Hatch Mass: Badgers, Bad Apples, Bare Earth and Going Out With A Bang

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Mass is a noun: an accumulation of objects, people and actions; a Critical Mass of energy and ideas. Mass is also a verb: we mass into one place, coming together as jellyfish might in an ocean or swarming bees might in the air (just before they choose to attack Michael Caine in one of his ‘just doing it for the money’ 1970s film roles) or as Catholic communicants in Church (to mass at Mass, perhaps?). So does any of this signify that Hatch: Mass is more than a mere pun on the Christmas with which it (sort of) coincides, or does Hatch: Mass signal an intent to close the year’s programme with a spiritual benediction of left-field performance, a gathering and cleansing of our spirits ready for revolt, submission or the End Of The World, a prediction widely confused between the 12/12/12 date of Hatch: Mass and the 21/12/12 winter solstice?

Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes) (5)

What follows here, reported from memory a couple of weeks after the platform took over Spanky Van Dyke’s, with the hindsight that it’s already 2013 and the world appears to remain very much with us, is less an attempt to comprehensively document the final event of the Hatching Space programme than a kind of immersion in its convolutions, possible meanings and relationships to the history of Hatch, a platform that was itself born in chaos and with Hatch: Mass returns to its originating state in the context of a non-theatrical venue where performance and reality collide. Like particles inside the Large Hadron Collider the results can be unpredictable and the impressive (if confusingly complex) structure producing them is the product of collaboration across borders and between disciplines.

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes) (11)

While on the subject of the LHC, I imagine that it would amuse the ladies of Eggs Collective no end (or at least, the lairy characters they adopt) to know that one of the Large Hadron Collider’s first discoveries was a new particle state relating to the bottom quark called (in finest Viz comic style) Bottomonium. If there were intimations of Apocalypse at Hatch: Mass, then Eggs Collective could be said to have appointed themselves its Four Horsemen, though in the event it turned out they’d arrived without any horses and very definitely not in the form of men. During their intermittent appearances through the night they stagger onto tables, fall off tables, sing terrible anthems, hug everyone in the room, drag bystanders into the ladies’ toilets for drinking and arguments, and are convincingly ‘in character’ whenever they get started.

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

As they note on the programme, “we’re going to drag you down to our level and if you think this is art you’re sadly mistaken”. It’s a promise they prove more than capable of delivering on, to the point that someone asks why we’re watching them when we could walk over to Market Square and see dozens, if not hundreds, of women very like them in action, right now, at this very moment. The point, perhaps, is that they manifest a truth that isn’t always obvious in the maelstrom of the threatening, annoying real world where there’s no opportunity to look closely or objectively. It’s not just that they mean us no harm, but that it’s not really about us at all. These girls are for one-another and the rest of us look on and think whatever we like, knowing that it makes not a blind bit of difference to any of them.

Eve (aka Ali Matthews) at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

The ‘bad girl’ theme continued as Eve (of Garden of Eden and Original Sin fame) offered one-to-one confessionals in a dimly lit corner of the bar, asking visitors about their regrets and guilty secrets in exchange for apples with “embrace original sin” and her autograph written on their skins. Ali Matthews, aka The Bitchuationist, made the process of seducing her visitors into forgiving our own (and her) sins thoroughly engaging, and played neatly on the idea that in the modern world, the fallen woman possesses a power and appeal that would – were the Bible ever replayed across current media formats – ensure Eve herself a long career of personal appearances, celebrity interviews and opportunistic autobiographies, biopics and record contracts fit to make the likes of Madonna blush at the opportunism.

Eve (aka Ali Matthews) at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

Like her celebrity descendants, Eve is here to help with personal advice while dismissing the Old Testament as biased press coverage. God wanted her to take that apple, whatever he says now, and if he hadn’t intended it to happen, well he wouldn’t have created Adam impotent and made the Serpent so damn sexy, would he? In the one-to-one context of a seemingly casual exchange across a bar Matthews makes all this very convincing, so it’s a shame that the later more polished stage version, presented as the Hatch: Mass finale in an upstairs room, is a more detached affair, the songs and routines presented like an accomplished sketch for an unlikely Broadway musical, but with much of that earlier feeling of a blurred reality and a personal connection lost to a more conventional kind of cabaret performance.

Harry Giles at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

But in a context like this, a lot can get lost. I didn’t manage to locate Arletty Theatre‘s Patchwork Lives while Jo Bannon‘s Exposure, a one-to-one performance, was already fully booked up when I arrived. First Floor Theatre‘s Our Front Room was present on the mezzanine, an immersive reconstruction of a Jamaican/English living room, but the general noise of the sometimes unsympathetic environment meant key instructions on the audio headsets were missed as I explored it: while I saw the setting and heard the reminiscences, the audience didn’t get to see the actions being performed in their correct sequence or precise order by me as I explored it. How far this mattered is a moot point, when the affectionately told love story at the heart of the piece did convey itself strongly enough to suggest the participatory aspects may not have been entirely necessary anyway.

Rodchenko & Popova Revolutionary Poster

More capable of rising above the general clatter and crowds were two incitements to revolution, of sorts. In Performance Klub Fistkulturnik‘s Yugo Yoga participants were led through a strenuous Communist exercise class, complete with screenings of mass athletic displays and a woman who seemed to have stepped from one of Rodchenko’s revolutionary posters of the 1920s leading her crowd through a range of exercises designed to discipline mind and body alike. Something of a one-liner, Yugo Yoga nevertheless conflated corporate team-building regimes and Jane Fonda workouts with cod-revolutionary propaganda, though having noted the ironic parallels it didn’t seem to carry its ideas far beyond that initial – albeit significant – point. Besides, it gave the audience an opportunity to work off the beers and (highly recommended) Spanky Van Dyke’s burgers and prepare for the second half of the evening.

Klub Fistulturnik at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

Harry GilesSurplus Value offered a similar note on current ideology, taking its cue from Monopoly to devise a new game – using fake money and a mountain of Lego – in which players were assigned to the roles of Workers and Banker, but which the Workers could never win no matter how brilliantly, conscientiously or skilfully they played. Giles suggested that its origins lay in a kind of curiosity, about the way the Banker almost always, whatever his or her personal beliefs, began to behave autocratically and exploited the advantages of the role, even though there was no rule to forbid taking more egalitarian approaches. Meanwhile, the Workers, failing to get ahead even when meeting and exceeding targets, just try ever harder until the game is completely lost: an economic microcosm played out around a pub table.

Jasmine Lovey at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

Jasmine LoveysIt’s a Badger Trap took a whimsical premise – Loveys’ rediscovery of her childhood badger ornaments and obsessions just at the moment when real badgers were being threatened by a massive cull – and proceeded to build a slightly awkward amalgam of show-and-tell, The Price is Right, Antiques Roadshow and earnest campaigning, around a large table covered in ceramic badgers of every kind. Moving from a lecture on the cull to an auction in which nothing was for sale, things came to an (il)logical conclusion with Loveys’ possession by badgers, manifested in a dance performed in badger pyjamas, mittens and slippers: it may not have been a dignified ending but the spectacle of a woman doing a Star Trek alien dance for an invisible William Shatner while dressed in a badger outfit offered an image to remember.

Kitty Graham at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

There were more film and TV references in Kitty Graham’s Bare Earth, a slightly eerie re-enactment of the scene in innumerable horror films that sees the earth move and a body rise with earth-caked hair covering the face. As we enter the large upstairs room in the dim light a large box can be seen and the strong scent of freshly dug earth pervades the space. The body emerges slowly, a backbone, one limb, then another…until Graham finally perches on one corner of that containing enclosure like a cross between the wolf-girl at the end of Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves and the Japanese icon whose pale skin and long black hair crawl into reality from a TV set at the end of Ringu. Sitting somewhere between body-based live art and dance, Bare Earth didn’t surprise, exactly, but did work through its visual equation with a certain minimalist rigour.

Gilda Birch at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Yet despite all the individual happenings to be accounted for within the night’s programme, the overall impact of Hatch: Mass often rested more on its cumulative effects and slightly confusing collisions and byways than its discretely segregated individual components. The elusive Gilda Birch, purporting to be an Anglo-Swiss artist with a film crew and journalist in tow, emerges and reveals herself in the milling crowd as Loveys’ badger dance segues into another eruption from Eggs Collective, our brief conversation filmed, tape recorded and (it’s suggested) preserved for posterity – though it seems more likely that no film or tape was present in either of the hi-tech instruments directed like hoovers at our words by those only vaguely plausible assistants and hangers-on.

fourbeatwalk at Hatch Mass (photo credit Julian Hughes)

The strange presence/non-presence of Birch through the night is emblematic of these more chaotic species of Hatch platform: Gilda Birch may be listed in the programme while remaining largely hidden, but other characters might be evident and apparently performing while having no officially sanctioned part in the night at all. When I arrive at the venue around 7.30, a man who resembles (and it turns out, is) someone homeless sits quietly on a step a few yards from the main door into Spanky Van Dyke’s. He chats to people passing by occasionally, and watches the world going by. He’s still there when we leave after 11pm. In the meantime, he’s simply minding his own business, more or less, a kind of casually durational presence who may neither know nor care about the event taking place around him.

fourbeatwalk at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The last act of Hatch: Mass happens days after it ends, when Christmas cards made at fourbeatwalk‘s stall – hand-printed, written, put into envelopes and addressed – find their way to our doormat. This is where the Hatching Space programme ends, months after Frank Abbott got the series underway with a deconstruction of a long-forgotten Italian Western and Mamoru Iriguchi transformed Swan Lake into a digital cartoon. In between, it’s been a strange, rambling, sometimes profound, sometimes whimsical and sometimes challenging stroll through all kinds of artists’ obsessions, rituals, indulgences and idiosyncrasies, presented in a full range of performance styles. Whatever new or transformed particles might now emerge from the material run through Hatching Space‘s hybrid Large Hadron Collider during 2012 will no doubt make themselves known in their own good time.


1 Response to “Hatch Mass: Badgers, Bad Apples, Bare Earth and Going Out With A Bang”

  1. 1 Hatch:Mass – Christmas Card Printing | fourbeatwalk Trackback on Saturday at 2:32 pm

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