Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Review of 'Useful Knowledge to Know' By Chloé Déchery and Chris Eley

Photo (c) Toby Farrow

Camden People's Theatre, London. Wednesday 30th September 2009

There are three things you need to know about Chloé Déchery. One, she is French. Two, she is a lecturer. Three, she is not a dancer.

Alone onstage, Déchery repeats this refrain throughout Useful Knowledge to Know, an hour long duet between her and the sounds and images provided by Chris Eley. But the show is less about knowledge, than how it is delivered. Together, Déchery and Eley quote from a collection of frameworks for knowledge, including theatrical forms (dance, storytelling, lectures, and the now-ubiquitous performance-lecture) and languages made up of movements and words (English, French, British Sign Language). The result is a cumulative network of ways of understanding whose forms – if not their functions – feel familiar, like a half-remembered dream.

But this is a troubling kind of dream – the kind in which sense disintegrates before your eyes. There are three things you need to know about her, Déchery insists again. The trouble is, none of them tells us anything. She is a Frenchwoman speaking English. She is a lecturer who addresses us informally. She is not a dancer, but she makes the gestures of dance. Perhaps there is a gap between what Déchery says, and what Déchery means, like the story she tells about two lovers who speak different languages. In this story, it is not difference that defeats meaning, but the similarity between words. One lover, for example, understands the business of an ‘affair’ in French; but the meaning of the word in English, breaks the other lover’s heart. The tragedy is not that words have different meanings, but that each person assumes there is only one.

This is a phenomenon that Déchery calls ‘false friends’. She warns us that the ambivalence of false friends makes them dangerous, but reassures us that the story is fiction - an untruthful way to describe wavering truth. Weaving deftly between different kinds of knowledge and use in this way, Useful Knowledge to Know dissolves the possibility of one true meaning, which means dire consequences for the very fabric of life and love. It also means that the artists have to stage a kind of magic trick – to produce the problems of language, while retaining the language to speak.

Of course, dissolving one true meaning is not the same as dissolving meaning itself. Déchery’s personal refrain, for example, has a partial relationship to the truth, but it is a relationship nevertheless. One, she is French. Two, she is a lecturer. Three, she is not a dancer. Even when her actions step away from these details – through contradiction, perhaps, or irrelevance – the details still frame everything that Déchery does. Is it more or less thrilling to see dances snake through the body of a non-professional? Is it more or less inviting to be greeted, informally, by a woman who lectures to a stiff-seated hall? Once Déchery offers a piece of information, it is impossible to forget. Everything else that happens must be strung back to these ideas, and they create a kind of reputation; an ever-present reputation, which supersedes any claim to truth. They become fact, for the time being, even if it is of a demonstratively non-factual kind.

While Useful Knowledge to Know explores the weaknesses of communication systems, then, it also creates a communication system of its own. As well as her refrain about herself, Déchery tells the audience about the rest of the show. She performs gestures that are coming up, and describes the shape of what’s to follow. At one point, she strokes the back of a chair and tells us that she will do ‘this’, ‘later on’. Heavy with physical concentration, her act is rooted to the present. But her words expect the future. This pattern of anticipation is like the structure of an academic essay – in which the introduction outlines concluding points. And it is like some kinds of physical comedy – where the punchline is signalled well in advance. But here, it is performed using speech and gesture. The result is a compelling internal logic that both drives forward Useful Knowledge to Know, and contains its audience’s attention. The piece constructs its own method of communication, in other words, which not only draws the boundaries of imaginative space, but also keeps the audience inside.

And yet every so often, the performance stops.

Déchery steps towards the audience. The lights rise in the auditorium and we are lifted out of the safety of darkness.

Déchery urges the audience to consider our surroundings – look at the people sitting nearby, listen to the rise and fall of our breath. For a few tense moments, the responsibility of being in this space is thrown to the collection of strangers who came here to watch.

Eventually, Déchery retakes control. The lights dim and she returns to centre stage.

Like other elements that combine to make the show, these moments of near-rupture are repeated. Each time, they break down the ‘fourth wall’, the imaginary theatrical barrier that separates the passive audience from the active performance onstage. And it is at these moments that Useful Knowledge to Know comes closest to complete disintegration. Shifting nervously in our seats, the audience senses the delicacy of this whole performance, and the structures of meaning that are its subject. Déchery is suddenly vulnerable at the edge of the stage, and Eley’s visuals are no longer in sight.

What would happen if I ignored the performers? What if I lay on the floor with my fingers in my ears? What really stops me from breaking this experience into tiny, personal fragments, and running away? The architects of the performance have suddenly surrendered control, and now no-one can see what the building was made of.

The answer is as simple as it is small – willing. The audience is sitting here because we want to listen and watch. We are all willing to acknowledge Useful Knowledge to Know as a way of communicating, even before we know what it communicates. In this context, what counts as ‘useful knowledge’ is not that Déchery tells us she’s French, for example, but that she is addressing us at all.

It turns out that the duet between Déchery and Eley needs the audience’s willing to come to life. It amounts to a kind of faith, or perhaps a reputation, and finally makes sense of the show’s tautological title. You might think that knowledge is, by definition, known. But the knowledge that this show refers to is constantly coming into being – not as fact, but as a type of productive communication. That is why, when the performers throw responsibility into the audience they not only threaten the sovereignty of the show, but also generate its power. If communication is based on an act of faith, then the shiver of danger that the performance might collapse, is also the incentive to believe that it will continue. When the lights dim and the performance returns, I lean forward to believe with greater conviction.

written by Mary Paterson

Conference: Sculpture & Performance

Henry Moore Institute & Tate Liverpool
24 – 26 March 2010

This three day conference will explore the complex relationship between sculpture and performance over the last century, acknowledging that what sculpture means today is partially indebted to the impact of so-called ‘performance art’. Speakers will focus on and expand upon the histories of inter-connections - constructive and destructive, divisive and codependent - and examine our expanded contemporary understandings of the two. The conference is international in scope and includes papers from artists, historians of art and performance and curators, as well as live performances, with the extension of dialogues through discussion. We are pleased to confirm the following speakers:

Wednesday 24 March, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 2-7.30pm

Then and Now: Sculpture & Performance in the US
Presentations by Joh Welchman, Malgorzata Lisiewicz

Object, Agency, and Relations
Presentations by Aura Satz, Pil and Galia Kollectiv, Bertrand Clavez

Followed by a performance by Florian Kaplick

Thursday 25 March, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, 9.30am-7pm

Actions and interventions: the Politics of Public Sculpture and Performance
Presentations by Irene Gerogianni,Maxa Zoller, Erin Aldana, Dan Watt, Katalin T. Nagy

Sculpture, Dance, and Choreography
Presentations by Monty Paret, Gary Stevens, Stephanie Rosenthal,Jenn Joy

The day will include a performance by Michael Dean and the screening of a new film work by Krysten Cunningham, both former Henry Moore Institute Research Fellows.

Friday 26 March, Tate Liverpool, 12-6.30pm
Presentations by Brian Catlin, Heike Roms,Pierre Saurisse, Hayley Newman, Mel Brimfield,

The cost for the full 3 day event will be £45, or £15 to attend a single day (concessions half-price). To book a place contact Kirstie Gregory, kirstie@henry-moore.ac.uk, at the Henry Moore Institute - seating is limited. For more information about the two venues visit www.henry-moore.ac.uk and www.tate.org.uk/liverpool.

Monday, 25 January 2010



Speaking Out

Image © Ellen Moffat
The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice
Saturday 6 February 2010, 10.30–17.30

This symposium focuses on the use of the spoken word in artistic practice and its manifestations in sonic and audiovisual art works. Taking the lead from the recently published anthology of works Playing with Words: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice, this event encompasses performances, talks and conversations by artists and researchers who employ spoken words as their material and inspiration.

Contributors include Tomomi Adachi, Caroline Bergvall, David Toop, Imogen Stidworthy, Brandon LaBelle, Oswaldo Macià and Trevor Wishart.
In collaboration with CRISAP, Creative Research into Sound Art Practice, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London

Tate Modern Starr Auditorium
£25 (£15 concessions), booking recommended
For tickets book online
or call 020 7887 8888.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

ANTI - Contemporary Art Festival 2010

Call for proposals

ANTI Festival 2010 will focus on textual, written and language-based responses to site specificity. We encourage artists working across a range of media to consider the following areas of enquiry, these include, but are not limited to:

Page and screen-based responses to site - contextual approaches to publication and dissemination
Mapping and mark-making - geographic and topographic textual processes
Inscription - the materiality of writing
Language and translation - nationhood and place
Writing as performance - live writing as contextual and site-based practice
Performance texts and site-based processes - spatial/contextual engagement and live utterance
ANTI - Contemporary Art Festival will be held in Kuopio, Finland between Sept 29th - Oct 3rd 2010.
ANTI is an international contemporary arts festival presenting site-specific works made for public space. Over the past eight years ANTI has presented live, sonic, visual and text-based art from today's most exciting and innovative artists. A truly international festival and Finland's foremost presenter of Live Art, ANTI is a meeting place for artists and audiences fascinated by how art shapes and responds to the places and spaces of everyday life.

ANTI's emphasis is on site-specificity. The festival understands this term in an expanded sense; proposals may suggest works that deal with a site geographically, culturally or by association etc. The proposal form asks artists to state their preferred site for their project. Please think carefully about where and how a project will be sited. The festival will undertake all negotiations to allow projects to use public/private space. Please remember that ANTI does not programme works for gallery or theatre spaces.

As ANTI festival takes place in public space it is essential proposals consider a site's pre-existing 'audience'; be they passers-by, customers or residents. Alongside those who purposely visit the festival, a substantial part of ANTI's audience are members of the public who come across the works by chance.

Proposal form

All proposals must be sent using the electronic form. The form allows a link to be made to any online documentation artists may have of their work and for artists to attach their CV and one image of their work. In addition ONE piece of supporting material (i.e. DVD, CD-ROM) can be submitted as hardcopy. The supporting materials will not be returned!

The proposal deadline is February 19th 2010.

Please send your supporting material, clearly marked with your name and project title, to:
ANTI - Contemporary Art Festival
Minna Canthin katu 4, 4th Floor
70100 Kuopio, Finland.

All materials must reach the above address by February 19th 2010. Further information: info@antifestival.com, +358 50 3052 485.


Monday, 18 January 2010

OXHOUSE the alphabet is launched!

image: M is for Memory, by Mark Caffrey

An online alphabet made for and about the digital native; by Clare Adams

A digital native is a person for whom digital technologies already exist when they are born, and hence has or will grow up with digital technology such as the internet, mobile phones, social networking sites etc.

Showcasing works from 26 diverse artists from all over the world in a variety of mediums from performance to illustration, who have responded to the following:

What are and will be the implications of the digital world on our digital natives?
What gift would you give to the digital native about to be born into our digital world?
Each artist proposed a piece of work for a letter of the alphabet then came up with a word to represent the letter and made a piece of work in response with a message or definition for the digital native.

OXHOUSE marks a time in history where subsequent generations born will not remember life before the digital world. The alphabet is a guide to our own feelings about this from ACTION to ZERO and the things in between... distance, luggage, memory, thread, yet ...

curated by Justin Allen, supported by The Arts Council of England