Hatch Twelve: Jenny Duffy and Massive Owl

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Jenny Duffy and Massive Owl: The MOBB Project

Hatch is unusual among live art platforms in not worrying too much about categories and one case in point at Twelve is the inclusion of Massive Owl, a Bristol based company whose roots lie at least as much in theatre and comedy as in the wilder experimental realms more usually covered at events like this. The set-up here is that the audience takes seats in a square, enclosing a performance space, but initially, at least, no performers are seen. Somewhat abruptly, a young man carries his chair into the centre, then seats himself immediately in front of an audience member, makes direct one-to-one eye contact and begins to tell a faintly familiar story about a boy named David, sitting in a car…


As he continues to tell his story, a young woman pulls her chair to face another audience member and starts to describe a man named George, who is very powerful, and gives an account of his day at a school. A third voice begins to talk over the others, until finally all five performers have revealed themselves and we begin to recognise snippets of the material as riffs on a variety of once-viral YouTube footage, ranging from George Bush being told about the attack on the Pentagon on the day of 9/11 (and his immediate retreat into My Pet Goat in front of a class of schoolchildren) to well-known episodes from The Jerry Springer Show.


The routines take the form of repeated phrases and descriptions, each time presented in a different way: as straight verbal description, as emotive re-enactment, as arguments and shouting matches, mute exaggerated synchronised facial expressions, and – gradually – increasingly confused blurrings of one piece of material with another in a classic YouTube mash-up format, where George Bush ends up on Jerry Springer, and a kind of structured chaos reigns, not least in the sense that virtual material is here being reconfigured as live performance. The techniques deployed are fairly unashamedly theatrical, so perhaps the contrast of online sources and theatrical methods is part of the point underlying The MOBB Project.


At certain points the session felt like a deconstructed acting class, where different emotions, expressions and performance styles were being tried out, or played off against one another, though that might have had as much to do with the way the room resembled a workshop or studio than anything inherent in the piece (Duffy later told me that performances in other kinds of spaces, like bars, have worked very differently). I only saw one performance of the four presented during Hatch: Twelve, so can’t say if the versions differed or ended up mashing-up against and remixing one-another as well as the YouTube clips from which all the material came: it would certainly make sense if they had.

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