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The Bearer, Michelle Browne The Bearer, Michelle Browne
courtesy the artist

Over three alternate days, NRLA artists in residence Hancock and Kelly Live (UK) present Lone Duets, a series of six solo works, each responding to the previous piece in a game of “performance chess.” The corpse of a hog and a bare human body joined skin to skin in a private embrace become meat to be marinated by the audience; a naked, bandaged man in a pig mask dances an exhausted fantasy, and wine is passed between mouths in another mix of public carnality; a man on all fours inserts microphones into the caves of his orifices and their sound envelops us; Snow White lies naked on a rainbow of wriggling multicoloured maggots as the arteries of her tattoo-heart seep blood. These disturbing, subversive checkmates are wholly at home in the dark, subterranean Arches; each brutally intimate deviance arousing visceral responses, not always subtle, but often engrossing.

Day three and Franko B’s I’m Thinking Of You offers an ideal (and idealistic) refreshment to cleanse the creative palate, reinstilling energy and enthusiasm to overflowing minds. Audiences of 20 are allowed in for 10 minutes at a time. Franko B is naked, sweeping to and fro on a sturdy golden swing. Multicoloured tattoos of gaping totemic faces, red crosses and flames stretch over his hairless head, dance across his portly torso and snake down his limbs. Scars from previous bloodlettings are framed by this beautiful lived-in mural. Gentle musical box notes tinkle from a pianola in the corner. As we stare, he looks each of us in the eye and smiles, and the place glows with warmth.

From behind his tough exterior, in spite of his childhood ghosts, Franko B gives himself to us, he opens up to us all, welcomes us in. He looks at us as equals, as companions, as humans. He wants to remind us of that innocently unconditional acceptance we had as children, before we learned cynicism, distrust, exclusion. We are bound into an intimate connection, the emotion remaining potent long after we are ushered out of the space.

The Elevator Program for early career artists brings us Dublin-based Michelle Browne’s The Bearer: a pithy and succinct snapshot of contemporary western feminist paradoxes. “Glamorously” dressed in a black low-cut corseted top, tulip skirt and painfully high stilettos, Browne takes hen-eggs from a bowl and perches them on top of her nest-like coiffure. In a finishing school routine taken to extremes, she checks this crown in an oval fairytale mirror, turns and struts as if parading down a catwalk. Her precise, clipped, supermodel sashay aggressively suggests she is off to war. As she flounces along, the eggs fall, smashing heavily in her wake.

Posing defiantly at the end of the runway, she turns and treads eggshells as she strides back to the bowl. Oblivious to the crunching, viscous carpet, she repeats this fragile balancing act non-stop for three hours, carrying—and losing—a total of 217 eggs. This is the number, the program tells us, that her ovaries have produced thus far in her lifetime.

Lesley Yendell, Buscandose el Pan Lesley Yendell, Buscandose el Pan
Spain-based Lesley Yendell’s Buscandose el Pan (literally “searching for bread”) is another tight-knit collection of concepts. A jagged, map-like coastline of flour divides the floor into sea —where we stand—and land, where Yendell labours. Using a wooden scoop to ladle flour from a glass bowl into a face-shaped sieve, she makes it cry, regurgitate, sweat the white dust onto a rectangular stencil frame at her feet. Each time she carefully lifts the frame the audience seems to hold its breath—the slightest slip could distort or blow the image away.

Over two days, she repeats this ritual meticulously, stencilling forks, spoons, sandals and passports in flour across her expansive territory. As these repeated images gradually cover more ground, they travel from our coast, making their way to three heaps of flour shaped into life-size human faces, placed far beyond the strand between us and her—like sperm swimming to fertilise eggs. At the end of the second day, Yendell takes a broom and sweeps all these ‘footprints’ away; the laborious tasks, lives struggled for, and journeys made, wiped from our collective conscience. Buscandose el Pan: searching for bread, economic migration; invisible in an instant.

We Were Holding It Together, Ivana Müller We Were Holding It Together, Ivana Müller
courtesy the artist
Day four sees a move across Glasgow to the Tramway, a venue airy enough to contain the soaring ideas of Croatian Ivana Müller’s While We Were Holding It Together. Five casually dressed performers are frozen on the bare stage, sitting or standing, arms and legs extended in angular positions. There is no obvious interpretation of this configuration. Entirely still apart from darting eyes and minimal expressions, they slowly vocalise possible scenarios: “I imagine we are standing in the middle of a forest. We are on a family weekend and we haven’t seen each other in a while.”

The suggested scene varies: a rock band on tour, a tableau vivant in 19th-century Paris, a minefield in a war-torn country, a seedy hotel room in Bangkok. Stories are built that twist and transform with each “I imagine.” Now and again the rhythm is broken by precisely-timed blackouts and sound effects: summer evening crickets, gunshots and fireworks, a motor driving into the distance. The spoken text challenges us to quickly step in sync with its imaginative flittering, creating our own projected picturebooks. The performers’ strained bodies become increasingly shaky, as their words raise subtle inferences to do with thoughts and physicality, self and other, perception and identity.

This witty existential (end)-game recollects the freedom of childhood play, when anyone can be anything. The figures aren’t always human, and their bodies aren’t always their own: in a masterfully illusive passage the voices are transplanted from one performer to another as live words seamlessly switch to a pre-recording that they mouth along to. When the lights go up for a final time the stage is empty, but the voices continue to speak through the sound system: “Are we now only thoughts?” Not for us. In our minds we can still see the five of them standing there, and know for sure—or at least imagine for a long moment—that, as the final line says, “we are in this all together.”

Day five offers two Vocal Sonics programs: a selection of voice artists and performance poets, perfectly pitched for this Sunday Review denouement. Inuk throat singer Tagaq (Canada) tilts back her head and opens her delicate throat to emit extraordinary, stunningly beautiful guttural growls, primal shrieks, tender squeals and percussive panting. Seemingly channelling ancestral forces, she glides from the calm coo of a bird through the anguish of a mother mourning to the rage of a war-cry animalism. Her ancient-contemporary resonances rouse intrinsic mechanisms in us, perhaps rekindling a sense of long-gone unity: with history, with nature, with the artist, and with ourselves. Maybe soothed by this spiritual massage of our deepest instincts, we are better prepared to make our way back out into the grey quotidian streets of Glasgow.

The brimming trip of each day brought thrills and bliss, even if sometimes the excess—and the long queuing—were overwhelming. There were moments when teetering on the brink of saturation and disappointment (in my case missing Rosie Dennis’ No Entry; by all accounts an incredible show) seemed inevitable. A frustrated audience is a dangerous gamble for such risky work, but the promise of a freshly brilliant buzz each time we entered a new space, seemed to carry us all through, shivering, weeping and laughing to the last full stop.

National Review of Live Art 2009: Hancock and Kelly Live, Lone Duets—Dermographia (2005), Postures A-to-M (2006), Open Wound (2007), Richard Hancock, In Season (2006), The Mirror Pool (2007), Rupture (2008), Traci Kelly; I’m Thinking of You (part 1), Franko B, music Helen Ottaway, lighting consultant Kamal Ackarie; The Bearer, Michelle Browne; Buscandose el Pan, Lesley Yendell, sound Lucho Hermosilla; While We Were Holding It Together, concept & direction Ivana Müller, performance Sarah van Lamsweerde, Peré Faura, Hester van Hasselt, Jobst Schnibbe, Jefta van Dinther, text Ivana Müller, Bill Aitchison, Katja Dreyer, Peré Faura, Karen Røise Kielland, Stefan Rokebrand, Jefta van Dinther, sound Steve Heather, lighting Martin Kaffarnik; Tagaq; The Arches and Tramway, Glasgow, February 11-15

RealTime issue #90 April-May 2009 pg. 8

© Eleanor Hadley Kershaw; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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