Slice, Dice, Cut, Walk and Dance: Frank Abbott, fourbeatwalk and Mamoru Iriguchi

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The first double bill in a new season of Hatch performances, this time going under the banner of Hatching Space, saw Frank Abbott’s Spaghetti Powerpoint at the Broadway Cinema connected to London-based Japanese artist Mamoru Iriguchi’s Projector/Conjector at Nottingham Playhouse in a kind of technological duet. Curiously, while both performances foregrounded technological elements, both drew on the lexicons of decidedly analogue forms for their framing and subject matter while striking broadly elegaic notes. Perhaps they could best be understood as a pair of love-letters to celluloid cinema and live theatre  rather than the heralds of any utopian techno-future.

Frank Abbott has been a regular Hatch performer in recent years, taking his slide projectors, shopping trolley and portable screens out into the winter landscape to project images of summer at Hatch: Fresh, for example, or constructing a little illuminated train out of light bulbs, hand-carved cereal boxes and washing-up liquid bottles to accompany a procession from Leicester’s Embrace Arts to the Y Theatre as part of the same event. He’s made endless reiterations of a single joke, mapped recordings of spaces occupied in the past onto those he’s performing in, and his aesthetic generally leans towards a Blue Peter sense of household improvisation rather than the Apple Corp slickness often found elsewhere in digital arts. If Abbott has a mission, perhaps it’s about bringing digital pretensions crashing to earth and exploring the ways technology succeeds and fails in its promise to perfect unreliable human memory.

That sense of scrambled recollection certainly seemed a key part of Spaghetti Powerpoint‘s agenda, and the performance consisted of Abbott himself screening a (perhaps justly) forgotten Italian Western from the 1960s, Adios Gringo!, while continually interrupting its narrative flow with personal reflections on seeing it at a long demolished Leicester cinema in the 1960s, demonstrations of an extensive array of cutting, slicing and other sharp-edged food preparation tools and gimmicks, and some cinematic devices of his own, imported to conceal the plot holes and heighten the drama of this otherwise clunky revenge story. Perhaps it’s the best way to see a film like this: a highly constructed version of the experience we’ve all had at some point, of watching some terrible DVD with friends who’ll insist on pausing the action, fast-forwarding the dull sections and talking over entire scenes where the loss of continuity does nothing to undermine the sketchiest of plots.

One audience member at Spaghetti Powerpoint is required to press a button whenever someone dies, adding another bullethole to the screen each time, as though keeping score in a computer game. At other points, a second screen juxtaposes sun-baked desert confrontations with images of demolished cinemas, or marks the cuts between the hero and his pursuers during a chase scene with the words HOORAY! and BOO! as though saving the audience the trouble of direct participation. The film itself, directed and written by Giorgio Stegani under the Americanised pseudonym George Finley, is a copy of a copy, every scene like a hollow echo of a scene in another film, the lead actors running through standardised lines and actions: even the music is a recognisable (though admittedly rather impressive) pastiche of Ennio Morricone’s more famous scores by Benedetto Ghiglia.

The characters are so generic, in fact, that Abbott introduces a series of very personal descriptive types to differentiate them: “…the doctor from a Luis Bunuel film walks over to the man who looks like my friend from school, while George Bush Jnr is talking to someone who I think was once in Coronation Street or Eastenders…”, Abbott tells us, and somehow, while we’re listening, the characterisations make perfect sense of – perhaps even add depth to – the entirely generic scenario we’re otherwise watching. Abbott’s approach throughout reminded me of the Situationist tactic of détournement, the method by which Wild West comic books and film stills were repurposed as political tracts in the 1950s, and its influence on Jean Luc-Godard’s cinematic methods in the later 1960s; there’s also an echo of the 1970s work done with copies-of-copies of Marlboro Cowboy advertisements by the American artist Richard Prince (who himself appropriated the subject from earlier appropriations by James Welling).

Perhaps the performance punchline, riffing on the shared use of the word ‘cutting’ for both celluloid editing and food preparation (explaining the interludes on Abbott’s extensive personal collection of slicers, dicers, cubing gadgets and peelers that have run through the whole piece) also echoes Richard Prince, this time the series of paintings of jokes he made from the 1980s onwards, every one lifted from some routine publication, and all as second-hand and inevitable in their lurch for the obvious gag as each other. With the film itself being an echo of an echo of a pastiche of a cliche in the same way, maybe Abbott’s presentation suggests that it’s only by layering a work of industrial mass entertainment like Adios Gringo! into an idiosyncratic narrative of the viewer’s own devising that it can carry any meaning at all for an audience coming to it half a century after the passing of its sell-by date.

The notion of personal memory or concealed history layered onto an all too familiar route also underscored the two audio-guides recorded by fourbeatwalk to bridge the distance between the two venues at which tonight’s double bill was taking place. Maps were provided and we had the choice of two very different voices to lead us from Broadway to Nottingham Playhouse, the informative and laconic tones of Chris Matthews, who took us on a circuitous path through the architecture, history and radicalism of the city, or a somewhat earthier personal account of the drinking dens, nightclubs, encounters and characters that have combined, down the years, to shape LeftLion editor Al Needham’s very distinctive take on the place. The weather didn’t help (I had to abandon the tour somewhere around the ornate facade of Watson Fothergill’s office when torrential rain began hammering down) but luckily both audioguides can still be found on the Hatch website, downloaded into a mobile phone or mp3 player, and followed at your own leisure.

On arrival at the Nottingham Playhouse’s studio theatre and rehearsal space, a black box situated high above the Sky Mirror on Wellington Circus, we encountered two figures laid out on the stage with their bare feet touching, like reflections of one-another. When the lights went down, and the two characters began to move, they silently introduced themselves as a male Projector, played by the female Selina Papoutseli, and a female Conjector, or screen, played by the male author of the piece, Mamoru Iriguchi. A precisely executed blend of dance, technology and mime followed, reminiscent at some points of silent cinema, at others of the kind of performance cabaret pioneered by people like Robert Wilson in New York during the 1970s and 1980s. Like Abbott’s piece, Projector/Conjector seemed to be framing its technology in past rather than current media and idioms.

Above all, its structure followed that of the ballet, Swan Lake, a point elaborated with music, animation, and by way of a narrative that saw Iriguchi’s Conjector and Papoutseli’s Projector moving through the major acts of the original Swan Lake storyline in a series of playful, absurd and occasionally touching variations on a theme that was precisely mapped onto its source but not always as immediately recognisable as you might expect, despite the familiarity of the occasional musical cue. But perhaps the link to Swan Lake was less significant than the allusions to cartoons, as dialogue happens in speech bubbles, rockets leave their screens and fly around the auditorium before landing on a planet being projected elsewhere, rudimentary swans are glimpsed on an animated lake, and knives, swords and scalpels cross betwen digital and real worlds.

The end result is a slight, sweet natured piece that borders on whimsy, but has just enough darkness in the mix to avoid outright tweeness: rather like Swan Lake itself, in fact. As with the actors in Frank Abbott’s source film, Adios Gringo!, it also seemed important that these characters, too, rarely let their facial expressions slip out of neutral, giving a deadpan feel to the performances that heightens the humour and absurdity in ways that more expressive characterisations would almost certainly have lost. At times, Projector/Conjector had the same blend of stone-faced acting, technical precision and ridiculous humour as a Buster Keaton short, which is high praise indeed, and if its aspirations leaned towards the gently playful rather than the more obviously profound, that’s only to say it offered a lighter and airier confection than the one we might have been expecting.


1 Response to “Slice, Dice, Cut, Walk and Dance: Frank Abbott, fourbeatwalk and Mamoru Iriguchi”

  1. 1 May 6 2011: | The Serendipity Project Trackback on Monday at 12:37 am

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