Monday, 31 October 2011

Trashing Performance (written by Mary Paterson)

image (c) Owen Parry

You have to call it something.

A small Cuban woman strides across stage in PVC. Metamorphosing from seventeenth century nun to British Bulldog, she bends her knees, juts out her chin and curls her melodic voice into a grumpy snarl. She turns and gives the audience a flash of her back, bare except for a bra worn the wrong way round, and quips: ‘Worth the entrance fee alone.’ [1]

You have to call it something, this self consciously playful two-fingers-up at the establishment, at academia, at gender, at expectations.

A skeletally thin man teeters in high heels and fish net stockings. He lifts his arms at the elbows, like a puppet, and lip synchs to a strong, American, female voice. The strong voice and the frail body mime a story of gender abuse. [2]

You have to call it something, this persistent, resistant caricature of identities and labels played out, for the most part, on women’s bodies, real and imagined.

A figure in a Burkha scuttles into the spotlight and swivels her eyes from side to side. The music starts up - swing music from the 1940s, the golden age of show business. The Burkha moves slightly, as if the woman is dancing. [3]

You have to call it something, because here it is, the performance programme of the second year of ‘Performance Matters’, a three year research collaboration between Goldsmiths, University of London, University of Roehampton, and the Live Art Development Agency.

So you call it trash performance.

Or perhaps, like Scottee, you command the theatre in a glittering jumpsuit and call it ‘light art’ – a mixture of live art and light entertainment. Art that is both enjoyable, he explains, and that ‘has a politic.’

‘We have a hashtag for tonight,’ says the man in the glittering jumpsuit, ‘It’s #bunchofcunts.’ He checks Twitter to find out what people have been saying about the show. It turns out the hashtag has a double life – it’s also used to describe the Conservative Party. [4]

Because if there’s one thing we’re all agreed on, we’re all agreed that this is not trash.

It’s not trash when Marcia Farquhar’s guests stand in a skip at the back of Toynbee Hall, delivering lectures on a subject they would like to trash, or keep from the trash.

Marcia cries into the fading light: ‘Is that nice man from last night back again?’ Luckily, he is. Enthused from a stay at the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest camp, he climbs into Marcia’s skip and tells us about his first performative intervention. [5]

It’s not trash when Nao Bustamante recalls the time she went on the Joan Rivers chat show disguised as ‘An Exhibitionist’, and unleashed the term ‘multi-gendered ambicentric individual’ into the world.

Two thirds of the way through a film of talking heads, Nao Bustamante’s lips stop moving in time with her words. A voice says ‘You literally cannot believe what you see,’ and a body speaks something else – silent, unknowable. [6]

image (c) Ben Walters

It’s not trash when Lois Weaver narrates her own autobiography, part drag queen, part university lecturer, in a selective history of political, sexual and artistic awakenings.

A woman peers over the top of her pink rimmed glasses and underneath her dramatic, blonde wig. She picks up a cupcake from a hostess trolley and flings it to the back of the auditorium. [7]

Of course, nobody ever said it was. The ‘Trash’ of ‘Trashing Performance’ is not a pejorative but a verb. The work in this programme trashes an other.

In the bar, audience members are writing the names of their favourite femmes on doilies. [8]

What is the other? You might call it the mainstream: the dominant messages beamed from television, universities or even three year collaborative research programmes.

Five energetic dancers are wearing T-shirts with an old man’s face emblazoned on the front. They finish. We clap. They come back for another bow. And another. There are more curtain calls than there is dancing. We clap. We cheer. The poster behind them screams, ‘Chekhov is not our dad!’ [9]

But no-one wants to give the other a name – there’s no need, because it’s always there, and it’s always shifting.

Vaginal Davis opens her eyes wide and pouts directly into the camera. She loves criticism, she says. She loves being rejected. ‘It means they’ve really been paying attention.’ [10]

Here among friends (we are friends, aren’t we?) and for now, we might call this trash. Trash is the word for good humoured resistance.

1. Carmelita Tropicana at Musing Muses And FeMUSEum Ribbon Cutting (Fri 28 Oct, Toynbee Studios)

2. Nando Messias, at EAT YOUR HEART OUT Presents Performance Doesn't Matter (Wed 26 Oct, Toynbee Studios)

3. Baghdad’s Got Talent, at Performance Doesn’t Matter

4. Scottee, at Performance Doesn’t Matter

5. Marcia Farquhar, Open University (27 – 29 Oct, Outside Toynbee Studios)

6. Nao Bustamante, in THIS IS NOT A DREAM dir. Gavin Butt and Ben Walters (premiere, 27 Oct, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club)

7. Lois Weaver at Musing Muses and FeMUSEum

8. Amy Lamé at Musing Muses and FeMUSEum

9. Figs in Wigs, at Performance Doesn’t Matter

10. Vaginal Davis, in THIS IS NOT A DREAM


Saturday, 8 October 2011

#dawnchorus - performance 16/10/11

#dawnchorus - tweeting the dawn - will be performed at dawn on Sunday 16th October 2011 (approximately 5:35am to 8am) on Twitter.

Participating writers are: Amber Massie-Bloomfield, Joanna Brown,Tiffany Charrington, Eddy Dreadnought, Sally Labern, Tamarin Norwood, Mary Paterson and Natasha Vicars.

#dawnchorus is conceived by Natasha Vicars and developed in collaboration with Mary Paterson and the writers, as part of the Live Art Development Agency's DIY6 programme. For more information, please email, or see us on Twitter.