabrielle Wittkop, The Necrophiliac

“Down for the wedding, my dear brother?” – attributed to Catherine of Siena, speaking to a man on the gallows

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Scene I: The Bedside Prayer and a Shadow Eating an Apple

Father stands in an invisible doorway looking severe in a suit jacket while slowly eating a red apple. Behind him, a large, padded wheelchair with an attached spotlight casts his long shadow across the bedroom as he watches his children kneel in prayer. The pale-faced siblings repeat the Bedtime Prayer, alternating between gazing downwards, at each other, and at the imposing shadow along the wall.

Our voices whisper to one another: Now I Lay me Down, I pray the Lord my soul to keep … And If I Die before I Wake, I pray thee Lord my Soul to take….

incestica-ian-deleon-agrofemme-performance-2

Scene II: The Chair and the Matchbox

Sitting back in the large, padded chair as if on the lap of a monstrous grandparent, Father shuts off the spotlight and ignites a colder, vignetting beam from a headlamp. The children, who have now ceased their prayers and lie still in bed next to one another,  can no longer see him but he continues to watch, and to eat his apple.

Mechanically entreated. Only the Core of knowing sin, plump petaled still, is left to eat. Slowly, savor the last pulp of apple on the pate eternal. I am sitting now, the projected halo of my panoptic dirge rounds m-eye children. Their matches hatch conspiracies but eye am not paranoid – the banquet awaits the pronouncement of their temerity. I own th-eye-m. I don’t know that eye still own silhouettes under sheets stained in my-or-our cereal histories, can’t cover nothing, can’t cover sins unbelieved and unseeing.

With hands at first folded politely above the bed sheet, the star-gazing children begin to loosen and steal flashing glances at one another beneath the turquoise glow of this intimate nocturnal distance. They slowly begin pulling the sheet above their heads, sitting up in bed facing each other, creating a tent with their bodies. Between them a match is stricken, and the siblings begin an exchange of vows, longings and misgivings that culminate in an intimate embrace and a building sense of shame.

Camphor burns my nostrils as I struggle to read the text. My eyes water and voice hoarsely falters as if with true emotion. Match after match is struck, as we take turns striking, reading, striking, reading.

I Fear we will literally ignite the stage in this dramatic re-framing of our true-to-life passion.

“ Here is the house, where it all happens … Body and soul come together, as we come closer together … Death is everywhere. There are flies on the windscreen, for a start, reminding us we could be torn apart tonight … I want to take you in my arms, forgetting all I couldn’t do today … With or without words, I’ll confide everything … He says it’s for her only that he lusts. She doesn’t trust him. Nothing is true, but he will do in a world full of nothing … It’s easy to slip away and believe it all … Apologies are all you seem to get from me … It’s a question of lust, it’s a question of trust … It is all of these things and more that keep us together … It frightens me … We feel like pioneers .. Wounds aren’t healing inside of me. Though it feels good now, I know it’s only for now … ”[1]

Brother wrestles the sheet from his sibling and uses it to cover himself as he retreats away from the bed into a nearby bathroom.

He leaves me, a stain between my legs. An incontinence of his, a menses of my own, a miscarriage of bodily fluids, a visible humiliation.

At some point, Father has finished his apple.

incestica-ian-deleon-agrofemme-perfromance-3

Scene III: The Transformation & The Dinner Table

Sister exits the bedroom and joins the Father, who is now in the adjacent dining room area, a hooded figure sitting at the end of a long table. Sister becomes Mother, and upon their messy array of a dinner table, the parents communicate with howling nags and jabs.

Our table is laid with indian corn, likker, peanut shells, floggers, processed meats and briny things.

Father attempts to eat raw beef franks and peaches through his hood while Mother fixes her hair.

I crack eggs into a dish after mixing a vodka, not gin, martini, gulping at it as I beat the eggs with a bristle brush. Combing egg into my ratty head, I roll beer cans from the audience into my hair. Mr. Thursday and I argue, snipping at each other in guttural and whining barks, a simulation of language, a hurling of absurdist accusations what cause the audience laughter, “SHIBBERSHITSKULLIUNKK”, I gesture at his pathetic hole. Struggling to keep the Miller Highlifes in my hair, I blow-dry the egg to stiffen the curl. [How quickly the uncanny becomes the comedic].

The bi-partisan feast of our larges. Her and I. Watch us eat. Watch meat n’ peach dream through the black grid of worm poop, strung together like the meted fists of state gluttony that gloss m-eye continents. Crackle-click. All mine(d). She has her part to play, amorphous blob, will in and out besides bleated piglets we produced, and she is. The taper’s out again. The blabbing and skirted language of rotted seductions peels ever so. What is that? I’ll spit the shells pleb-wise and yell about the bathroom. What takes him so long? Crackle-crack. The knife, watch the knife. Crackle-scratch. Closer… What’s that yelling from the blob now!?[2]

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Scene IV: The Insect The Broom & The Apples

Meanwhile, in the cavernous lavatory, the “head”, brother has undergone a visible and dramatic transformation into the ill-equipped seed of the siblings’ union.  He has become something more earthly, though shrouded in pr(e/o)scription — the imundo.[3]

Within the chapel of excrement, I found myself changed. Where once was an adept and wrinkle-less hand there now protruded a brilliant obsidian flipper, more capable of shoveling motions than the discrete digital flurries of before. I discovered my body to be incapable of prolonged vertical jaunts, preferring the cold proximity of the concrete under hind foot — I was a horizontal animal. Vision blurred and aural sensibilities deferred, I now sensed with every extremity. Where once pain was localized, now excruciation grew to a totalizing body-mapped experience. What WE now found most unusual and somehow most serene was a small perturbance, an asymmetrical eruption around the lip of our rear quarters. Our sphin(x)cter had become engorged with a sense of its own importance, and thus, we resolved to dispel that riddling gatekeeper and open the portal to our (in/ex)ternal worlds once again.

The Progeny now emerges, a voice-less rattle of chains and tightened physical constraints, a hand transformed into a digit-less mitten. Shiny, leathery skin, Anus protruding for all to see. Scurrying about the dining room, it attempts to garner the attention of its (GRAND)parents, mostly through the uncoordinated display of its dilated anus. Clutching a container of Rx Proctozone, it inserts the conical applicator tip into the rectum and squeezes out/in a significant amount of the Doctor’s white.

The parents remain focused on their asinine activities. Still unnoticed, it crawls underneath the tablecloth and approached Mother from an intimate angle. Here, with the still recognizable human hand, the insect reaches up to touch the mother’s drinking glass, causing her to relax her grip on it as if setting it down on a table. It is now that she catches sight of the creature, in multiple ways, her progeny.

I awoke from this mundanity to a gigantic insect, it’s domelike brown belly rubbing over my bare toes, it’s fingers on the base of my martini glass, slowly pulling the drink from my grip. I recoiled in horror, screeching at my husband, gesturing; “Kill this thing!”.

What is it!? The son of so-called night shifts under the sheet they hid. The dream-child in chitin, shit-wielded. Formed of ME!? Formed of illicit, formed of empire’s leavings, formed of inceC-ssssst! Not mine… no, no, NO bed eye made. Halo saw all… but not this… How ma-me screams so! Antenna-ed like father though, leathered like of wandering days… yet family-ALL!!! OUT, OUT, sOUTh… What for armament…. The scold of lost nights neurotic and fruit of labors dead. The pate of cousin-ed desires, cold-membered APPLE’s for artillery and deathly work to exorcize this sONE in the alley!

Clutching a broom worn to a frazzled nub, I gain boozy courage, jabbing at the heinous figure skittering at our feet. We chase It out the door to a narrow alley, pushing it towards a drainage man-hole.

The pitiful creature struggles to approach something like a normal gait amidst a torrent of physical and “verbal” abuse from the ‘rents. The Mother with her broom and the Father with his apples — p(u/o)mmeling it into submission.

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Scene V:  The Sewer Grate

Bwa ha ha HA – return to the sOUTh you scurrier! No son a m-eye-n! What fear we played up to ensure our continued benevolence. Her, dappled now like ma-me used to be, loverly dough-ter… her and I. M-eye self the light, hersELF the foil of their error passivity, pathetic wrangled mob of indifferent soomers of our CON.

The Progeny continues to gaze up at the parents, pleading for recognition, only to be met with derision. They finally coax the creature into a six-foot-under sewer drain, taunting and sneering at it while they pull the lid over its head. Shamelessly and coolly smoking a cigarette at the foot of this victory, they jest while the vermin whimpers from the darkness below.

HA! Like leafs in the wake of a train they followed the cumbat. Regal we laugh and share a fag and limp back to the ordered reek-bench of OUR continued progress.

Parents stagger off down the alley. Father is gone. The Incestica trapped.

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Scene VI: The Deflation

I am alone. The bed is before me, and I drop my robe.

Standing before the amber stain on white sheets, I am naked.

A “lacanian Shroud of Turin”.[4]

  1. Release Valve, 2. Lock Knees, 3. Fall Flat: the air mattress socking my nose like a collapsing lung and my body bouncing once like a stiff timbered pine. Air wheezes out from between my toes and I sink for four minutes until my cheek presses to the cool cement floor. When I lift my body the orange stain has transferred to my thighs.[5]

A body-lithography, a recalcitrant memory from a Night of Faith.

Epilogue

“To a strange land he soon shall grope his way.
And of the children, inmates of his home,
He shall be proved the brother and the sire,
Of her who bare him son and husband both,
Co-partner, and assassin of his sire.
Go in and ponder this, and if thou find
That I have missed the mark, henceforth declare
I have no wit nor skill in prophecy.” –Oedipus the King (454-461)

 

 

 

[1] Lyrics from Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration

[2] The dinner gave me not only an opportunity to contribute to the meat poem tradition by shoving hotdogs through a black, silk pillowcase; the pillowcase echoes our continuing social imperialism, especially in visual state performance, via various hoodings: spectacular, digital, militarily practical, etc., but also a chance to fondle peaches. Across the table Agrofemme and I conversed in an ur-language, a familial jest, a replicant of more vigorous times, like museum fremen, we were a tribe tied and gagged in its own history. In Vivant Denon’s terms “Desires are reproduced through their images,” in this case a gastronomic/cosmetic duel, both awaiting a feared and hoped for interruption from returning child lovers; read memories.

[3] Portuguese, from im- ‎(“without, not”) + mundus ‎(“clean, elegant; upright”)

[4] Mira Schor, Wet

[5] After six days, [the stain] remains. I wash twice a day and it remains.

Life is Like That: Looking back at Marilyn Arsem’s 100 Ways to Consider Time

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time Day 16

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 16 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, November 24, 2015.
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A conversation between artists Daniel Embree and Marilyn Arsem

Marilyn Arsem is the first performance artist to receive the prestigious Maud Morgan Prize from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A defining figure in the field of performance art, she has performed for over three decades over 180 works around the world, influencing generations of artists in Boston and internationally. 100 Ways to Consider Time was a daily, live performance at the MFA from November 9, 2015 to February 19, 2016.

Daniel: Welcome back to the US. I hear you’ve just returned from Chile, what were you doing there?

Marilyn: Performing! It was a really interesting project. I was there for 2 weeks, but I was in Patagonia at the very southern end of Chile. We went to Tierra del Fuego and drove around to see different parts. We were right on the Strait of Magellan, but we did not go further south. I didn’t see penguins sadly, because it’s winter there.

D: You didn’t jump across the water to Antarctica?

M: I’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica and I’ve applied to residencies there twice. There’s a program for artists and writers in Antarctica, but when you look at who they accept it’s generally painters and photographers and writers, not performance artists. Maybe next time I’ll apply and get the residency.

D: A few years ago when I first met you, you told me that you do most of your work in international performance art festivals and rarely make work in Boston. Since then you’ve performed many times in the greater Boston area including at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Cyclorama, the Boston Harbor Islands, and at the Contemporary Arts International (CAI) Quarry in Acton. What changed?

M: I didn’t have the invitations back then. The work that I had done in Boston up to that point had been primarily at Mobius, and at Mobius I self-produced the work. There is the group to help me, but still I have to produce it to make it happen. It’s a lot harder to just go ahead and decide to do work than to answer an invitation.

D: I imagine there’s more accountability when you’re answering an invitation than when you’re producing work independently.

M: That’s actually the reason I started Mobius—to have a group who would hold me accountable.

In the beginning all the work I was doing was there. We would have monthly art meetings to talk about projects and help each other develop them. I had ideas, and rather than sit at home and think that they were impossible or crazy or strange, I would go to Mobius and they would be supportive, encourage me to do the work, and then hold me accountable.

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time Day 1

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 1 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, November 9, 2015 .
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

D: Let’s talk about 100 Ways to Consider Time. For six hours a day, every day, for 100 days, you were in the gallery performing an action or series of actions relating to time. Each day the action was different, and you never repeated an action.

How was performing a work like this at the Museum of Fine Arts different from performing at Mobius?

M: Unlike Mobius, where work is more self-produced, the MFA has a whole staff tasked with making the exhibition happen. There are a lot of offices and departments, conservation, PR, the preparers for exhibitions, the graphics team, the lighting and technical media staff—I don’t even know all of the titles of the many people who helped.

I worked with really wonderful curators at the MFA, Edward Saywell and Liz Munsell, and they managed all the internal processes, much of which I was probably unaware. They recognized that showing performance art challenged some of their normal practices of showing work.

I think the Museum staff were surprised I wanted to be so involved in the installation of my work. After they chose the gallery, I asked for benches for the public and I proposed that one of the benches have a compartment to keep things in. I also asked to be able to control the audio from inside the room. They were thinking that the staff would be handling the turning on and off of sound, because that’s how it’s normally done in a museum.

D: Historically a driving element in your work is that it is site specific and that it deals with political or social issues related to the local community, wherever you happen to be making work. Was this work site specific?

M: I would absolutely call this work site responsive. The materials that I could use had to be approved by the conservation department, for example. One of their big concerns is insects getting into their storage. It’s not just paintings and sculptures in their archive. They have wood, fabric and clothing, historical artifacts—they have to be careful about what is allowed into the system.

I couldn’t use food. The only liquid I could use was water. Any fabric I wanted to use, I had to freeze for 24 hours before I could bring it in. The flowers that I used were purchased through the museum. Even though we talked early on about using flowers, it wasn’t until day 100 that they got there.

When I chose my materials, I had already recognized the limits on what they would approve, and really early on I made the decision that I would not accumulate things in the room. It would be cleared out and brought back to neutral and the end of the day.

D: You removed the residue, but was the room really brought back to neutral every day?

M: No, it wasn’t brought to neutral, but the physical evidence of the previous day was minimal.

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time Day 28

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 28 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, December 8, 2015 .
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

D: This touches on something I’ve wondered from the beginning. Was this really one long performance—your longest performance to date—or was it a series of performances around a theme, like an anthology of works?

M: Yes, it is a question of which it is! When we were working on the ebook, which includes some of my previous works, Edward and Liz did a lot of research and looked at a lot of material. I made a list of every performance I’d ever done. Prior to this work I’d made something like 187 performances—all of which I remember. (That’s scary!) So does 100 Ways to Consider Time bring the total to 188, or does it make it 287? That’s the question.

What I’ve also realized is that in doing 600 hours of performing, I actually performed more hours than I had performed in my entire career up to that point. 600 hours is a long time! (laughs)

D: Well you did give each day its own title, so maybe it is 100 individual performances.

M: I did that partly to be able to distinguish and remember each day. If I don’t give it a title, I can’t remember each one. It is 100 ways to consider time. Each day is a different way.

It was a way to keep track of what I was doing. I have a list of the days in chronological order, but I also made another list after I finished, which organizes the 100 ways according to the type of research that it was. I consider this performance a series of experiments or research on time. What is a minute? What is an hour? How do clocks work? What is a second, really? I looked at different scales of time—space time, the scale of time in the universe, the end of time.

D: The first time I experienced 100 Ways to Consider Time, you weren’t in the gallery. Instead there was a recording of your voice describing the previous day’s action. I imagine a lot of people only experienced your work through these daily recordings that played when you weren’t in the gallery. I believe it’s important to experience performance live. Why did you decide to include the recordings?

M: The recordings were an answer to a concern that the museum had. They didn’t want there ever to be an empty gallery.

At one point they asked me to consider having an object from the collection in the room with me, which would also be there in the gallery when I wasn’t. I did look at their collection of 18th Century grandfather clocks, but what I understood immediately is that anything I would have performed would be in response to that particular object.

So that’s when we came up with the idea of the audio, and very quickly we understood that the ephemerality of just having a voice was appropriate to the work.

And as soon as I started making the recordings I realized that it was a very interesting way to document the work. Even though I wrote about it in my journal, there’s an immediacy in the voice. I was making the recordings only a few hours after I finished each day. There was a residue of the day always in the recording.

D: You used the word “document” just now in talking about the recordings. Are they documentation of the work, or are they actually a part of the performance?

M: I think both. They were documentation, but I created them so immediately afterwards that they did retain vestiges of my mental and emotional state after that day, so they were also extensions of the performance. But you tell me.

D: The first time I heard the recording, it felt like I was experiencing the action—or at least like I understood the action—even though I hadn’t been there to see it. On the other hand, your recounting of the action was so different than my own experience of your action. You were also very forthcoming about your intentions and thoughts in the recording, which was very different from when I was observing the action in person.

In addition to the actions and recordings, the audience participated in this work through cards that that were available in the gallery. On these cards, you invited the audience to write how they considered time. Did you read what your viewers wrote each day, or did you wait until the end? If so, did what people wrote impact your actions?

M: I did read the cards, but it didn’t really impact my actions. People wrote about their own lives, and their own notions of time. It was very interesting to read them. People wrote poetry, drew pictures. I intend to build a website that has all the material so that you can see each day, read my description, hear my audio recording, see images, and then read the audience responses from that day.

D: You would include all of the responses?

Yes! All of the responses are really varied, and if I make a selection, then I’m imposing my reading of the work on it. I solicited those responses; I asked the audience how they experience time. It’s part of the research that I was doing, so of course I want to include them all, including the one that said, “This is bad art, and you’re a bad artist!”

Marrilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider Time (2015-2016) Day 36

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 36 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, December 16, 2015.
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

D: You aren’t the first performance artist to hear that I’m sure, and I know sometimes people see performance art and think that it is easy. Was this work easy?

M: No. I felt like I was going to die after the first week.

On Day 4 and Day 5, I tried to be as still as a rock. The first day I was on the floor, which was really painful, so I decided to try sitting in a chair the next day, which was also painful. Holding your body still no matter whether you are sitting or lying down is hard to do.

Doing a single action for 6 hours every day without a break—I never walked out of the room once I started—was physically exhausting. So what looks fairly simple to someone coming and sitting down for three minutes is really different when it is done for six hours. A lot of viewers didn’t stay long enough to understand the significance of time and the impact of sustaining the action. And I can’t blame them; during the first week I also didn’t fully understand the significance of sustaining an action for six hours every day and having to come back the next day with hardly enough time to recover.

D: Was it important to you for people to know the level of exhaustion and hard work that this was for you?

M: I guess that is a dilemma in the work. I operate on a human scale with everyday materials. Activities that might appear simple can actually be read in deeper ways. Aspects of the duration change the reading, and contextualizing the action with how it might relate to time changes the reading. I feel sad when someone is dismissive of my work because they look at it for two seconds and don’t think about those things. A lot of audience members didn’t take the time to ask themselves “What way of considering time is this?”

Understanding performance requires work on the part of the audience. Some people come to the museum not knowing how to look at art. They don’t know how to make meaning out of the work for themselves, and that’s what this piece required.

I understand that while I might assign particular meaning to an action, the audience often has another interpretation. I’m willing to share ownership of how to interpret my work. I’ve never been intent on communicating one singular meaning.

D: Tell me about your dedicated viewers. Some of these are people who knew you; maybe others were people who became introduced to you through this piece.

M: For sure, it was a combination of the two. There is one staff person at the museum who saw —I think she said 65 of the 100 days. She would come up on all her breaks.

Obviously there were people who knew me or performance artists who knew my work who came regularly, and they were the ones who spent the most time there—tens of minutes to hours —to really experience the physical duration. Contrast this to most viewers who were coming to the museum to see art and were used to walking through galleries and spending seconds in front of a painting. So for them to spend even a few minutes with me was a significant investment of their time when you consider how much time they planned to spend in the museum.

I did recognize people and get to know people who I hadn’t known in advance but who came regularly to the performance. I was always really happy to see repeat audience members. I often heard them telling people in the audience something about the work or something that had happened on another day. I also felt that those who had been there before would recognize if something were not right and would do something about it. I thought of them as my support system, including you.

D: Did you ever have to call upon that support system?

M: Most people were pretty cautious and took time to figure out what the rules of engagement were. They would sit on the bench and watch for a while and see how other audience members engaged with the work before they did.

There was one time during Day 98, Orbits. I was doing a very concentrated action with the rock, carrying it, orbiting into the center of the room and then crawling around it. While there were many days where I interacted with the audience, this was not one of them.

One young woman had been told by the guard, incorrectly, that everything was participatory. So she came in and started crawling with me. I turned to her and said, “Please leave,” and then I went back to what I was doing. She kept crawling, so I stopped again and said, “Please leave,” but she didn’t. So I left the action returning to my chair along the side wall.

That’s when another performance artist who was there, who was more familiar with the work, decided to help and go over to the girl and explain that it wasn’t a participatory piece that day.

I found that there were occasions where I needed to be quite direct with the audience—and directive. There are a lot of different kinds of people in the world, and there’s a wide range with how they interact with others. I think it took every skill that I developed between performing and teaching for 40 years. I could not have done this work 20 years ago.

 Marylin Arsem, Edge (2013). Boston Center of the Arts.Photo: Daniel S. Deluca, Courtesy of The Present Tense

Marylin Arsem, Edge (2013) Near Death Performance Art Experience. Boston Center of the Arts.
Photo: Daniel S. Deluca, Courtesy of The Present Tense

D: One recurring theme during the 100 days was death, which is a theme I’ve seen in your work before. I’m thinking about your first performance at the MFA in 2013, With the Others, when you lay under a bench in black, unmoving, in the Ancient Egypt gallery and Edge, which you performed at an event titled Near Death Performance Art Experience at the Boston Center for the Arts. In that piece you slowly pushed two glasses of water off the edge of the table—an action that took 7 hours. Do you want to speak about the theme of death in this work?

M: It can’t be helped! Do I want to talk about that? You can talk about that.

I will say that on Day 97, Planet Earth, I was reading out loud from The Life and Death of Planet Earth by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. The bulk of the reading that day was a very explicit description of the demise of the planet and all the life forms on it as the sun increases in heat. The sun is becoming increasingly hotter over its 11 billion year life cycle, and we’re about at the halfway point of that. Eventually the heat will destroy all life on the planet as we know it. By the end all of the water will evaporate into space.

The description is amazing —detailing what kinds of plants can grow given the kind of chemical balance in the air and then what happens when the temperature increases and those plants die and decay and shift the chemical balance so that a different set of plants can actually grown. But then they die. The animal life also changes in each phase. It’s a fascinating description of the death of the planet.

I chose that book because I wanted that description of the demise of the world.

D: Why?

M: Because I wanted to talk about another scale of time. It is a scale of time over billions of years. I think in doing this project, I really do understand time differently. On Day 56 when I dripped water from an eyedropper onto a large granite rock, I learned that it could dissolve through weatherization in 10,000 years. That’s not very long! Even after 6 hours there was evidence of erosion. There were grains of sand in the dish underneath the rock. That was when I recognized that I understood time differently, when I thought “only ten thousand years.”

D: You wore black every day except for one, Day 99, Salt. When I walked into the gallery that day and saw you in white, I gasped not just because the visual was so beautiful, but because I was surprised. What went into that decision?

M: I had to wear white that day. I was lying next to my body’s weight in salt. It would not have made sense to be dressed in black next to the salt.

D: So by dressing in white you were making yourself more like the salt and the salt more like you.

M: Yes, you could say that.

D: I’ll tell you how that choice impacted me. By wearing black clothing every day, your clothing became a constant—a non-choice—that didn’t assume significance for me as a viewer. When I was viewing your work, I tended to focus more on the variables, such as your materials for the day, the pace, sound, your decisions to directly engage or not engage the viewer, the configuration of the room, and things like that.

Choosing to wear white on day 99 made me reevaluate all of the other days when you wore black. Instead of being a given, wearing black became a decision that you made each time. The realization also made me reevaluate other aspects of your work that I had taken for granted as constants.

The question really isn’t why did you wear white on day 99, it’s why did you wear black on day 36? You could have not!

M: (laughs) I could have not, you’re right. You know, the black dresses I wore were different every day—the styles changed. Some of them were more formal, and some of them were more casual. And some of them might have made me look younger, and some of them might have made me look older.

D: So you were making decisions about what to wear every day.

M: Yes! I was. During those last few days, many of the materials that I had ordered earlier were actually just arriving, and I had a sense of what those actions would be, but I had to choose the order of them. So I had to ask myself, is Day 100 going to be Salt? That would have given the 100 days a much different reading.

D: It would have indicated you had arrived at something new.

M: Or being on the other side of life. It would have implied a death of sorts and moving into another state.

D: So instead, on Day 100, Flowers, you watched nine tulips in vases as they opened. I have to admit, while I was watching them, I couldn’t see them opening, but after I left I compared a picture that my friend took later in the day with what I remembered, and there was clearly a big difference in how open the flowers were.

M: Yes. It was Day 100 and there were so many people who had come to watch. I was just sitting there thinking, “The flowers aren’t opening! What am I going to do?” and then I said to myself, “Well Marilyn, that’s what this is about: being willing to wait and see something really incremental unfold.”

Marilyn Arsem 100 Ways to Consider time Day 100

Marilyn Arsem, Marilyn Arsem: 100 Ways to Consider Time, Day 100 (2015-2016). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, February 19, 2016.
Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

It was really wonderful on that day to have people stay an extended time to sit with me and watch. That day was important to me because by staying for so long, many people were experiencing more of what I experienced: how time can seem like it’s standing still; that things are changing but you can’t see it when you’re looking. It’s often only when you look away and then back again that you do see it. One audience member said she went out of the room and then came back and only then could she see a difference in the blossoms opening.

I was really happy that day to have everyone with me.

D: Were there other days when you were lonely?

M: Yes. But life is like that.

D: That’s something that you said after Day 31, Dust, which was particularly meaningful to me. On that day you ground marble rocks into dust with a three-pound sledgehammer. Every time you hit the rocks it made a very arresting sound that filled the gallery. The action was in some ways destructive, but it was also constructive because you created this beautiful marble dust which you painstakingly collected with a brush in a little jar.

As you were performing, a teenager came up to you and asked what you were doing. You explained that you were grinding the stones into dust. He asked, “Why?” You responded, “Because life is like that.” That response touched me.

M: You know there were some days when I thought that no one got it, that no one understood what I was doing, but then I would read the cards and see that what I was doing was meaningful to someone. Day 18, Moving Backwards, is a good example. While I was performing, I assumed no one noticed that I was moving. I was doing a really intense action, moving minutely backwards away from the other chair, and someone started a conversation in the room about some other work I had done. I tried to ignore it. But it was really distressing, because not only were they not watching me, they were disturbing someone else in the audience. I should have paused and said, “Please have that conversation outside of the room,” but I didn’t.

So between moving so slowly I thought no one had even noticed and being frustrated by that distraction, I thought no one had appreciated the work. But that day someone wrote in one of the cards how intense it was watching me and how they thought that I was levitating. It was a beautiful response to what I was trying to do, so it worked for someone!

PULSAR’s Trouble Performing Podcast Episode 3

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Image courtesy of PULSAR

By David LaGaccia

After a summer break, PULSAR‘s Trouble Performing podcast is back, with a roundtable discussion on current events and ideas in performance art.

Hosted by Tif Robinette and Ian Deleón, the podcast was recorded on August 6th, and was joined by ARC Magazine‘s Holly Bynoe, artists Polina Porras Sivolobova, Ming Liu, Huisi He, Olivia Coffey, and I.

During the nearly two hour discussion, we talk about recent performances by the featured artists, and we explore topics such as the recent Tempting Failure Performance Art and Noise Art festival in London, the work of Nicola Hunter, Kamil Guenatri, Esther Neff, the nature of performances done on the street, and how performances with personal meanings can relate to the public.

If this is your first time listening, look for past episodes here, or on our Soundcloud page here.

PULSAR will also be organizing shows this fall, including a Labor Day Rooftop show with Antibody Coporation and more at CasaPULSAR on Monday, September 5th, a show at Catland on October 1st with the ArTrend Performance Group from Taiwan, and at Last Frontier on October 7th and 8th in curatorial collaboration with Wild Torus. Please refer the PULSAR Facebook page for more information and events.

All Good Things…,Tempting Failure Day 9

Day 9 of Tempting Failure featured 7 artists at the Hackney Showroom, a performance venue in Hackney, London, as well one performance at D:NA in Herne Hill, London. The performances at Hackney were held in either the larger main room, or the smaller studio. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 29th

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Chelsea Coon, Diastole (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Chelsea CoonDiastole (2016)

By David LaGaccia

Whenever I walk into a room for a performance, I immediately become aware of myself in the space, seeing where I should stand or sit, how I should act, the current mood of the space, and how the artist has defined these boundaries.

Walking into Chelsea Coon’s durational performance Diastole in the early afternoon made me instantly consider my surroundings and the effect she was trying to create. The atmosphere of the room had a sterile medical feel to it; the room was lined with what looked like face cleansing pads, which I felt subliminally told the spectators that they within in the boundaries of the performance. Coon sat in the middle in a circle defined by a single spotlight, and further defined by a ring of contact lenses; small stainless steel saucers and a tray lay in front of her with more contact lenses, small needles, and a piece of translucent thread.

Because Coon’s choice of materials were so small, she almost forced the viewer to come forward to investigate what she is doing and what materials she was using, otherwise her performance lent an ambiguity into the actions and materials she used for spectators who chose to stay afar.

Her actions were simple, and progressed slowly throughout the day.  Though not necessarily in this order, she would place small piles of salt in the contact lenses surrounding her, and then dumping them out and connecting them, like something you would see in a ritual; the lines of salt were thin enough to just make it to the next lens. She would then place the salt back into the individual contact lenses erasing her progress. Every so often she would prick her finger with a needle, and carefully place a drop of blood into one of the lenses in the steel tray in front of her; she would then place the blood filled lens on one of the tiny saucers along with needle in front of her as well. There were ten contact lenses placed in front of her in total, one for each finger and one for each drop of blood. She also sometimes turned her back to the audience to face the fall behind her, or sat up straight, stretching her body with eyes closed. As much as I was aware, she never concisely made eye contact with the audience.

Coon cycled through and destroyed the progress of each of her actions in her performance; however, she was not just repeating the same actions, because even though they may be similar, each action is a new action that untimely progresses the performance.

Though I don’t feel this was the message of the work, I felt the repetition of her actions with only slight progressions spoke about our own tendency to get into routines while only taking minor steps forward through life.

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Emma Lloyd, Piece For… (2016), D:NA, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Steve Hendrie, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Emma LloydPiece for… (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

One person at a time, Emma Lloyd invites for a non-verbal communication. On the hour, starting at 11am, you were invited to tell her anything you want. The only rule was to do so without your language as in words, but with any kind of non-lingual vocabulary you may inhabit, or want to use. Emma would answer (to) your story in playing her violin, and it would depend on each singular encounter, how your story – as in your own, as well as in the story of the two of you – would unfold. Either both of you had a monologue, where you start your time together, and she ends it, a ping pong dialogue, where both of you “talk” back and forth, or an ongoing conversation, where both of you create an over-layering environment of togetherness.

In each case you will have been together in present time. This encounter is yours. Your memory will carry it on. The openness of Emma Lloyd to receive you with any kind of information is a gesture of love. In an existential understanding, she is unconditionally open to be with you, to listen to you, to play with, and to play to you. She gives you her attention and offers you to give, what you are willing to give, to give you a response to that, and thus create a relationship with you for the time given. “Piece for…” is a beautiful invitation of being – together.

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Jin Bells, Cleansed (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Jin BellsCleansed (2016)

By Natalie Ramus.

The vast space of Hackney Showroom is empty. As we move through the dark space we search for the performer. The fact that the dynamics of the performance are not clear makes me feel uneasy. Where do we stand? Where should we look? Where is Jin Bells? As the audience quietens into the space the sounds of banging, movement and an alarm fills the space from behind the large shutter. We stand looking at the shutter trying to imagine the image that matches the sounds. No matter how much I imagined I was not prepared for the image I was faced with when the shutter door was raised. A scene filled with several wooden structures surrounded by buckets and a hose with water that poured onto an upturned bucket, the sound of which perforated the air and created an atmosphere that was filled with tension. Jin’s nude body was contained within a cage like harness which had marked the surface of his skin with red flashes. These red inflamed flashes signified to me the time and action that had passed before we were even aware of Jin’s whereabouts. How long had he been there?

Bells sat within a large bucket shivering. Instead of struggling to free himself from the confined space he seemed to be struggling to fit himself deeper into the bucket. At the sound of the next alarm he moved onto the next apparatus, to which he attached the harness and hung suspended in the air. It seemed like a pause in the madness of the relentless cycle, but for me as a witness it wasn’t really a relief as the anticipation of what may come became almost as torturous as the actions that surrounded that moment. The next alarm alerted Bells to move to the upturned bucket, placing his head inside. The water poured into the bucket, much quieter than before. Whilst this created a sense of relief from the panic inducing noise, we began to hear the struggle of a head submerged and the need for breath, which was much more distressing than the noises of before. The next alarm created relief from the struggle but we then witnessed Bells bang his head, still in bucket, to the floor, water spilling as Bells shivered violently. This marked the end of the cycle, but the cycle repeated. Over and over. And over. My mind turned to torture, Guantanamo Bay and the act of water boarding… I felt deep empathy for Bells, and I wanted to interrupt the cycle. That was until I came to the realisation that Jin was doing this to himself. As we stood inside looking out at Jin I realised that we were looking on, observing a process that Bells was going through by his own choosing. He was doing this to himself. I wondered if this was a manifestation of a personal journey. A cleansing of his own demons? A cleansing of memories of the past? The presence of water seemed so relevant, but to see this cleansing element in such a violent way made me think about how often the cleansing / moving on from relationships can often be so painful to go through. The openness and vulnerability of what seemed to be an attempt at exorcism on Bells’ part allowed for us as the viewer to connect and share an emotional experience with him. This was not a presentation of ideas, this was not about illustrating a concept; this was a shared lived experience that went on beyond the shutter closing. It was not an action made solely for the audience to witness….this was a process that happened behind closed doors, beyond the performative space.

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Robert Hesp, Bathe (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Robert HespBathe (2016)

By Natalie Ramus

The small intimate room is dark, lit only by a light installation which consists of five fluorescent tubes. The light is suspended over a bath which is filled with hot water, awaiting the nine participants who, one by one, will share their experience of the bath with the viewers who observe from the periphery of the room. The atmosphere is serene as we wait and watch the participant enter the space carrying a bucket and pouring it’s contents into the bath. As they undress and climb into the bath I realise that as a viewer it feels very voyeuristic to look on from the shadows. I begin to consider how people are often so curious about the lives of others. How whenever I walk down a street in darkness, if a house has it’s curtains open and lights on, I cannot stop myself from looking in. We have an urge to look in, or imagine the life of others behind closed doors, and I feel that this installation created a platform where we were able to experience that guilt free.

It was interesting to consider how this work brought into question the notion of the performative space. This was the work of Robert Hesp, but the only time he was visible to the viewer was when he joined as a spectator. He didn’t occupy the bath. Although it was his space, he offered it up for occupation by others. It was interesting to see how participants occupied the space in a performative way. The way they moved in the bath was not always how you would normally experience a bath. The movements at times looked choreographed, and I wondered how much consideration they had given to what they would do in the bath beforehand. It was interesting to think how a set space can often change our behaviour, and how alien it can feel to try to act ‘normal’ in a space that is familiar in it’s domestic references, but unfamiliar in it’s context with an audience. Suddenly the ‘being normal’ can feel and look abnormal.

As the light flickered above and momentarily switched off, the room being plunged into darkness was a signal for the participant to leave the bath, and for the next person to collect their bucket of hot water. I was fortunate enough to be a participant in this work. I tried very hard to not think too much beforehand about how I would occupy the space. I wanted to be as present as possible, in order to really experience the surreal moment where I would bathe in front of strangers. As I undressed I could not help but be very mindful of every aspect of getting undressed and folding my clothes. I climbed into the bath making eye contact with some of those that looked on. I wondered if that voyeuristic experience would slip if I reclaimed the gaze through eye contact. I cannot comment on that as I didn’t manage to ask anyone that I made eye contact with. The eye contact did make me feel very present in the entire room opposed to just the space within the bath. There were moments of stillness as I tried to relax and just be in the bath. Gazing at the light felt hypnotic. Just like the bath, the light felt both familiar and unfamiliar in it’s form. I suppose the long bar like length of each element of the light felt reminiscent of the fluorescent lights we see so often in public spaces; but with it being so low above the bath and with in emitting a low hum of light it was also so very unfamiliar. This seemed to sum up the experience for me. The familiar/ unfamiliar experience allowed for me to really connect to the experience. When the light switched off I realised, now that I was concealed in the darkness, that I had been in an exposed and vulnerable position- but as an observer I realised that this is only, (in my opinion) a truly beautiful thing.

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Louis Fleischauer, Primordial Kaos Invocation (return to Gaia’s womb) (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Louis FleischauerPrimordial Kaos Invocation (return to Gaia’s womb) (2016)

A clear set: We see six people installed in a room at different places for different tasks to come. One round, white spotlight on the main performer, Louis Fleischauer. It fades out and up comes a video assemblages of a pregnant woman holding a microphone onto her belly, and a droning soundtrack from a different source. A text flows over the images praising kaos over control and order as the only way to and of humanity. The video ends and yellow spotlights from either side of Fleischauer’s space pulsate a transition. A ritual shall begin, and for the next 30 minutes numerous attempts of running kaos over order are shown. All of them are conducted by Fleischauer himself – a clear trajectory, an order-ing of kaos.

The wanting wish, the longing for resolution through kaos is bigger here, than the actual action. The attempt to let loose was impossible to achieve, since too many factors had to function: the layers of sound, the sequential movements, the co-performers, the audience. Fleischauer had specific views on how his performance should play out, which prevented it to be a ritualistic and transient experience for everyone. The promise of birthing kaos was not fulfilled.

Further the fact of primordiality for Fleischauer was highlighted through the use of hooks on him and three co-performers, which refers to medieval Christian and non-Christian ways of healing, but also of torture. A wound always induces pain onto the physical body. The pain induced here, additionally seemed to have masochistic and sadistic origins, which both are immature ways of dealing with being-in-the-world. They are immature, because they refer to an other, an outside-of-the-self as the cause, the responsibility for the self-being as a self-suffering. Gaia would not want you to hurt you and others, Gaia would want you to surrender to her, but simply receive, what will be given, which is something unpredictable of a grandeur, that – no matter what is it – will be received within an acceptance of life, where there is neither pain nor fear, but pure energy of physical- and liveliness.

There is something about people wanting the absolute incalculable. People that step away from mainstream to find their niche of ideal expression and to follow their idealism. Unfortunately though idealism can easily become absolutism. The ideal free world under very clear circumstances leads to a mistakable incomprehensibility of acknowledging the self and others as same on this very earth as one. In “Primordial Kaos Invocation (return to Gaia’s womb)” Fleischauer mistook and thus prevented this very invocation through his very act of commanding.

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Kylie Minoise, ORETU NI (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Kylie MinoiseORETU NI (2016)

By James Shearman

Kylie came crashing in. Stood in a stark darkened hall of concrete floor, anticipating all of the possible outcomes, screaming and caterwauling feedback massaged my brain.

There have been a number of noise performances in this festival, but I felt this was the first to really be ‘free’ in the sense of child-like abandon present, with a degree of movement and free rein given from tackling something so high concept as reinterpreting a full Nirvana [In Utero] album. At times I felt there was a struggle to realise intention, but at others this struggle and tension seemed to miraculously dissipate and I would become briefly lost in the blinding strobe and the communal steady sway of the few noisers really vibing out hard, in a special way in some instances, across a sea of motionless spectatorship.
The performance was very short but I don’t feel it suffered at all for it – thundering and catastrophic as the whole affair was, there was a grace in the way things collided and tumbled down towards there end. I would stare into the strobe here and there and wonder at the possible subliminal messages flooding our brains in an unintelligible spew, only to manifest days off from now, like a permanent ink stain on your secretly favourite most expensive item of clothing. This night Kylie Minoise was a medium, the inebriated ghost of Cobain pissing into the unwilling mouths of unattentive bystanders to the blissful creation of a heavy and personal artistic release.

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Rudolf Eb.erUntitled (2016)

By Chelsea Coon

Eb.er sat upright on a table atop a sea of dark blue cloth that undulated onto the floor, legs spread open with his feet tucked behind him. Mesmeric sound permeated the air particles the audience breathed in and out. His face was covered with lapis lazuli pigment and on the floor was a vase with five white roses cut in ikebana method. He firmly held a stick with bells positioned upwards in his right hand, and a suspended accumulation of bells that positioned downwards in his left hand, which he convulsively shook throughout the duration of the work. To Eb.er’s right were five jars of various colored fluids with a clay quality and a woman outfitted in a black rounded rim hat, black clothing descriptive of her form, and heels that accentuated her movement. Her face was covered in mesh while her breasts were bare and exposed. Periodically, she would stand up, take a jar of the fluid and pour it over Eb.er’s head; it would slowly move down his face, chest, groin and onto the table. The final jar contained white fluid that when poured on his face he took on the property of porcelain. The power emanated in the space was extramundane as the shaking and sound intensified, and Eb.er’s eyes rolled to the back of his head. As if a portal was momentarily opened and closed, the work is encapsulated in the time at which it was revealed.

The Illusion of Performance, Tempting Failure Day 8

Day 8 of Tempting Failure featured 6 artists at the Hackney Showroom, a performance venue in Hackney, London, as well one performance that was held on the street. The performances at Hackney were held in either the larger main room, or the smaller studio. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 28th

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Rosana Cade and Will Dickie, The Origin of the World (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

By David LaGaccia

“Mind the Turtles” the sign read before entering the world of Rosana Cade and Will Dickie’s The Origin of the World. This title is of course a reference to Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, which is an infamous painting depicting the genitals of a naked woman, but instead of a man depicting a woman, we have a woman exposing her own genitals in a 24 hour durational performance.

The space itself resembled a field, with sod covering the Hackney Studio floor space, and two turtles crawling around the room. Rosana Cade was in a sitting position, fully clothed, but legs spread apart with gentiles fully exposed; directly in front of her was a camera, recording and projecting the action on the studio wall. In front of her was Will Dickie controlling the audio portion of the performance. “1, 20” Cade would call out, and Will would call up an audio clip to start playing. Each clip featured preachers, mystics, Alan Watts, Hindus, Christians, sometimes a song, whoever, talking about their beliefs on the creation of the world, and then, with full gusto, Cade would mime the speech of the talkers using her labia, which…again…is being projected onto the wall, as if mocking, as if in jest saying “This is the real origin of the world.” After a timer ringed, she would pass out fruit or vegetables to people in the space.

I have to admit that the main image of this performance was at different points beautiful, disgusting, sexual, mysterious, banal, and humorous. Cade’s labia and vagina, prominently projected on the wall of the performance space shows that one part of the female anatomy could be so commonplace, controversial, and important to the human story of creation.

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Gillian Jane Lees & Adam York Gregory, Present Tense (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Gillian Jane Lees & Adam York GregoryPresent Tense (2016)

By Chelsea Coon

Over the duration of 7 hours, Lees and Gregory underwent their piece Present Tense. Sectioned off in a corner of space was the pile of mousetraps to be set and placed throughout the early hours of the morning. Lees would take a trap, one by one, and kneel on the floor to set it by delicately pulling the wiring mechanism back and locking it in place before sliding it into position on the floor to align it with the others. Her movements were calculated and swift. As the duration wore down her body there remained an elegance is her pacing and focus. The spacing between the traps was the width of Lees’s hand with fingers parcially spread. The use of her body as the tool to measure the space was compelling in the way that we come to understand the world around us is through the experience of how it relates to our body. Gregory stood in front of the piece meticulously taking notes on the progress of the work noting the amount of traps set, the time that had passed, what was consistent and what was manifesting as variables. Together, Lees and Gregory constructed space and documented the passage of time. The early morning hours this piece took place in made the repeated actions feel that much more immense; there was a sense that the work could continue on in an infinite loop. Each trap set was a manifestation of time that had passed while each trap that remained unset referred to future time. The audience was lined against the back wall of the space, and watched the work unfold with incredible patience. A truly beautiful work.

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Amy Sharrocks, Heading for a fall (2016), Tempting Failure.
Screenshot: Lisa Stertz

Amy SharrocksHeading for a fall (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

Amy will fall for you. At 1pm on Thursday, July 28th 2016, she promises to start falling for you. She will have fallen for you by 1.01pm. In order to witness her, she asks you to add her as a contact on Whatsapp and send her a message saying IWANTTOSEEYOUFALL. How?

You will witness this virtually and thus at a different time, than the fall itself. The immediate question of truth arises. The video of her falling reached me at 1.10pm. The video itself is not even one minute long. I am confronted with what I envisioned and what I saw. There is interference, but no congruency. My own expectations were of course not met. We haven’t met. I only imagine with my capabilities, what and how Amy falls. I don’t imagine it with her head, or her knowledge, her vision.

Heading for a fall is a beautifully silent and simple piece about mediated communication and the expected sensation, that in its mediacy leaves you with a vapid taste. Amy was performing for the document. She fell for you and you fell with her.

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Tim Bromage, Shift (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Tim BromageShift (2016)

Tim Bromage’s Shift moves at a different pace than any other performance work that was shown during the festival. It consciously uses props, costume, and prepared monologues that force you to concentrate and think about the nature of the work and its context within a performance art festival.

Beginning his performance by sitting in a chair on a stage and wearing a hood, he began to tell a story. Revealing himself, he acknowledges the crowd and says that the hood doesn’t work that well because it doesn’t have eye holes. There were three stages to his performance; he would sit down at a microphone wearing a costume to recite a story; he would stand up at a microphone and recite a monologue, and lastly, he would break “character” and perform a magic trick.

The dreamlike quality of the monologues was tough to follow, but each time standing up he would begin, “I wake up, the room is warm and yellow,” and then in a haze describe the surreal quality of its surroundings. He always spoke in the first person.

Another segment of the work had him do magic tricks, breaking the “performing wall” and directly addressing the crowd. Vaudevillian in nature, these tricks were simple or non-existent. First he would illustrate the egg and bag trick, explaining the nature of the trick and how it works. He did this three times, first placing the egg in the bag and dropping it on the floor, next taking the egg and breaking it against his head, and lastly, succeeding in making it disappear. “There’s always a bag,” he would say, “there may or may not be an egg.” Moments like when he broke an egg on his face was a surprise where instead of the yolk, red ink sprayed across his clothes and face, looking like he was stabbed or shot.

I think the real trick here is the illusion of performance. What I mean by this is that, in any performance there is the literal interpretation of the events that unfold, and the artist using their body and actions to create an image, idea, or metaphor which is interpreted or misinterpreted by the spectator. We place value on what we see, but what we see may not be real. Bromage’s performance seems to be self-aware of this effect. This was a mysterious performance.

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Natalie Ramus, 16000:2 TEETH(OF)MY CHILDREN (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Natalie Ramus16000:2 TEETH(OF)MY CHILDREN (2016)

By Helena Sands

A small folded paper bridge, blood smudged detritus marks the space reminding us of the previous performance. The paper stack still looks untouched, looming next to the performer a silent reminder of what has been and what is still left to do. Almost in defiance of what remains a single sheet is taken from the top of the pile; on tiptoe, naked shaking arm outstretched. It is held, unmarked, suspended in space and light until it is released and floats to the ground. The action repeats and the paper falls to the floor twisting, gliding and clinging to the air each sheet finding its own space. Paper petals, white islands defining the perimeters of the performance.

We pause.

A small glass bottle is pulled from the performers vagina containing the teeth of her children and delicately offered out to the audience on the palm of her hand. A fragile reminder of what once existed unseen suspended inside her. These 10 tiny parts, once so valuable, now discarded and returned. An effort is made to complete the cycle as each tooth is held and pushed into the inside flesh of the performers arm – momentarily they cling onto the skin until the inevitable release and drop to the floor. They leap frog across her arms and chest – one sticks to her collarbone and I’m reminded of the falling pearls from a previous performance. These wounds do not bleed. Indentations in her skin, inverted bite marks trace the effort and sharp underbelly of the teeth. A single tooth hovers under her right arm. We wait. It will not fall. We are locked in, suspended in the act of waiting. The tooth remains outlasting the efforts of the performer to keep her arm in the air.

The fallen teeth on the ground are marked; a smudged fingerprint of menstrual blood catalogues their place on the paper. A series of invisible endings marking the failure to hold their space in time. The performance seems to end as the final tooth is stained. She waits a moment and then reaches once more to the paper stack. She pushes it over rupturing the space and at this point we realize that this is not an end but the start of another beginning.

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Richard Herring, Me 1 vs. Me 2 (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Richard HerringMe 1 vs. Me 2 (2016)

By David LaGaccia

Richard Herring’s “performance” Me 1 vs. Me 2 was an excruciating experience of unbearable length, pushing the jaded avant-garde art crowd to its limits where before it was finished there were many walk-outs, including myself…and on that level it was successful. Explicit images of nudity, feces, blood, exotic fetishes, or bodily fluids were nowhere to be seen; it was one man, a cue, and his snooker table.

Herring was quick to point this out to the crowd as he walked in the room, saying everyone will be severely disappointed that nothing shocking or explicit will happen, and that he was going to play against himself in a match of snooker for a chance to win the Chris Evans trophy. Through each round, Herring would act as commentator, Me 1, Me 2, and scorekeeper. That’s it.

As one person said to me, “You can watch it on TV, but in a performance art context you lose all interest.” And that is precisely the point. This work is more in line with something that Andy Kaufman would do, testing and pranking the audience. Performance can be a victim of its own tropes, reusing and relying on the same “shock” imagery, instead of true expression. Also, who said performance has to be serious? Some of the best performances I’ve witnessed if you were to describe them literally, were completely dumb in their actions, but “worked” nonetheless.

I have absolutely no idea how it ended, but the match was best out of three and the results are as follows:

Game 1: Me 1

Game 2: Me 2

Game 3: Tie

Winner: Richard Herring

Absence, Tempting Failure Day 7

Day 7 of Tempting Failure featured 6 artists at the Hackney Showroom, a performance venue in Hackney, London. The performances were held in either the larger main room, or the smaller studio. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 27th. Note: Rosana Cade and Will Dicke’s performance, The Origin of the World was a 24 hour durational performance that began at 11 p.m. on July 27th and lasted till 11 p.m. on July 28th. It will be covered in the Day 8 post.

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Vela Oma, Primal Void (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Vela OmaPrimal Void (2016)

By Adam York Gregory

[1]
Apocryphal, perhaps. Nikola Tesla is operating a steam driven oscillator in his town house laboratory at 46 Houston Street.

He is trying to resonate an object, much like an opera singer trying to break a glass with their voice.

Tesla is having no success. No matter how hard he tries, how much he increases the amplitude, the object refuses to respond. Silence, unmoving, until one of his laboratory assistants rushes into the room and smashes the oscillator with a large hammer.

Tesla found he was incapable of resonating with the object in his laboratory, but adept at shaking the rest of the street so hard that people believed they were experiencing an earthquake.

[2]
Multiplicity.
A surgeon/shaman/butcher in black.
Face covered.
An altar/slab/operating table of cinder block doused in shadow and light.
Instruments laid out… drill, crowbar, knife.
Medicine/offering/drugs/food/blood/semen.
And the patient/subject/god/rock.
The low steady beat of electronic instruments like broken heart beat monitors, chanting pulse.
An exorcism/extraction.
Baptism with water/electricity.
Divination by AM/FM.
Unmoved. Uncooperative.
A drill burns motor. Holy spirit, smoking plastic inhaled deeply.
Soothing loudness, aggressive silence.
Stubborn patient.
Another exorcism/extraction.
Daylight. Nature.
A return, a rewind.
A gift.
An understanding.
An attempt to extract the void from the stone.
Failed.
An attempt to extract the stone from the void.
Success.

[3]
“I AM NOTHING
NOTHING IS WHAT I DO
THE SIMPLEST THING
IS NOTHING
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE
NOTHING” – Vela Oma

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Marina Barsy Janer & Isil Sol Vil, Descarnar fronteras (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Marina Barsy Janer & Isil Sol VilDescarnar fronteras (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

Janer and Vil sit across each other, half a meter apart, on their knees, in stillness. Both with dark short hair and light skin color, both dressed in black pants and shirts. Both with their mouth shut and their eyes open. Both from different continents and of different gender. Both from different sides of colonialism and its handed down history.

They look into each others eyes. Between them, on Janer’s right and Vil’s left side, a black, fabric suture set. A white light drops on them. Around them are five piles of grey bricks. This is a cold, frozen atmosphere. But their bond is of warmth and depth.

He begins to pull a first suture out of its container and into the skin of her forehead, then his, then hers again. She repeats that action and pulls a suture through the skin of his, her, and his forehead. Then they sit in stillness again. The light fades out.

Shortly after six lights go on: Five for the brick piles, one for them. Audience starts to build a brick wall between them up to a moment of fear that it crashes. It looks likely to fall. Debris? The wall has a window for them to continue to look at each other from the other side. The setting remains cold. The bond remains strong.

This wall is a fortress, an exclusion, a division, and a separation of values, privileges, heritages, feelings and possibilities. This wall was made by human hands.

For the rest of their time one is left alone with one’s own assumptions and insights of the human handling of human beings. They, sunk in their stillness with active eyes, keep their mouths shut. The metaphorical defleshing of the frontiers has long begun. Now: What needs to, what can be said for the obvious?

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Johannes Bergmark, Stringed Stirrups/ I have been in you, you have been in me (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Johannes BergmarkStringed Stirrups/ I have been in you, you have been in me (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

In a white beekeepers costume with black sandals in stirrups, he is suspended from the ceiling. Two metal strings hold him. Two violin bows hang below him. Four LED-lights shine on him. On the ground in front of him a table. A microphone in a transparent plastic bag on that table. An audio firewire interface, a bag of chips, and a beer under the table.

The “Stringed Stirrups” begin and Bergmark plays the strings with both arms and legs. His entire body is in movement and the sound that emerges resembles a howling of motor cycles and cars on highways or old, big machines from industrial manufactures. He proceeds to play the strings with pieces of wood, and the sound becomes more percussive, than droning. Through his movements, his playing is accompanied by a colored shadow dance on the ground of different blue’s, violet’s and white’s.

He stops distinctly, and goes over to “I have been in you, you have been in me” – an audible exploration of the sounds one’s body makes, while drinking beer and eating chips. Bergmark would put a microphone down his throat for this investigation. He is lit by one yellow light. Maybe to his surprise, maybe not, the most significant sound became his heartbeat, relating back to his first piece. Its strength could obviously not be flushed down with beer and chips. The juxtaposition of sounds from a far outside to an inner unknown was too big. The seemingly grand and the seemingly habitual gesture seemed to not want to get in touch. Wanted or not: A come-down.

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Johanna Bramli, The Larsens// Noise/ Feedback Choir (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Johanna BramliThe Larsens// Noise/ Feedback Choir

By Chelsea Coon

Positioned in the center of the space were seven women kneeling in a total of two rows encircled by mixers, pedals, ipads and a ring of cables. Under the faint and at times more intense beams of focused overhead lighting, the image was revealed of women that were wearing shoulder length black wigs paired with black clothing. With their eyes averted, heads down and hunched over, they slightly swayed or remained still. At times their heads were slightly bowed, and at others their heads would be within proximity of their knees. They remained situated in this position for the entirety of the work. The manifestation of their voices was sometimes in unison and sometimes they were all contributing different sounds at once. The choir made the polarities between anxiety and calm merge in real time; their voices and tones went through cycles that ranged from a calming whisper to yelling, and back again to a whisper. I was reminded of sirens that lure travelers of the seas to their death. The women in Johanna Bramli’s performance constructed a haunting image that equally pulled viewers in and out.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Kamil Guenatri’10-14′

By Chelsea Coon

An intimate and arresting work by Kamil Guenatri, ‘10-14’. The audience lined the space of the Hackney Showroom. Two spotlights illuminated the center of the space; one focused on Kamil and the other on a suspended mass of cured meat. The height of the meat was controlled by the movement of Kamil’s wheelchair, which he methodically pivoted in slight but indictable movements which created a clicking noise that echoed through the warehouse space. An assistant wrapped his face with light blue thread, evocative of veins and life itself, and as the accumulation grew more dense it became a barrier and felt suffocating. He then moved in circles around the spotlights on the floor several times before stopping in the far corner of the space. Here, his assistant carefully took him out of his chair and laid him on the concrete floor of the space, delicately placing his arms around the meat mass which was lowered to rest on his chest. She repositioned his body several times with acute awareness to his body. With a pair of silver sheers she began to slowly remove strips of Kamil’s clothing and stapled the pieces onto the suspended meat, which left Kamil exposed. To further emphasize this state of vulnerability, a polaroid camera was introduced and Kamil instructed in very clear phrases where to take the picture; close up shots of his hands, arms, chest, stomach and face which were then stapled onto the meat alongside the pieces of his shirt. The meet was then moved back up into the air out of Kamil’s arms. When Kamil physically left the space, he continued to fill the room.

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Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Kamil Guenatri’s ’10-14′, Another Perspective

By David LaGaccia

“An aged man is but a paltry thing/ A tattered coat upon a stick” – Sailing to Byzantium, W.B. Yeats

We live with the bodies we are given, against our will and against our choosing, our parents’ genes passed down to us to survive in a harsh world. Our genetic plans determine our hair color, eye color, height, body systems and much more, from the day we are born to the day we grow old and die.

At the end of Kamil Guenatri’s performance ‘10-14’, a silence filled the large main performance space of the Hackney Showroom, with people walking around not knowing what to do; there was a shared feeling of being stunned by life and completely overwhelmed by the images they just saw.

What had happened was so simple, but sliced through the minds of everyone who watched it, like a scythe cutting through a field of wheat. With the help of his assistant Bonella Holloway, Guenatri has a blue rope wrapped around his face. He then circles around the room, so the whole crowd in the room can see this image. He then positions himself in a far corner, with a piece of smoked ham, which is attached to his wheelchair, being pulled up as he moves further out.

It should be emphasized that throughout this opening, his wheelchair was tied to the ham. This simple wheel and pulley system could have easily been created without it being physically connected to Guenatri, but in doing so, he strengthens the image’s connection between himself and a dead piece of meat: wherever he goes, it is bound to him.

Although most likely the performance’s concept belongs to Kamil, Guenatri’s assistant Bonella Holloway, also deserves credit in how she assisted Mr. Guenatri, and how she executed the performance’s main actions. From gently placing Guenatri on the ground and placing cushions under his head, to wrapping his arms around the descended ham, to cutting off his clothes and stapling them to the dried meat, to taking photos of portions of his body (providing us with a physical memory of his existence), there was a strong current of tenderness, humanity, and dignity in the way she treated his body, acutely aware of its physical limitations and pains.

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Bonella Holloway taking pictures of Kamil Guenatri, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Most haunting was Holloway’s last actions of picking up Kamil, evoking primal images of Michelangelo’s Pietà, a mother figure carrying Guenatri’s frail body, only it is a dead piece of meat that ascends, not the spirit of Christ; the fact that this action was done so routinely, only adds to its humane message, as if compassion is not some grand religious gesture, but it was just expected of her.

The image of Guenatri’s body gets passed onto the image of the object, completing the metaphor. The strength and weight of this image is so heavy, that not even the absence of the body or the crowd could hope to destroy its power. The material remnants of Guenatri’s shoes and ropes of bondage are left pointing towards the open door, as if to exit, while his image and spirit lingers in the air well after the performance has ended. The crowd stands in a circle around the ham to take in the image, and to see the ripped off clothes and the expressionless photos of Guentari’s emaciated body. While Guenatri bluntly makes the association of his body to a piece of meat, it would be foolish to think this is just an expression of self-loathing; there is a buried theme of the material body versus the spirit, what we physically leave behind and what lingers in its absence long after it disappears. In the end, the performance says that absence is not the antithesis of presence; rather absence allows the image (or spirit) to linger in the consciousness of the witness, minuets, hours, days and years after it has vanished.

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The ham hanging after Kamil Guenatri’s performance, ’10-14 (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

A performance with this much humanity bound to it is an antidote to the images of nihilism, violence, anger, xenophobia, racism, masochism, sexism, and destruction of the self we so naively express and present to ourselves in performance, art, media and everyday life: it’s as if the current social-political climate expects each of us to stand on a street corner and flail ourselves publicly, apologizing for our own existence while preaching about the end of the world; I refuse to accept or believe in this; true images of exploding beyond the limitations of our own frail bodies, and how to act humane to another person becomes more shocking than any feces smeared or bloodied body could ever be. We are all life in all its shades; it just takes a performance like this to remind us of that.

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Kamil Guenatri’s shoes and rope, ’10-14′ (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Memories of the Body, Tempting Failure Day 6

Day 6 of Tempting Failure featured 6 artists at the Hackney Showroom, a performance venue in Hackney, London. The performances were held in either the larger main room, or the smaller studio. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 26th.

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Zierle & Carter, Spilling Pearls (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Zierle & CarterSpilling Pearls – Cycles of Nurture and Deceit (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

When one moves on a knife’s edge, it is likely to fall. What is better: The imbalanced fall or the balancing cut? In Zierle & Carter’s 3-h-investigation on the measure of all things, a wooden broomstick with knives at each end stabs them in their backs and holds them apart from each other. Yet it binds them together. Only as the two of them will they balance for the stick may not fall. A white mirror and a silver fork bonded around and thus immobilizing their hands with skin-color bandages become their tools, their weapons. Standing on white plates on a white salt circle, their battle for harmony begins.

Two figures, one setting : Two people, one relationship

At moments immovable, they create an immense tension, not least through their formal dark grey clothing. At times it resembles their shadows so much that they can be seen as idealized shadow figures themselves. The highly theatrical and abstract meets the completely secret and personal. Circling around their circle, they continuously try to feed each other with bread, that both of them wear as bellies under their shirts. This feeding becomes a tough tightrope-act. Their literary nutritious vocabulary suggests an easy access to their conversational play, yet its exact use is of another kind. The movements within are either slow or abrupt. Sounds either swell with intention or pop through physical non-attention. – A multitude of binaries is set into this piece. Binaries that cannot be overcome. Binaries that have to be leveled to the ground in order to step beyond.

Tiebreak : Breakdown

From a clean and stylized setting, Zierle & Carter fall out of balance and into chaos when the knife-stick falls a third time. They fall, and take this to a different outcome. In the last 60 minutes a set of actions evolves as a reaction to their surrender. The dynamics shifted. The binaries got broken. Their reinstatement will not function. Chaos was born and therewith a true approach to harmony under new stars. Only when you are ready to break free, you will find a bracing way back. Two stars burnt as candles in the empty stomachs of Zierle & Carters breads, while they would sit across each other, face each other among a fading light and a door – opening.

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Helena Goldwater, embed (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Helena Goldwaterembed (2016)

By Natalie Ramus

Upon entering the vast industrial space that is the Hackney Showroom you are confronted by a huge mound of earth, which sits at it’s highest point around a metre high and then several metres wide. The vastness of scale in both the space and material make me feel very small in relation. Looking around for Goldwater, I soon see that she is stood on a mezzanine floor, wearing the red sequinned dress that is so often present in her work. She stands so still and so quiet that the absence of movement seems very much present in my mind. The audience mirror her stillness and silence, watching and waiting for movement. The scale of the mound of earth and the stillness creates a sense of anticipation; with a timescale of 4 hours, I wonder what lies ahead….and I wonder also if Goldwater is looking down on the mound with the same sense of anticipation.

When Goldwater makes her descent she paces around the periphery of the room, her eyes fixed on the mound. As she stands next to me I feel that I share her gaze, that momentarily the boundary between viewer and performer is blurred. The slow silent pace is disrupted when Goldwater rushes forward and launches her body at the earth, and then surrenders to gravity as the weight of her body drags her down to the ground. As she progresses she uses her body to interact with the mound of earth. At the beginning, small actions such as the sprinkling of earth around it’s base seem to have a huge affect on the space it occupies. The mound, after a few small actions, meets my feet and the space is filled with soil, even if it is only small fragments. The smell in the air becomes thicker with every intervention.

There seems to be a duality in the relationship with the earth. There are moments of physical resistance through the pushing away of the soil, but then this is balanced through actions that seem to be much more caring and nurturing through gentle touch and attention to detail. I begin to wonder where the control is; is it the mound of earth which is so big and heavy that Goldwater’s body begins to struggle? Or is it Goldwater who is continually the one to dictate, (or attempt to at least) where the edges of the mound lie. There is a clear dialogue in the relationship between Goldwater and the mound, and it is beautiful to witness in the stillness and the silence that is only ever perforated with the sound of the pacing of feet, the grunt of a struggle or of the soil making contact with the ground. These sounds are so subtle, but like the subtle tiny actions at the beginning that occupied large space, these subtle sounds have are hugely affective; they create the bond of empathy between artist and viewer through the sensory experience of her labour.

After 3 hours, Goldwater returns to the mezzanine and lowers 30 metres of hair to the ground. To see something that is seemingly ‘of’ the body, so big in contrast to the body seems so surreal. The weight of it becomes apparent as Goldwater struggles to resist gravity as she lowers it to the ground. This hair is later buried into a spiral that was ploughed through an almost perfect square made out of the mound. As the square is so flat but raised slightly in the centre, I can’t help but turn my thoughts to death. Was this a grave? As the hair is concealed by the earth I begin to wonder if this battle with the earth is a metaphor for the battle with the body as it ages and nears death. Goldwater seems to reach a point of resolution, as she stands back, observes, shakes off the dirt, places her gold shoes on her feet and raises the large electric shutter before walking out of the space. Her walk is not the slow pacing that she walked at the beginning of the performance; this was a walk that seemed to be full of conviction. It was as if she had reached the point where she was able to move on and let go. She didn’t look back. Her job was done.

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Nathanial Wyrick, Not an Egg in the Hayloft, (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Nathaniel WyrickNot an Egg in the Hayloft (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

Four stations: A plastic table with a white tablecloth and an aluminum milk can on it. Another white, patterned tablecloth next to it on the ground with fourteen water-filled jars. Wyrick on a white cushion. A dark brown wooden chair. White tape, scissors, a knife and wooden clothespins under the chair. Behind him a set of long, thin, pliable wood. This is a small seemingly intact set up, but not all things are in perfect, spatial correlation to each other. Something might be wrong here.

Set with objects of farming in a sterile room marks a first rupture in the calm atmosphere. A second happens through the urge of (having no) time, that is evoked here, and Wyrick’s time-intensive making of a basket with the wood straps. A third is marked through a simultaneous action of fabricated eggs dispersing in the jars. Wyrick pulls nineteen of them out of his black long johns, lines them up, and one by one lets them fall into the jars. The last five he just smashes onto the tablecloth. There is no use for them, and soon after variations of a milky-red liquid emerge in the jars.

Upon the finishing of the basket Wyrick puts his cushion under the milk can and the left over eggshells into the basket, pours the liquid into the milk can, aligns the by now wet and red tablecloth next to the cushion, lies down on his back with bent legs, holds the basket on his stomach, opens the milk can and lets all the liquid run into his mouth and face, drinking and choking. With the last milky red drop the performance ends.

The two unfolding activities were unified in a final gesture, but through the very acting of Wyrick and the augmenting of the color red in the scenery the question of the wrong, that in the beginning was only underlying the setting, rose into an obvious undeniable unspoken. Any unification fell apart in(to) the unknown locale that was left alone. What is wrong here?

Selina Bonelli honey-glassed (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Selina Bonelli, honey-glassed (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Selina Bonellihoney-glassed (2016)

By Chelsea Coon

With a saw that spanned the length of her forearm, Selina Bonelli, dressed in white, began to wear away the securing threads of the buttons on her shirt off which fell to the floor. Placed in line with her navel, she pressed the saw down into her pants, and with exertion, tore through the fibers to open the crotch section. Her thighs to ankles remained covered. She sat on the floor, legs spaced apart to reveal her both exposed and partially covered body. Throughout the piece, she would meet the eyes of individual members of the audience that lasted a few moments but felt endless through the intensity of her gaze.

Bonelli picked up picture frames from a pile at her feet and removed the glass panel from the frame which were lined with charcoal dust that spilled out and accumulated on the floor. She then set aside the frame, held the panel of glass and with force broke them apart with her hands. The tension was palpable in the space. As blood slowly moved from her hands to her clothing, then the frames to the floor, it functioned as a thread that pulled all the elements together. She took the broken pieces of the glass and moved them into her inner thighs, and poured the excess charcoal dust on top. Three jars of honey were then emptied onto the accumulation pressed against her body. A mesmerizing work with its evocations of violence and vulnerability, loss and coping, remembering and possibly forgetting.

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Esther Neff, The Scraping Shape of the Socially Cyclomythic Womb (2016).
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Esther NeffThe Scraping Shape of the Socially Cyclomythic Womb (2016)

By David LaGaccia

Performance can make me anxious, because it can reveal another side of a person that often lays hidden in everyday conversation. Personal histories, attitudes, and beliefs become exposed for all to see, placing the artist in a naked—vulnerable position. Sometimes things are difficult to talk about that needs a space of understanding, and there is a point in any form of relationship with another person where you need to accept them for who they are and not who you want them to be.

Esther Neff’s performance, The Scraping Shape of the Socially Cyclomythic Womb was one of the first performances in the festival to consciously use her voice to acknowledge the crowd, breaking the wall between the audience and the formal performance. Talking, or using the voice in performance art seems like it is taboo, where a majority of the work in performances is done mute, but this is normal in Neff’s work, whether performing solo or in the group Panoply Lab, using the voice is a recurring aspect of her work.

She begins the performance wearing black clothes, and saying aloud “I have a body,” and “we have a body.” She says this repeatedly as if chanting or in song while walking around the space, defining the space as the crowd begins to enter. There is a large piece of plywood leaning against the wall, and on one side of the room is a sewing machine and on the other side is a power-saw.

Social constructions has placed gender signifiers on these objects giving them a cultural symbolic weight to them before they are even used: advertising and Western society presents the saw as masculine and the sewing machine as feminine, but a saw is just a saw and it is us who places the word masculine or feminine on the object. In her performance, Neff firmly destroys any gender signifiers these objects may have had.

Picking up the plywood, she asks for two strong volunteers to help her. Two women stand up and hold the wood. Neff gives them instruction of how to hold it so she can start using to the to carve it with the saw: when she is done, the plywood is in the form of a giant female genital tract. During the course of performance, Neff breaks out of her “performing persona” and casually acknowledges the crowd, thanking them for their help.

Neff then begins chanting “You’re just a model,” aloud, and hands a woman a spool of black thread; it is cut, and then she heads to the sewing machine, turning it on. She takes a piece of black fabric, rips it in half, and repeatedly puts it through the sewing machine; she holds it up each time showing that the fabric is not sewn together.

She begins handing out post-cards with tape on them to people in the room and asks them to place them anywhere in the room.”Does the object control the body?” she asks each person. The post-cards have a kitsch image of a “typical” man, standing in pajamas, smoking a pipe and reading a newspaper. Neff has written phrases on the cards like “Our sense is our weakness,” or “Our unity is a wasted womb.” The card also shows a flow of blood coming from his boxer shorts.

Now completely undressed save for her shoes, Neff opens up a plain paper bag, and takes out black ink, sterile needles, and anti-septic wipes: it becomes clear that she’s going to tattoo herself. She asks for more volunteers to hold the plywood, and four women step up: because it is too heavy, more people join in.

Neff ties a needle the tip of the plywood and gives the volunteers instructions on what to do. She wants them to rock back and forth and have the needle prick her stomach, tattooing her in the process. She draws a mark to aim for on her chest; it is in the shape of a drop of blood. The whole room chants “I have a body…We have a body,” rocking back and forth, creating the tattoo. After several minutes she then goes alone repeatedly stabbing herself with a new needle, finishing the tattoo, and continuing the phrase, while now adding “we had a body.” Without saying it directly, Neff makes everyone aware exactly what she’s talking about; this type of accomplishment takes an incredible amount of skill and understanding of your materials and your body in a space.

Her repetition of words took on new meanings based on the context of her actions and the tone of her voice. When she repeated “I have a body”, in the beginning it sounded like a unifying fact we all share, that the identity of the body is of self, not societal-ownership, but—near the end of the performance when she started repeating the same words, I felt there was a wave of sadness to them, now creating a connotation of acceptance for the self—regardless of what difficult circumstances or trauma it has been through.  The tattoo (or scar) is a permanent reminder of the performance, but also a physical reminder of that history or memory.

Afterwards Neff dissolved the intensity of the performance, speaking in a calm voice stating she is done and thanking everyone; she wrapped a bandage around her stomach, began to clean up her materials, and asked if anyone wanted to keep a postcard. Neff discussed earlier in a talk at the Live Art Development Agency that she had experienced several miscarriages in her lifetime; this coolness after such an intense moment and vulnerable performance takes an incredible amount of control that can only be looked at with admiration.

Sonic Screams, Tempting Failure Day 5

Day 5 of Tempting Failure featured 4 artists at the Hackney Showroom, a performance venue in Hackney, London. The performances were held in either the larger main room, or the smaller studio. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 25th.

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Natalie Ramus, 16000:1 OPENING (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Natalie Ramus16000:1 OPENING (2016)

By David LaGaccia

I don’t believe any performance can be called “abstract”. What are you abstracting from when the work is firmly grounded in the reality it’s representing and being created in? Yes, the image or idea deviates from the imagery and actions everyday life, but then again we all live in everyday life in some strange form or another. What’s so wonderful about performance is that the ability to create this image or idea has always been possible, but it takes the unique time, space, body and creativity of the artist to realize it.

In 16000:1 OPENING, we’re presented with an extraordinary image Natalie’s nude physique against a tall pillar of bleached white copy-paper. The paper looks unnaturally white against Natalie’s skin, and towers over her. Grabbing a stack from the top, she drops it on the ground, and begins to crumple them up into balls. Carefully, she unfolds and rolls one piece at a time, and sticks it in her mouth. She does this repeatedly until her mouth is filled with rolls of paper, gagging and nearly vomiting with each new piece she puts in her mouth. Slowly she takes the paper out of her mouth, and places it on a fresh piece of paper in front of her. Next, begins another series of startling images and actions. Unexpectedly, she took out her menstrual cup that was filled with blood, and poured it on a clean white piece of paper. She then took another piece of paper and began tearing off smaller pieces, dipping it in the blood, and placing them on her body, beginning on her stomach, and then going up to her breasts. Again, when finished she places the bloodied paper in front of her. After that action, Ramus began sorting through the paper in front of her, making a pattern.

Natalie was committed to each of her actions, and handled the materials with care and delicacy, yet I feel the actions did not fit well against each other. Bringing out the menstrual blood is a heavy image, and it felt like the action of sticking the bloodied pieces of paper onto her body didn’t convey any specific meaning that the image and material demanded. The performance can be seen as a series of actions, images and ideas rather than one complete whole. Looking at the actions literally, the image is wonderful: what was inside of me is now outside of me, what was once a part of me is still a part of me (or displaced) in another form; this I think is the context of the entire work.

Franscesca Steele, Tease (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure. Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Franscesca Steele, Tease (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Francesca SteeleTease (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

We see a woman in an elegant black, tight, over-knee dress with short sleeves. She sits on a cheap-looking chair with red, shiny high heels on her feet. Red nail polish accentuates her hands. Decent glasses and a bob haircut partly cover her eyes. A camera, just over-knee high, points down onto a fancy tart of multiple creams, doughs, and fruits. The tart is placed on a pink plastic cloth circle of about 2 m diameter, encircled by a golden tape-ring with contact mics under it. Camera and chair are on the periphery of the circle in a 90º angle distance from each other. The camera’s purpose is to project a live feed of Francesca Steele’s self-applied, teasing task onto a wall, while the contact mics make it overly and estrangely audible. We have three image sources (the camera display, the projection, the life action), and four media (the decorated room, the video, the sound and the performer) to reflect from. – Concentration vs. dispersion.

For two hours Steele would graciously approach the tart with her feet in seemingly blunt and repetitive manners. Over and over she would walk around the cake, softly dig into it, slightly step on it, carefully pull parts away from it, play with them, smear them around the circle, and sit back on the chair. Weighing her actions, she looks around her, stands up again, and exposes various small, coincidental, but habitual gestures, while tiptoeing towards her next tactic. All this happens with delicacy. Most of the time her look goes to the projection to assure herself of her image, or to amuse herself with it. Her shy smile hides whether there is doubt or pleasure in her movements. She seems alone, but maybe isn’t.

The tearing down of the tart leaves an intense smell of strawberry, sucking you in, while the accumulating stickiness between her shoes and the plastic cloth leaves the pink circle as a creamy battlefield, making you stay away. This is an everlasting conversation between the un-certainty of things.

FK Alexander, NOT (I) (2016), Hackney Showroom

FK Alexander, NOT (I) (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

FK AlexanderNOT (I) (2016)

By David LaGaccia

FK Alexander’s performance NOT (I) is more about feeling than images; it is an expressionist performance that is more about tone and mood than grand actions or easily graspable ideas: certainly those elements are what make up the performance, but here direct feeling takes precedence over direct meaning.

In the large hall of the Hackney Showroom, Alexander is wearing a red gown and sitting at a simple wooden desk with a blood bag connected to a pole (like an IV bag) standing next to her. Surrounding the desk is a road of bricks, placed in piles that form an arch. Under the desk are several large pieces of paper. The starkness of the imagery from the materials gives the performance an almost gothic feel to it. The entire room is dark, expect for red lights shining down on Alexander, and a projection that fills the backside of the room. The projection loops a short video showing Alexander having her blood taken, presumably for this performance. Loud droning sounds fill the space, so much so that visitors were given ear plugs as they entered, and fog and strobe machines contribute to the disorienting feeling.

The actions were simple: For a couple of hours, Alexander sat at her desk, dipped a fountain pen into a bowl filled with her blood, and wrote on the large pieces of paper. When the paper is filled, she would place it on the ground, where they could read if people chose. Every so often she would stop and begin to walk on-top of the bricks that arched in-front of her desk, sometimes falling, sometimes throwing a brick to another pile, and sometimes having the train of her dress catching on one of the bricks. At her desk, she would occasionally burn a piece of paper with gold flyleaf on it in a stainless steel bowl. They are the same actions, but they are new words and a new journey that relentlessly brings her back to her desk and her thoughts every time.

Without even referring to the title or description she had published in the program (I’ll get to that later), anyone who has suffered through a major depressive episode would immediately understand the feelings, mood, and aesthetics Alexander was intending to create. Depression is cyclical, where you maddeningly relive experiences that tormented you in the past, and that continue to torment you in the present. It creates an incredible amount of emotional pain and physical pain that makes every minute of every day an unmanageable nightmare: reading becomes difficult; writing becomes difficult; you lose your apatite (or overeat); it isolates you from the people around; there is insomnia; there is a numbing emptiness in your body, and you create a racing delusional perception of the world around you that has no basis in reality, but certainly feels real to you.

Alexander’s performance is of course a reference to Samuel Becket’s play Not I, which is a monologue of fragmented thoughts from a woman who is suffering through a cycle of emotional pain. Alexander references this in the program, and it is made clear that the main action of the performance is to write out the play on the paper. If there was any fault with the work, I did think the looping projected video did not add much to the main action or feeling of the performance, and the use of strobe lights felt excessively dramatic. Otherwise, her performance and the atmosphere of the room expressed the right feelings and tones of recurring despair.

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GRIMALKIN555 (Sarah Glass), No Demoniacs (2016), Hackney Showroom, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

GRIMALKIN555 (Sarah Glass)DSM III: No Demoniacs (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

Four amplifiers in the four corners of the room, with a lightbulb each on top of them. Two additionally with guitar pedals on them. Between the other two a table with more equipment, mixer, voice recorder. Behind the table is a video-loop of screaming female film characters. Between the table and projection a woman in a fancy violet ball gown with sequins. Her head is covered with a piece of black lace. Barefoot she waves with her entire body back and forth, sometimes only with her arms, or her hands, but in motion she is, and accompanied to the motion pictures a recorded female voice emerges talking about her encounters with a physician. Physical motions interfere with mental ones and Glass’s waving mimics an oceanic tide and high. Swimming in still waters, this can go deep.

The arising layers of sound become a multiple of oceans. A one-way crescendo of vocal, visual, and sound waves, highlighted with five consecutively life recorded screams, culminates in one repetitive life scream, that will then ebb away and apart into its end.

DSM stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and so this is a storm of constantly intruded information; an immersion edging the imaginable. It is only a short sonic adventure, but Sarah Glass would fiercely induce in an entirety the difficulty and complexity of defining a broad and ideally even broader group of people as one categoric dissonance. Depending on your mental understanding, you either hear the fullness of her orchestra, or white noise.

Rubbish and Unwanted Things, Tempting Failure Day 4

Day 4 of Tempting Failure featured 6 artists at D:NA, a performance venue in the home of Ernst Fischer in Herne Hill, London. One performance was performed on the street, as well as a durational piece by Daniel Nicolae Djamo called Territorial marking (2015) at DescARTs in Croydon. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 24th.

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Robert Watts, Uncertainty Principle (2016), D:NA, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Robert WattsUncertainty Principals (2016)

By David LaGaccia

Music in the modern age has become an isolating experience. Ipods and smartphones keep people tuned-in to their favorite tracks, but keeps them isolated in being able to share it with others. Robert Watts’s performance, Uncertainty Principals, brought together antique and modern technology.

When invited up into the flat, each person was given a pair of headphones and a screwdriver to “draw” with. At first you don’t fully understand what this means: Did they mean to make scratches on the floor? The surreal nature of Ernst Ficsher’s house throws you off and adds a relaxed and playful atmosphere with toy hamsters in balls running around. Robert then walks in silently holding a case full of records. He makes some arrangements on a device that I couldn’t identify (it looked like an old tape recorded) then he places a record on a record player. It becomes clear that we’re all hearing the same music through each of our headphones. Watts then begins handing spectators a vintage .45 rpm record as well as a screwdriver. It becomes clear that he wants us to “draw” or scratch on the records.

Scratching the vinyl in this way effectively destroys any pragmatic use the record may have had; In general, I’m leery of the term transformation, but in this case, the destruction of the object transforms the object.  The record may have been sitting around unplayed collecting dust somewhere (which itself effectively destroys its “use”), but when it is used in this performance, it is given new purpose, and not only that, it becomes personalized to the person who created it that then can be shared to the group listening to it. This manipulation of the object is a kind of retroactive “sampling”, where the destruction of the old recording creates the new personalized recording; it can also be seen as a pun on the term “scratching”, a musical technique used on records by DJ’s , and in Rap and Hip-Hop music.

After the spectators are finished drawing, we hand the “destroyed” records back to Robert, where he begins playing them on a record player; the songs are oldies, like Hank Williams or the band ABC, and they crack and fizzle and skip, each distorted by the unique markings each person made. After he finishes all of our records, he stops, and begins to give back the records to each person. I was given a record with a picture of two elephants drawn on it. It was a simple performance, probably too simple, and I wish Watts went further with the ideas in this performance like playing with technology and art, as well as the shared experience of music. Perhaps he will revisit these ideas in the future.

Ernst Fischer,

Ernst Fischer, Toorchen Tours (2016), D:NA, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Lisa Stertz

Ernst FischerToorchen Tours (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

In remembrance and honor to friend and artist, Anthea Toorchen, Ernst Fischer invited for a walk through his neighborhood Herne Hill next to Brixton in South East London. Toorchen had been working with found materials and objects. Her recent work composed of orange- and red-colored objects that she would puzzle together to organ-like sculptures to confront and question her disease that she deceased from in 2015.

Fischer chose only a few stops for his 2-h-walk, but smartly planted several seeds of knowledge at each of them. Bit by bit these seeds grew and transmuted into a bewildered garden of consistent information around rubbish, debris and junk via locality, myths, secrecy, etymology, self-care, fantasy, camp, art, home, sociality, responsibility, the public and the personal, the unwanted and the odd and so forth. One could follow Fischer at all times, or linger in a thought that he triggered in you. He would not forget to remind you of anecdotes, he told you earlier on, weave in specificities of the spaces you visited, or name other TF2016 artist’s work, here Sue Fox’s photo series “The Forgotten”, to encompass his talking tour from always another angle. With his gentle circumspection to everything, Fischer created a satisfying, temporary whole. His enthusiasm and openness gave an easy access to listen and to be with him along this pleasing and captivating Sunday afternoon.

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Alanna Lynch, Concealed and Contained (2016), D:NA, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Alanna LynchConcealed & Contained (2016)

By James Sherman

We walk into a room in which Alanna stands in a central position, and we are invited to take seats around her. She is crocheting her own hair around her naked body; she has started from the head down, and the laborious process taking place sees it come lower at a snail’s pace from around her shoulders. Her entire head is covered – contained and concealed – and no doubt, her thoughts are elsewhere, lost in the sway of menial gestures and muscle memory.

In this durational piece, Alanna performed over the span of an hour and the audience were able to come and go as they pleased. I came in once at the beginning for a long period, took a break, and returned for the last ten minutes to find Alanna’s back now shimmering with sweat. She has been working with her own hair for the past ten years and has begun this particular project in 2009 – only exhibiting it as a live performance once before in Sweden last year. When I asked about the possible motivations to begin this work, she told me that she had always been interested in materiality – and when the desire for materiality as a medium came, the natural choice was her own hair as she was in an environment where it stood out – perhaps acting as an emblem, at once of her dissimilarity and her identity.

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Sebastian Hau-Walker, Ausculta (Vision Serpents) (2016), D:NA, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Sebastian Hau-WalkerAusculta (Vision Serpents) (2016)

By Alicia Radage

On entering a living room in Herne Hill, we are greeted by Sebastian Hau-Walker dressed in a white shirt, white trousers and a graduation hat. He offers us a cushion, a choice of a mango, lime or orange and a pair of wireless headphones. We are encouraged to lie down. Hau-Walker presses play on a home video from 1995, which documents him as a child growing up in Mexico. The video is screened on both a TV set and a projection upon the ceiling. Through the headphones the sound of the video is amplified. We see a 6 year old Sebastian in a tinier version of his white attire and graduation hat, amongst a sea of other children dressed identically. For the duration of the piece the video spans school life, home life, trips to the sweet shop and visits to other local kids at their homes.

The artist searches around the space for a piece of fruit from an audience member. The fruit, having just been handed to them, is asked to be returned and he sinks his teeth into it. Fruit in mouth he picks up a VHS tape from a pile in the corner. He holds it in right hand and beats it against his left folded elbow until it cracks open. As though extracting a seed he snaps out a film reel, climbs up to the projection on the ceiling and sticks it upon the moving image. The film from the reel cascades down upon the audience in a rapid swirl of dark ribbon. The artist moves around the space repeating these actions,  simultaneously embodying primal actions, institutional rigidity, the foreign body, the local body, the imported, the appropriated, the obsolete. It is magical and astounding to witness their body fluidly moving between and amongst these states.

As the hour goes by, Hau-Walker buries us in tangled film ribbon and hands us back bitten fruit.

Having installed a new layer of earth out of discarded, now useless VHS tape, he tries to gather up his trails and binds them around his head. As he pulls upon the ribbons he brings everything that he’s entangled in the gradual burial. People’s toes, legs, fingers, bags, hair, fruit are pulled and the tape is slowly dragged towards a vortex where the artist is placed. He gradually moves to exit. An audience member refuses to let go of what is being pulled away from them. There is a suspended moment of tension and they both pull. Hau-Walker wins and walks out onto the street. We watch him walk away through the living room window.

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Phillip Bedwell, Echoes (2016), D:NA, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Phillip BedwellEchoes (2016)

By Daniel Holmes

A length of rope bookended by two nooses. One ensnares a mammoth block of ice. The other, Phillip Bedwell’s neck.

In Echoes, Phillip attempts, and inevitably fails, to lift and suspend the block using himself as a counterweight. He strains and adjusts as the ice dangles before him. We witness his struggle as the weight becomes too much. The ice falls. He breathes. He sets. Sometimes he weeps. Then he tries again. The cycle continues.

Phillip beautifully delves into dichotomies. Warmth/cold. Life/death. The attrition which melts the ice, making it easier to lift, simultaneously breaks his body. Mostly however, it is Phillip’s disrupted identity which captures the mind. His body is a form of hyper-masculinity, he is a Roman legionnaire, swelling and muscular, a demonstration of the power and strength conceptualised to the male form. Yet, in his struggle, he exposes his frailty, his vulnerability, his weakness. These are the antiseptic of conditioned manhood, that we have been told to be so afraid to admit.

The melting ice stains his skin as it turns to water, leaving traces of the battle in which he forges himself. Perhaps he too is changing state, defining himself a new man in the conflict.

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James Shearman, IN/OUT (2016), D:NA, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

James ShearmanIN/OUT (2016)

By James Shearman

IN/OUT is a small noise piece I devised with the help of my mentor Clive Henry in the mentorship programme for TF2016. It began with noise and writing. I was doing a lot of home recording with a contact mic to amplify objects and I was using distortion/gain- and a host of other manipulations- to bring this source into its fullest noise splendour. I wanted to build a ‘noise ritual’ which could allow me to lose myself momentarily – to confront life and death and the small spaces in between. I took some inspiration from Butoh, the Dance of Darkness, in its clawing mindless atavism I saw what I wanted for the ritual – and I found a long umbilical string extending from it to my practice and scribbles with automatic writing and noise.

I think it did meet my expectations. I was meant to be responding to the theme ‘In Utero’, and I’m not sure many could guess this without being told – consciously or unconsciously I always seem to evade the very thing I want a piece to revolve around. Just because it was central in my mind does not mean it should, or has to be, in yours.

Standing Apart, Tempting Failure Day 3

Day 3 of Tempting Failure featured 7 artists at Matthews Yard in Croydon, London alternating between the two venues, Studio Theatre Utopia and descARTS, one performance that was performed on the street, as well as a video screening by Tom Cardew. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 23rd.

Rhiannon Armstrong, Public Selfcare System (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Rhiannon Armstrong, Public Selfcare System (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Rihannon ArmstrongPublic Selfcare System (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

This is an invitation to stop. Out of personal experience, Rihannon Armstrong generated a one-on-one performance that offers you to rest in situ, in the here and now.

She picks you up from the clock tower in Croydon, that you are walked to by a member of Temping Failure’s production team. Then she walks with you for five minutes along and under streets, around a number of corners to a specific corner of concrete by the Croydon College. She talks you through all the steps of your time with her while you are walking. You walk quite fast to reach the point of stopping. Fast forward to pause. But you feel calm through her gentle voice. She sees her piece as a tandem exercise. She is your guide of care, pause, and hold.

Upon arrival, you will find yourself standing right next to her as a starting point of stopping. She has a cushion for your head and shawl to protect you from the sun at your leisure to feel comfortable when lying down. On the count of three you both sit down. On another count of three you lie down. On a last count of three you turn over to your right side. You breathe. She asks you to be aware of your breath, to let loose and sink into the concrete, to observe your locale and to close your eyes at your will. She asks for permission to put her hand on your shoulder and talks to you about the ok-ness to lie here and rest, to do nothing for once and feel your very bodily existence in the very place you are in. It is OK to stop. Then she leaves you. She lets you rest by yourself. This is your time. – After a moment, Rihannon’s voice arises, touching you softly out of your rest. She walks you back. You have another five minutes together. At the clock tower she thanks you warmly for resting along her and devotes herself to a next participant.

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Rebecca O’Brien, Hera (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Becky O’BrienHera (2016)

By David LaGaccia

Sculpture has a deep association with performance, where artists consider the movement of the body is of the same interest with the creation of the object. Here Rebecca O’Brien presents us with a “living sculpture” for her performance. Walking in we see O’Brien eyes closed and standing still on a box in a traditional statue pose of Venus, or as the title suggests, Hera; we surround her in a circle like a monument. In the darkened theater a spotlight shines on her; her body is covered in a gray material, possibly plaster, but it looks like concrete.

She slowly begins to move, animating her body and brushing off the material revealing her white skin. Flecks of the material fall, making light tapping sounds as the pieces fall. When she begins to move faster, the tapping sounds become amplified and louder, and what sounded like falling pebbles now sound like falling stones. She begins to move more rapidly, gesturing and posing herself in traditional feminine statue poses. New sounds appear, loud hammering, drilling, construction sounds, bringing up images of a construction site, a traditionally male environment.

The classical female image was constructed by men. Using drills, hammers and other construction equipment, the image of the female body was manipulated and constructed by men to form the “ideal” beauty. Although O’Brien does not directly comment on this, the sounds of construction do sound abrasive when contrasted with the natural human body. She is making us aware of this subject, and letting us form our own opinions.

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Alicia Radage, Extension Off-Land (2016), DescARTes, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Emma Chapman

Alicia RadageExtension Off Land (2016)

By Charly Flyte

Off Land began with the artist Alicia Radage’s female naked body in a shoulder stand in the apex of a white walled studio with a wooden floor. On her feet she balances an old rusty, curled spike and from her asshole erupts nine lengths of wool attached to round mirrors spread across the room. The image is astonishing. Woolen boundaries are navigated by the spectator, the artist creating them but also being constructed by them. The lighting reflected into the mirror creating lunar shapes across the room. The work felt fiercely feminine. As the three hour piece progressed, she moved from balancing the spike on the floor to standing, the wool bursting from inside of her. She stood over the mirrors examining her vagina. Her body became fractured images in the surrounding mirrors. The nine mirrors made me think of the nine months of pregnancy and as the artist held the pit of her stomach and inhaled deeply, I felt the pain of woman as the keeper of creation.

She moved across the space dragging the mirrors presenting the image of a prisoner dragging a ball and chain. She tentatively stroked the wool and holding her waist length hair in one arm it caused me to question the weight of a woman’s hair; the responsibility, the feminine, the curse.

Her actions and stillness rippled like waves over the space injecting the most electrifying energy into the studio. The piece heightened in pace as she began spinning in circles tangling the wool, the artist becoming visibly exhausted at the velocity of the movement. Drawing the mirrors closer it was as if she wanted to somehow regain control of the extensions that ran from her own body.

The performance ended with the artist sitting, legs spread biting the wool from her attachment. Removing them by force. She gagged as the wool stuck to her tongue. The lasting image of a woman ridding that which she had loved, that which had confined her and that which was her fractured reflection.

The artist’s process gave way to my own emotional process and this work creates inner movement and shifts within those lucky enough to see it.

 Natalie Raven and Dagmar Schwitzgebel, Sackcloth and Ashes (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure


Natalie Raven and Dagmar Schwitzgebel, Sackcloth and Ashes (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Natalie Raven and Dagmar SchwitzgebelSackcloth and Ashes (2016)

By David LaGaccia

The spectators were asked to sit in one of the four squares at the start of the performance, each separated from the long white fabric, sackcloth that formed a cross; Natalie Raven and Dagmar Schwitzgebel stood on opposite ends of the vertical line holding up their hands with palms facing out. The two walk towards each other and meet at the cross-section of the cross with their bodies contrasting in physique. Their hands meet in force with their arms raised like a steeple; they both get on their knees, pushing back and forth in opposition.

Schwitzgebel stands up and picks up the fabric cutting a hole in middle and placing it over her head and covering her body like religious robes. In the middle of the cross, a pile of ashes or soot is exposed, reminiscent of ashes normally used to form the cross on the face for Ash Wednesday. Raven picks up another piece of fabric and does same, but it becomes clear that she wears the garment looser, with her feminine body fully exposed. Both go into their actions, defining their identities separately.

Although no specific meaning was discernable from their use of Christian iconography and religious gestures, it was clear that Raven and Schwitzgebel had used this iconography for their own symbolic purposes: carefully considered actions and images of the cross, baptism, religious attire, and prayer could all be seen throughout this performance. Performances dealing with religion as their subject (specifically Christianity), tend to have a moral stance on the issue of belief or non-belief (or institution), but rarely do you see a performance show the artist expressing their own conflicted attitudes, adding their own perspective to the conversation rather than dictating it.

Raven’s actions were more sexual and opposed to the religious beliefs. Her breasts and clitoris were freely exposed for the spectators to see, making gestures in the air that suggested masturbation, slamming her head into the pile of ashes, and spitting it out when it got in her mouth.

Opposing her was Scwitzgebel, who wore the sackcloth draped over her body like a robe covering her female body. Her actions were filled with religious piety and silent prayer, kneeling and forming a cross with the ashes, gently rubbing it on her face and bringing her emotions close to tears. After the performance, one viewer asked me if there was anything personally significant about the ashes: “Was it someone she knew?”, he asked, “or something that was close to her that brought her to the brink of tears?” I couldn’t say.

When the ash pile became smaller and smaller with use until it was gone, the two women stood together on the stage side by side. Raven took a tin pale filled with water, and gently cleaned Scwitzgebel’s ash covered body and face. Scwitzgebel did the same for Raven, gently cleaning her arms and face. The performance began with the two women in opposition and open hostility towards each other, and now they end with an embrace, with the two women becoming one soul.

Nicola Hunter, Lost Bodies (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Nicola Hunter, Lost Bodies (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Nicola HunterLost Bodies (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

You are allowed to enter a space, a sanctuary space, but spatially before, you enter through the smell of a saluting gesture. A gesture that in an instant will make you become part of the following as a witness. Burnt sage is fanned down your body. You are here for a reason. This certain, sudden companionship is a grounding to the metamorphic transformation that is about to happen. This is an impactful ritual. You can feel the supreme rightness of every material decorating the space. Everything has its definite purpose. Everything makes absolute sense. Nothing could be in another place. It all belongs together.

Nicola Hunter sits on a throne. Her head covered in a crown of red roses and a long blue veil falling down until her knees. She wears a white, silk wedding dress. Her legs are spread. Barefoot she sits. White high heels filled with a juice of blood and strawberries between her feet. In front of her a big pile of dirt covered with flowers. Everything sits quietly. A droning sound belongs to this first imagery and with a slow waving of her fingers, Hunter begins to shed. She sheds a layer of life, its influence and its lived interpretation. The ritual has begun.

An amassment of objects, actions, symbolism, and referential communication emanates, and so she weaves her materials and artistic vocabulary together to a crucial climax from which she then descents and departs. Beforehand she has been weaving multiple layers of her voice together to sonically supplement her affairs into a choir of vocalizations, screams and breaths. There is no escape from the density over-coming you: She is crawling backwards around the pile of dirt and flowers with the dress lifted to expose her ass, pulling the blood-filled high heels with her, slurping in those heels around her center installation and squeezing the strawberries, digging into the pile in search of a candle, masturbating with that candle on it, going back to the throne and cutting herself off her dress with a razor blade, throwing her crown into the fucked flower-dirt-bed, pulling the veil off that was held with needles and syringes, thus letting her forehead bleed all over her face and upper body, throwing the dress away and pulling it across the room, nailing it with the needles onto a black wooden board in opposition to the throne, finally just throwing the also blood-covered dress over the board, burying the shoes in the dirt, and starting to blacken herself out. Outrageously she lets loss, grief and frustration fight with love, life and passion. Un-, but knowingly she draws us that image of painful beauty, of a juxtaposing incomprehensibility, of the always inexplicable, and only experiential manifestation of being alive.

All this is accompanied by a shamanic figure, Alison Brierley. With numerous instruments of different sensorial perception and inclination she pulls the old, known Nicola into a new role yet to materialize, into a new purpose, yet to embody. Nicola embraces this shift and after her manifold undertakings sits kingly back in the throne, covered in black paint bedecked with a feather ruff collar. Only her face and her vagina remain in color from a before. You can’t erase your history, since you are here. In fierce grace she sits and light fades her into a wild darkness.

Anne Bean, 5 Duets with Stangers (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Anne Bean, 5 Duets with Stangers (2016), Studio Utopia Theatre, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Anne Bean5 Duets with Strangers (2016)

By David LaGaccia

Anne Beane began her performance 5 Duets with Strangers on the stage of Utopia Theatre, casually leaning against the wall, as if to avoid the focus of the crowd. Lucy walks in from stage right, and begins talking. It’s interesting how she immediately became the focus of the performance with Anne improvising and playing off the “stranger”. The subject of the conversation begins with Lucy’s own nervousness and her gender identity: “I don’t know how to be a woman,” said Lucy, “Don’t apologize ever!”, yells Bean into the mike. “What do I identify as? I don’t,” said Lucy. “I hate the word identity,” said Bean, “I think it’s one of the poisons of all what’s wrong.” The conversation is digressive, talking about their favorite animals, pies etc… and there is an expectation that something will happen, but it doesn’t. The lights lower and go back up, singling the end of the duet.

Dominique, a young violinist walks in next. Anne starts recounting a story about her father who played violin, and Dominique playfully improvises and reacts to the narrative. Next, a man with a guitar, plays a simple chord repeatedly, and both ask personal questions about each other: “Do you love anyone unconditionally?”, he asks. The mood suddenly shifted when a man named Richard comes out to play the piano. There is a clear uneasy tension between the two; he begins to play and stops.

Comedy in performance rarely intentionally exists I think because artists run the risk or fear of presenting their work as entertainment. 5 Duets had elements of comedy mainly from a release of tension and unease of each stranger’s duet with Bean. In each of these duets, it was interesting how each stranger led the action of the performance, and depending on their mood, controled the tone as well. This was a good example of a performance playing with the idea of entertainment, while maintaining elements of performance.Presented as a series of musical duets, each technically was unsuccessful in execution due to unpredictable interactions between the strangers.