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.


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.