And Where Did You Say The Performances Ended?: Hatch at Hazard (Part Three)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

While the remit in these notes is to cover the activities of Hatch, the Hazard Festival obviously contained many performances besides those that had travelled to Manchester’s St Ann’s Square by bus from Nottingham that morning. If I’d been a casual observer, out to enjoy the Saturday sunshine on a busy shopping precinct, the carnivalesque air around the area would have been obvious from the moment I’d turned the corner and found myself confronted by anything from a stall offering ‘experimental snacks’ to a mermaid in the square’s fountain, from conspiracy theorists on soapboxes to walking signboards that read We All Look The Same In The Rain and Smile At The Next Person You See. Fake protests broke out, someone moved a set of goalposts back and forth for several hours, groups of people chased one another inexplicably around, their backs covered in small stickers, while four women from Lembrança UK lined up in orange Guantanamo Bay style jumpsuits. Harald Smylka offered to draw your portrait over the Queen’s face on a banknote while a parodically moustachioed French detective presided over a stall promising to solve mysteries outside the steps of the Royal Exchange.

So it went on, through the afternoon. Walking the length of St Ann’s Square repeatedly, it became difficult to think of the Hatch performances as taking place separately from everything else that was going on, especially as several Hazard participants were also veterans of earlier Hatch events. Katherina Radeva offered one example, trading in the ‘nudie’ apron she was wearing at Hatch: Scratch for some bright pink lycra sportswear but retaining her ability to impress and terrify in roughly equal measure with her remorseless effort to drag audiences, by force if necessary, into having fun: the dating gameshow she and her Two Destination Language partner Alister Lownie had devised for Scratch might have been replaced with a mass hula-hoop workout, but the sense of pressurised participation remained very much intact here, in another city entirely. Perhaps Radeva’s combination of crowds, hoops and sports was intended to make some sly connection with the rather larger exercise in mass sporting participation taking place in London this summer, though whether Radeva intends her presence to be read as an affectionate echo or a critical comment on the Olympics (and sports in culture more generally) is a question left largely open: it could be taken either way by individual observers or participants, depending on their starting view of the Olympics themselves.

Sean Burn also resurfaced at Hazard with a rather different piece to the one he performed at Embrace Arts, cracking up , this time round presenting espoir, a simple performance that nonetheless possessed a similarly layered quality to its predecessor at Scratch. As Burn stood in the street, barefoot, wearing boxing gloves and holding out a single long-stemmed carnation with a beatific expression on his face – half framed in a doorway, half in the path of pedestrians – he created something akin to the iconic image of the Holy Fool, whose presence exposes something about the attitudes of those who encounter him. Watching crowds filing past him, noone taking the flower he seemed to be offering, I wondered if taking it might trigger some next stage in the performance. When I did take the flower and ask ‘what happens now?’, Burn simply replied ‘nothing’, opened the briefcase he had beside him, and took out another flower, identical to the one I now had in my hand, before resuming his pose, exactly as before. Clearly, Burn isn’t a man to overcomplicate things, but his knack of creating memorably unexpected presences is self-evident. As for that flower, it ended up participating in Simon Raven‘s performance outside Barclays Bank slightly later in the day.

Fellow Hatch bus traveller Amelia Beavis-Harrison was also present in the streets, with the debut performance of The Lion and the Unicorn, a playful durational exercise in frustration, competition and heraldry that – like Radeva’s hula-hoop gatherings – may or may may not have been intended to refer obliquely to the impending Olympic Games and the various ways in which ideas of ‘competition’, ‘spectacle’ and ‘fun’ are constantly yoked together in consumer culture. Harrison and a colleague dressed in faux-medieval costumes as the Lion and the Unicorn both strain endlessly against bungee ropes to seize the ‘crown’ (a colourful array of ribbons attached to a post) in a re-enactment of an old rhyme, possibly an authentic one, possibly one created by the Victorians to establish an idea of tradition for which no evidence existed, possibly one cobbled together by Harrison herself for the purpose of giving this performance a veneer of ancient lineage: “The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown/The lion beat the unicorn all around the town…” Perhaps it doesn’t really matter when it comes to these continually manufactured and altered national traditions, since a kind of political fabrication is nearly always at the heart of them, and it’s the quality of Beckett-like futility that emerges from the piece that remains its strongest suit, a sense that these tethered legendary beasts are fated to pointlessly strive and eternally fail to seize the prize they’re only apparently being offered for as long they don’t realise their restraining leashes could be undone or cut. Within this, the little rituals and warm-ups, the stretches and rests, become echoes of our own coping mechanisms as we, too, strain to reach the only theoretically available prizes in life.

These three performances, selected from the many on offer, each in its different way seemed to comment obliquely on the consumer culture surrounding the performances in St Ann’s Square more widely. It was certainly noticeable that, standing in the middle of the Hazard site and looking around, a full house of banking institutions and corporate brands, from McDonald’s to Starbucks and Barclays Bank, could be seen, and moving along the street during the day, the borderlines around Hazard itself became blurred as we encountered more traditional kinds of busker and street performer, from the tall gentleman on stilts pretending to be a white statue, and coming to life only when someone put money in his hat, to another man whose raincoat and tie were wired to give the appearance of cartoon-like motion while he remained perfectly frozen in time. A classical pianist performed elaborate pieces on a farfisa organ, gigantic childrens’ windmills lined up outside the glass facade of a department store and it seemed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama had created the window displays for a branch of Louis Vuitton, outside which a street painter lined up small canvases for sale offering portraits of cultural icons like Tommy Cooper, Heath Ledger’s Joker and Bruce Lee.  In a sort of final culmination of the sense I was getting of the city itself as a kind of vast commercial theatre, the street fell away towards a large redeveloped area occupied by a gigantic fake-medieval building – like a huge film set in itself – which had been made the (possibly temporary) home to several pubs and cafes.

Where did all this everyday urban consumer theatre leave the actual public performances of Hazard, Hatch and the Larkin’ About participants, contained in the vicinity of St Ann’s Square? Perhaps as further distractions for shoppers, perhaps as a commentary on the wider theatre of the city itself, perhaps as a series of small spaces in the commercial landscape where it became conceivable to think about other possibilities and act differently, even if only briefly, in a familiar space. Perhaps the simple difference that nothing at Hatch or Hazard was for sale, and money from audiences was refused at every turn, offered a small glimpse of another way of doing things? Perhaps, too, there was the same sense of trying to work out where the performances ended as there was with regard to where they began. When Hazard wound down at 5pm, and the performers – those officially billed in the Hazard programme and those seen around the edges, performing more traditional kinds of busking and marketing – began to clear themselves from the street, I was approached by two men carrying leaflets, asking how I thought the Universe had come into being. They turned out to be religious evangelists, seeking converts, but might just as easily have fitted somewhere in the Hazard programme with their strange logic, stories of mobile phones spontaneously created from desert sand and willingness to debate the exact nature of randomness with complete strangers.

Later still, on the final leg of our return journey, there was an unscheduled performance when a man leapt into the road to wave us down on the edge of Nottingham city centre, diverting us down a steep and very narrow street, where parked cars on both sides made progress a slow affair involving knocking on doors to bring out householders for apologetic games of musical vehicles in order to clear a path home for our vintage bus, still emblazoned with invitations to visit Skegness and try Shipstone’s Ales. Or was the very last performance of the day when we had unloaded everything, made our way to a Sneinton pub and found ourselves walking into a crowd of regulars carrying the foam-rubber unicorn’s head that Amelia Beavis-Harrison had been performing in during the afternoon? As with the starting points, it was impossible to pinpoint exactly where the Hatch outing to Hazard could be said to have ended.

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