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.

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