|Pete Barrett, The Surety, The Surety (The Inner Surety) |
photo Oliver Rudkin
I’ve often thought of Live Art as having properly Quixotic aspects to it: foolhardy, sometimes nonsensical quests, undertaken in the face of scorn; easily mocked; often more moving and possessed of less selfish egotism, than might first appear. In Arnolfini’s foyer, an impeccably attired Pete Barrett decorates a wooden chair with tiny florets of cake icing, a beautiful, sedate action with strange, wordless inner logic. Many onlookers scowl with incredulity, some shrug…but it’s the kids who understand him best. They toddle up close to stand quiet and respectful at Barrett’s shoulder, as he lays concentric triangles of sugary paste across the dark wood.
|Cupola Bobber, Wave Machine #2|
photo Oliver Rudkin
kim noble: kim noble will die
But there’s a darker side to Quixotic desire that even some of Inbetween Time’s audience might have problems with. Because generally, we prefer the safer madness, don’t we? The zany madness, the village idiot madness. Madness with boundaries and recognised borders. One 2009 review of Kim Noble’s Kim Noble Will Die protested, “Even for a show about going too far, he goes too far,” and that’s because Noble’s masterpiece is an uncomplacent, confrontational, no holds barred, side-splittingly funny and unbearably upsetting portrait of a mental condition, the bipolar monster that has been cruelly toying with him, on and off, for much of his life.
Noble has censored so little of himself (and been equally indiscriminate with the lives of his family, ex-girlfriends, and neighbours) that you leave the show feeling beaten up, elated, angry and honoured, all at once. You wonder what percentage of it was ‘true,' and then you question how much (if at all) that knowledge would matter. Because even if Noble is fucking with our minds (he didn’t really ejaculate into that bottle of Vagisil and leave it on the supermarket shelf, did he?) the image would hold fast, the portrait of the artist would remain the same. Even if this were embellished rather than pure autobiography, the journey would feature the same remarkable peaks and troughs, in relating Noble’s struggle to find meaning in a world that, to him, looks increasingly barren.
The show is a high speed stream-of-consciousness audiovisual presentation cramming 10 hours of material into 60 minutes. Karaoke rock is sung to repeated close-ups of Noble’s ejaculating penis. Horrendously intimate phone calls bleed from the speakers. Members of the audience are banished from the room at random. Some poor ticket-holder sits with a bucket on his head for the full hour. There’s a genuine cameo by a world-famous Hollywood star. There’s product tampering, unhinged email exchanges, cash handouts and graphic, profoundly disturbing self-harm. It mugs you. Past audiences have actually reported this show to the police. It is, no doubt whatsoever, exploitative of artist, audience and innocents alike (but in its awful honesty, what else could it be?) and—it must be noted—it is very, very male.
This last factor seems to feature heavily in people’s responses to Noble’s work. Audiences keen on Live Art’s capacity to navigate uncharted territory sometimes baulk at being asked to care about problems of white middle class blokes with Macbooks. Maleness is often seen as conservative, the predominant power structure, the mainstream; as a result a full exploration of masculine motifs and issues is a relatively rare thing to see on this circuit, and to witness Noble taking it to extremes (sometimes horrible, misogynistic extremes) will go not only beyond empathy for some, beyond risk, but also beyond acceptability. I wasn’t sure what to think. I’m still, after several days, not sure. All I know is that, on and off, I’ll be thinking about this show until my tiny light sputters.
|Kim Noble, You Are Not Alone|
photo Oliver Rudkin
kim noble: you are not alone
In Kim Noble Will Die the artist is a pot-bellied silverback gorilla of a man, a dominant presence pacing back and forth who, you suspect, it’s best not to look in the eye for fear of reprisal. He’s grim and glowering, not smiling once. He’s similarly unsmiling throughout You Are Not Alone, his second show of the festival, until a fleeting moment late in proceedings. During a film of him presenting a ‘Kim Noble Award’ to his favourite takeaway restaurant, whilst shaking the bemused owner’s hand, a genuine sliver of a smile creeps onto his face. And it’s heartbreaking, a release—especially if you’ve sat through both shows. It feels like a tiny reward.
Kim Noble Will Die is riven with humiliation, failure and madness. You Are Not Alone is at the other Quixotic extreme, with its comic levels of altruism, its cranky hope, its unstoppable quest. The ‘ghost’ of Noble’s ex-girlfriend haunts the stage, a printed photograph on A4 paper projected via a glitchy webcam rigged to Noble’s head. The story begins as she departs in a taxi, their relationship ended at that very moment, and Noble decides to make sense of events by making his loneliness a weapon of empathy. Neighbours on the London street where he lives form a venn diagram of opportunities, and addressing their problems without complaint—often covertly and without reward—becomes a way of making the world better.
As you’d expect, this Knight Of The Woeful Countenance has particularly idiosyncratic solutions for stolen plant pots or a takeaway restaurant’s lack of business, his neighbour’s depleted sex life or the isolation of modern urban existence. He offers to deliver onion bhajis to anywhere in the UK, if only we’ll order them (phone numbers are provided). He ropes his audience into making appreciative phone calls about taxi journeys that never happened. He randomly twins his street with one in Eastern Europe (and journeys there to announce it, to friendly bemusement). One night he cleans every car parked on the road, dressed as a cartoon bear.
It’s still shot through with the usual Kim Noble queasiness—especially as determining his neighbour’s ‘problems’ requires him to engage in almost obsessive electronic surveillance. But he’s a different character tonight: barely speaking, letting a computerised voice narrate the quest, a man at the service of something beyond himself. Taken together the ultimate effect of these two amazing shows is, for me, the same as in Cervantes. You desperately hope that Kim Noble will one day conquer his afflictions. But at the same time the ludicrous, surreal beauty of his battle both repels and enchants you.
Inbetween Time Festival of Live Art and Intrigue, Pete Barrett, The Surety, The Surety (The Inner Surety), Arnolfini, Dec 5; Cupola Bobber, Wave Machine #2, various locations, Dec 2-5; Paul Granjon, Black Box Ni, Wickham Theatre, Dec 5; Kim Noble, Kim Noble Will Die, Arnolfini, Dec 4; Kim Noble, You Are Not Alone, Circomedia, Dec 5; Bristol, UK, Dec 1-5
Our coverage of the 2010 Inbetween Time Festival is a joint venture between RealTime and Inbetween Time Productions
Timothy X Atack is a writer, composer and film-maker based in Bristol UK. He is a member of Sleepdogs and the band Angel Tech. He and Tanuja Amarasuriya, as Sleepdogs, presented The Dead Phone in the 2010 Inbetween Time program. www.timatack.co.uk
© Timothy X Atack; for permission to link or reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org