Tuesday, 27 May 2008

East End Collaborations 24 May 2008 Part 1

photo Gore Hore Fazan 'Blowing in the Wind'
Photographer: writers own

Louisa Hendrikien Martin ‘Improv’
Johanna Linsley ‘I’d rather die than die alone’
Geoff Hore Fazan ‘Blowing in the wind’
Performance Klub Fiskulturnik ‘Mass Exercise with Nadia and Olga Sokolski’

East End Collaborations (EEC) is a collaboration between the Drama Department at Queen Mary, University of London, and the Live Art Development Agency. The one day programme offers a range of support structures for novice Live Art artists and enthusiasts in the form of the ‘Everything You Wanted To Know About Live Art But Were Afraid To Ask’ advice session. It also incorporates the annual open submission ‘EEC platform’ which presents emerging London based live art practitioners.

From a visitor’s perspective, the ‘EEC platform’ is a showcase of firsts, and as such is always an unknown quantity. It presents relatively unheard of artists at the outset of their London careers, showing new work that is often at a raw stage. For a critic, whether armchair or professional, the challenges of such a grass roots event are numerous. No-one wants the artists at EEC to be discouraged, but equally, artists are selected in order to experience a realistic professional scenario, one in which critique certainly plays a part. In addition, EEC offers no press release, artist’s statements or biographical information and googling the artists in question doesn’t reveal much. No ‘press reserved’ places mean that the reduced capacity and one to one performances have to be fought for, and in many cases remain unseen. When you do get in to see the work gut reaction needs to be tempered in accordance with the nurturing, professional development aims of EEC and the artists’ relative (in)experience. In short, all the usual critic comforts are missing, and it is hard work to raise critical thinking above the melange and remain intellectually open to what EEC throws at you.

One of the first things it threw was Louisa Hendrikien Martin’s ‘Improv’, which consisted of the artist standing in a darkened studio with solar panels strapped to her body, which were then rigged up to audio speakers. Audience members were invited to shine electric flash lights onto the solar panels, which triggered electronic sounds according to the direction and strength of the beams of light. ‘Improv’ highlighted light and sound as visceral. However, the purely physical interaction between Martin and her audience made her body-in-performance passive; a silent, reflective receptacle for the audience’s light beams. As if trying to achieve more of a ‘result’ in terms of sound - or figure out the intellectual root of their involvement- the audience’s torch waving got more and more frantic. Perhaps, like me, the other torch bearers were fighting a surprisingly destructive urge – like a child in a museum with an interactive exhibit - to push Martin’s technologised body harder and faster until it ‘did something’ or broke.

Stumbling out of ‘Improv’ we were lead straight into Johanna Linsley’s ‘I’d rather die than die alone’; a complex instruction-based piece in which performers and selected audience members sat in a circle and silently passed notes to one another under the supervision of Linsley’s disquieting schoolmarmish persona. After 45 minutes the quiet note-passing ended in what can only described as a spoof freestyle contemporary dance; complete with po-faced writhing on the floor and dangerously flailing arms. All in all, ‘I’d rather die than die alone’ was long, slow, opaque and difficult. This is not necessarily pejorative. In a scene where artists frequently debase and dumb-down their work - searching for the next new thing to catch the imagination of an ever more saturated audience - slow, long, difficult and opaque is sometimes to be lauded. However, for those outside the circle, the feeling of exclusion and art school in-joke pervaded. From where I sat ‘I’d rather die than die alone’ looked like Linsley’s own brand of arduous Goat Island-style drama or the birth of a modish live art cult. No doubt both would have devoted followers.

Amidst all this traumatic coming and going, Geoff Hore Fazan was brave enough to provide the audience with four hours of light musical entertainment on the steps of the arts building. Complete with velvet suit, untidy moustache, mouth organ and acoustic guitar ‘Blowing in the Wind’ was undoubtedly Fazan’s tribute to Bob Dylan, performed on the anniversary of the singer songwriters’ birthday. But on the dirty, blustery Mile End Road Fazan’s gentle performance - including fun moments at the end of each page when he ran out of score – was a reminder that Folk music is a poignant and passive - but not apolitical - statement in a country at war, whether it is the US in the 1960’s or UK in 2008.

The EEC Platform ended with an outdoor session of ‘Mass Exercise with Nadia and Olga Sokolski’ of Performance Klub Fiskulturnik. With lurid tracksuits, stern facial expressions and loudhailers, the Sokolski sisters adopted the activities, slogans and pamphleteering of a communist political party and loudly herded audience members into doing a soviet style exercise regime in the Queen Mary University campus courtyard. The sisters’ artistic rally call for ‘An art that everyone can join in with, an art that is alive!’ is sincere and provides a much needed antidote to a plethora of commercial art world products. However, in their reliance upon a stereotype of 1970’s communistic Eastern Europe, together with the ubiquitous figure of the militaristic gym instructor, Mass Exercise is probably not as harmless as it seems. That said, it is hard to argue against great fun and good physical exercise in the form of live art.

Rachel Lois Clapham

For more information on EEC and a list of the selected artists in the 2008 line-up see http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/prof_dev/eec_everything/index.html

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