Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Review: Inbetween Time Festival of Live Art and Intrigue

Photo: Oliver Rudkin - Ivana Muller, '60 Minutes of Opportunism', performance, 2010.

Inbetween Time Festival, Various Locations, Bristol, 2 - 5 December 2010

'What Next for the Body?' Arnolfini, 1 December 2010 - 6 February 2011
Ivana Muller: '60 Minutes of Opportunism', Wickham Theatre, 3 December 2010
Silvia Rimat: 'Imagine Me To Be There', Wickham Theatre, 4 December 2010
Jordan McKenzie: 'Holding My Breath', Arnolfini, 5 December 2010

This article was originally published in AN Magazine Written by Mary Paterson

In 37 Cuerpos by Teresa Margolles (part of the exhibition 'What Next for the Body?'), a single, bare thread divides the largest room in the gallery. Up close, you realise that it's not one thread, but many short ones knotted together. Each strand is fragile, frayed and dirty, like scraps of leather.

These are actually thirty-seven pieces of surgical thread, used to sew up the bodies of thirty-seven victims of violent death. As a gruesome relic the work fails to represent the lives of the victims, just as it failed to bring them back to life. But its weakness is what makes its physical presence so compelling. The thread divides the room in two as if on the brink of life and death, and represents the mysterious truth of our bodies - that they house life, but do not contain it.

'What Next for the Body?' is an exhibition about the body dissolving, breaking or breaking down. It sat at the centre of the Inbetween Time Festival, a four-day programme of 'live art and intrigue' taking place in art venues and public spaces across Bristol. It was also the name of one of the festival's curatorial strands; the other, 'D:Stable,' promised works that "thoroughly reject the conventions of theatre". These two rich and familiar problems created a dense programme that also suggested another recurring theme - the place of live, embodied presence in the modern world.

In 60 Minutes of Opportunism the choreographer Ivana Muller explores the relationship between her body, her identity and her persona. She is live onstage throughout, but her voice is heard in a sound recording played into the auditorium. This divides Muller in two: the person from the image, her past self (who made the recording) from the woman who is standing here now. Muller 'the image' slides between a collection of visual stereotypes - traveller, dancer, suicide bomber - the potency of each cliche as disturbing as the fluency of the movement. Meanwhile, her voice is beset with glitches and background noise that remind the audience that it's stuck in the past.

This dislocation is eerily familiar. It draws me into a type of looking that is baited by visual presence, and contextualised by words untethered in space or time. In other words, it's exactly like browsing the Internet, or flicking through channels on the TV.

Sylvia Rimat's Imagine Me To Be There brings the theatre show even closer to the computer. Rimat is alone on stage - cross-legged on the floor, eyes glued to her laptop. She begins to type and words appear on the screen behind her.


The skill of Rimat's performance lies in the way she marries the magic of the theatre with the fantasies of the virtual. When she writes about the lights fading in the auditorium, they really do. Of course, we know she doesn't control them - but the device is clever enough to suspend the audience's disbelief. Which means that when Rimat writes about wearing a bear suit, we're inclined to indulge that fantasy as well. And when she writes directions for the audience, we happily play along.

At a Curator's panel on 4th December, an audience member suggested that video streaming and online technologies should replace live events. Given the obvious debt these two performances have with digital modes of representation, it's hard to disagree. Both are in fact about performing - Muller begins by telling us she was asked to make a performance in which she appears on stage, and Rimat's show is effectively a deconstruction of theatre. But their relationships to more proverbial and accessible forms of representation beg the question: why does theatre (with or without its conventions) matter?

I found an answer by returning to the disappearance of things. In Holding My Breath, the third in a trilogy of performances by Jordan McKenzie, the artist stands in a small room with cupped hands, holding the attention of eight or ten strangers who watch water drip through his fingers. We match each other's breathing, listen to the rustle of each other's clothes and feel the concentration thread through McKenzie's body.

This is the meaning of shared presence - its fragility. Value (to paraphrase the writer Eva Hoffman) is scarcity measured in time. Just as the threads in 37 Cuerpos resonate with what they cannot represent, so the time we strangers have together describes the distance between us, and the times we won't share.

This precarious and temporal balance between the known and the unknown is also the space Muller uses to dissect contemporary modes of looking, instead of just recycling them. When she says she is going to do something 'dangerous' - and starts smoking - it really is dangerous because it affects the precious and finite bodies of everyone that is looking. Similarly, when Rimat gives the audience a knife, she is not streaming a relationship with strangers, nor representing it. She's testing it out.

Perhaps it's telling, however, that McKenzie is dressed in 1930s costume - suit, waistcoat, waxed moustache. This cherished affirmation is emphatically old fashioned - as if being 'live' is no longer part of daily life, but a relic of the past.

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