Talking About Identity, Tempting Failure Day 2

Day 2 of Tempting Failure featured eight artists at Matthews Yard in Croydon, London alternating between the two venues, Studio Theatre Utopia and DescARTS, and one performance that was performed on the street. Listed below is a recounting of the following exhibitions and performances in the order they occurred on July 22nd.

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Sue Fox standing in-front of her photo exhibition, The Forgotten (The Unborn) at DescARTS.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Sue FoxThe Forgotten (The Unborn) (2016)

By Natalie Ramus

Displayed on the wall were photographs produced by Sue Fox of babies that died in the womb. These bodies are normally only viewed by medical professionals, or maybe the mothers that lose them, so to be able to see these beautiful unborn bodies is a privilege. It seems strange to me that they are so beautiful. We are taught to fear the mortality of the body, but to look is to acknowledge and remember, and Fox allows us to embrace this in the sensitive way that these bodies are presented. She holds light over them, creating a quiet moment to connect and embrace the experience of empathy. I become very aware that we were all once fragile and small just like these bodies… but we have no memory of our body in any other state than born. As I look I start to think about this other existence, this other world where we once lived, inside our mother; these lives presented by Fox only existed there. What we see when we look at the tiny humans is not only a fragmented moment in time, but one the is transformative for all who witness it.

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Rita Marcalo (Instant Dissidence), Dancing With Strangers: from Calais to England (2016), Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Rita Marcalo from Instant DissidenceDancing with strangers: From Calais to England (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

Home office, West Croydon, London. A small installation with two chairs on the pavement. From across the street hammering construction sounds swap over. Cars, buses and trams rush by. People too. People, trapped in their daily frustration in an environment of concrete. In the midst of this, a woman with widespread, open arms joyfully asks you to dance with her. If you join in you are introduced and instructed to a small history of her project culminating in a transmissive dance, that makes you depart from the very place you are in.

This is a choreographic act of border transgression, states Rita Marcalo on her website. With a small crew, she went to “The Jungle” refugee camp in Calais. A place, that is a UK border, but not UK land. A place, the UK paid France for to shift this border from the English mainland to the French one. A place to prevent refugees from entering the UK and finding shelter. The only border of a nation state in the world that is not on the state’s geographic land.

In the camp she led a dance workshop to simply bring people together and had been overwhelmed by its participants, who extended the one hour workshop to four hours. Within that the idea was born to learn dances of refugees to their favorite music. This led Rita to bring a part of the project back to the UK and let her audience here dance with refugees that she would impersonate, creating a 10 minute dance conversation. I danced with Addisu, an Ethiopian young man, to high, energetic rave music. We are laughing about the moves we are making and I forget my surroundings. Klik, klik, boum.

Dancing by default is one of the activities, where you, as a human being, while being awake and alert, forget to think and let loose into your own present stage. Dancing with Addisu though, he talks to you over the same headphones you are wearing to listen to his favorite dance track, makes you aware of his very absence. An absence that becomes crucially painful and numbing. An absence that divides you from him. Politically, geographically and even humanely, because you can only wish him from afar, what he hopes for in your ears. With tears in my eyes I end this dance. With tears in her eyes Rita thanks me for dancing with a stranger.

For more information on Marcalo’s project please visit:

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Daniel Holmes, Dialogue (2016), Studio Theatre Utopia, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Daniel HolmesDialogue (2016)

By David LaGaccia

He stands naked and silent with his clothes at his feet, waiting for you to walk in. A lone spotlight is shining on him. He puts on his clothes, and leans on the ground, slowly unscrolling a piece of paper. He begins to read: “I was wrong to exist, from miscarriage to conception…I was wrong to lament my body…I was wrong for saying faggot.”

During the course of his performance, Daniel Holmes read through a poem that dealt with all of the wrongs he was told to live by and form his identity. He reads from the paper from bottom to top, as one long confession of the social conditioning he was taught to believe in. It is unknown whether these words were written to represent his own identity, or if it was intended to represent societies’ attitudes in general.

After he finishes speaking, he leans on the paper, and begins to eat it. He chokes, he struggles, he heaves to the brink of throwing up. He literally eats his own words to the beginning from where he was formed. He then takes off his clothes and stands up. Is this a new beginning?

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Hollie Miller, Stigmata (2016), DescARTS, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Hollie MillerStigmata (2016)

By Lisa Stertz

A woman cowers in a corner. Five people at a time may observe her. She wears a light-rose colored dress with ribbons. She could be a girl hiding in her children’s room. Her face between her shoulders, she hides. Her blond hair falls into her eyes. Her hands behind her, below her back, palms up, reach out. They are visible and visible thus is the pain she induces on them. She stands on them with the high heel leather boots going up to her knees. One heel of 10 cm and 1 cm diameter per hand pushes her weight into herself. This is not only a girl hiding. Slowly, in observing all the surroundings, clearly a complexity unfolds that offers you to take it in or not. This it is your complexity, your thoughts, your feelings, everything that you may meditate on while observing, while seeing her.

When you get close enough, she looks at you through the round mirror that she stands on. She looks at you with a rose, sad face, an innocent face, but a face with strong eyes. She will not look away unless you look away. She will not blink, preferring to shed tears in order to look at you. So you look, if you dare. You will also look under her dress and glimpse at her vagina through the rose lace slip she wears. You are confronted with your very own twist of morality and fantasy, legality and awkwardness, capability and disarming. This is an endless play of voyeurism versus looking through. What do you see? Miller created a dense environment with a simple gesture. A million stories can be told, while she remains in her painfully, cute pose. Chapeau!

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Malik Nashad Sharpe, A S S I M I L A T I O N (2016), Studio Theatre Utopia, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Malik Nashad SharpeA S S I M I L A T I O N (2016)

By David LaGaccia

“I thought it [A S S I M I L A T I O N] would date,” said Malik Nashad Sharpe, after a  rigorous performance, still sweating, and a face still covered in glitter. “I didn’t think it would have relevance past the date it was conceived. I realized it has to be malleable, because this is what happens in the U.S.”

It’s surprising and wonderful to see a familiar artist in a former country; I just didn’t expect it would be this soon. Earlier this May, I had seen Malik perform a version of his work A S S I M I L A T I O N at Panoply Performance Laboratory in Brooklyn, New York, and now I saw a new version of it here at Tempting Failure. Although there were similar actions and elements within the performance, both the presentation and the structure was different from when I had seen him several months earlier; this performance was tighter with less of an emphasis on materials. Here, Malik performed at Studio Theater Utopia on a stage that was raised and separated from the crowd, while at Panoply Lab, due to the structure of the venue, there was little to no separation from the crowd. Malik said that the performance was conceived two years before as a response to the then controversial Ferguson, Missouri shooting of Michael Brown, but the performance gained new relevance because of recent events, like the Orlando Pulse shootings, and a re-awakening of the Black Lives Matter movement in the public conscience with the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and four police officers in Dallas.

Starting in the darkened theater, the lights come on and you see a minimal set-up with a mirror hanging and a fold-out table with a bowl on-top. Malik is wearing makeup with rhinestones around his eyes. He begins to sing Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, with an emphasis on the line “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” A recording of the song begins to play, and then Malik begins his choreography. During the song, gunshots are mixed in the audio, and every time they go off, he stumbles, the lights get dimmer, until the theater is dark with a spotlight focused on Malik who is on the ground and breathing heavily.

The lights come up. Now pacing in a circle, he chants “blood, blood, blood, bloody, blood,” for several minutes. He begins to say phrases like “I have PTSD from being an active member in my own life,” and “When I woke up this morning, the spirit of this nation has broken.” He walks to the mirror, puts on more lipstick, and then picks up the bowl, and pours what turns out to be glitter on-to his head. The glitter shines off the light. He begins to walk in a circle in the middle of the stage, and again starts to chant “blood, bloody, blood, death.” He begins to sign, and begins a new set of choreography, still chanting and signing until he goes off-stage. Fade to Darkness.

It was interesting seeing this same work in another country, and seeing how a foreign audience would react to these recent events in America. I preferred this version of the performance, because it did seem more focused in its execution; the performance benefited from a shorter length. If there was one issue, it was the use of glitter that elicited some cheering and laughter from the audience. While the material’s use was appropriate in identifying himself as queer, it may have been too light-hearted for the serious subject matter of the performance.

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Clive Henry & Yol, Boked In (2016), Studio Theatre Utopia, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Clive Henry & YolBoxed In (2016)

By James Shearman

Two identical brothers squirm – both unborn, both ‘boxed in’- connected by some walls of cardboard and some stabs of sound. Some clanging – and some telepathic sibling rivalry sounds the tremors of an imminent birthing ritual. Once born, the house of the unborn is torn up; the ‘contaminated’ recycling, the vomited refuse of the unborn is discarded.

I am used to Clive using sound sparingly, with breath and body and despair in its stead, and the hoarse throat and natural cataclysm of abrupt endings. I am used to Yol collecting his various ephemera and ‘sounding’ them with an uncanny skill – with an ear (and touch) like a pioneering caveman enraptured by cavernous sound. The screaming of cut-up babble contorting into new languages: imagining new landscapes (greener pastures, away from the permanently boxed darkness of mind).

What I am used to is certainly what we got – primal escape artists clawing to freedom with the help of knives and rusty metal, a spoon and some kind of oat-fruit-bar-thing. Their bizarre dialogue bounced back and forth with a comical rapport. It comes to my attention that I may not have been able to come out of this how I’d hoped.

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Xavier de Sousa, Post (2016), Studio Theatre Utopia, Tempting Failure.
Photo: Julia Bauer, Courtesy of Tempting Failure

Xavier de SousaPost (2016)

Xavier de Sousa’s performance acted as a monologue (as he described it) that invited participants to engage in the ambiguity of cultural or historic identity. It became clear that a majority of the performers this night made more theatrical decisions for their performances. In the Studio Theatre Utopia room the audience is sitting on chairs on the ground while Sousa is sitting on the stage that is made-up to look like a dining room or kitchen. A table is set with silverware and food, soup is being cooked, clothes are hanging in the back, and a smaller table is in the background holding plates and dishes. He talks casually about the history of the traditional Portuguese soup and sausage he is making. He offers a shot of Cachaça to people who have never tried it. I try it for the first time; the only thing I can compare it to is a strong vodka. He talks about how Christopher Columbus may have been from Portugal, and that Catherine of Braganza helped introduce the tradition to tea drinking to Britain. He then puts on the dresses that were hanging, and introduces a traditional dance to a participant. He states he no longer feels Portuguese now that he lives in the U.K.

Afterwards, with the dinner nearly ready, he asks people to stand up who are hungry. Several people stand up, including me. He asks people where they are from, and chooses three people because of their identity of being immigrants. After a friendly chat about performance over soup and sausage, Sousa then hangs a cloth across the stage, blocking the view of the audience. The conversation shifts to issues of immigration, and topics like Brexit. “Is this a friendly conversation,” one of the participants said. Listening to these conversations, I begin to realize that even if I had been asked to come up, as an American, I wouldn’t have much to offer on these topics of Brexit, or refuge crisis’. I remember walking into the subway one morning, and saw a newspaper scattered on the seats. I saw the word Brexit in a headline, and didn’t know at all what it meant. I still don’t know its full consequences.