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.

3_Tempting Failure_Becky OBrian_Hera_039_1

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.


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.