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.
Natalie Ramus – 16000:1 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.
Francesca Steele – Tease (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)
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.
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.