Extending the Platform: An Interview with Hatch (Summer 2013)

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The interview that follows was first discussed with Hatch in relation to a call for proposals and papers to be included in Performance Research: On Writing and Digital Media (vol 18, issue 5) and was accepted by the journal editors in Spring 2013. It was withdrawn, by myself, during Summer 2013 after the contract for publication not only offered zero payment, as expected, but also insisted on the assignment of full copyright in the text to the parent publisher, Taylor & Francis. The interview itself discusses the link between this blog and the performance platform of Hatch. The conversation – with Nathaniel J Miller, Marie Bertram and Michael Pinchbeck – took place at Primary, Nottingham, during May 2013.

Al Needham & Chris Matthews audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Al Needham & Chris Matthews audiotours at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Nathaniel J Miller: So is the idea here that we interview you?

Wayne Burrows: Maybe. I think the idea is to explore the thinking around the decision within Hatch to begin this online documentation. What did Hatch hope to get out of it when this online extension to the live platforms was initiated?

NJM: Partly, it was about generating feedback for artists. The starting point was that we wanted something written, so whether there were reviewers at an event or not there’d be some lasting document about the work shown there. It was also about a need for documentation within the NEAT festival platform we did in 2011. We had photographs from earlier platforms, but this was about trying out a different way of documenting the performances.

Marie Bertram: The programme we ran during NEAT was also a string of events rather than a single one night platform, so we felt the writing might provide a through-line to that and make connections between the different events within that programme so they weren’t just floating, separate things, they were all somehow brought together.

Angel Club (north) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Angel Club (north) [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Was NEAT the first time you’d run a programme like that, with events in different times and places, across a longer period?

NJM: Yes. Previously, there’d be a lot of events on one night, in one place or within a number of venues in a well-defined area, like Broad Street or St James’s Street. There were also fewer thematic connections between the performances in that programme. They’d been things we’d liked the sound of, that all fitted into the NEAT festival context, but they weren’t responding to a title or idea, something we’d set in advance, which is how things had tended to work in the past. I think we found some of the connections in hindsight, through the things you wrote about, and it turned out there were quite a lot of links, but we’d not been conscious of them ourselves when we were putting the programme together.

Michael Pinchbeck: It was also partly about us wondering what the blog could do to create that through-line, whether in a programme of discrete events like NEAT, or within individual platforms, or between double bills. We’d never done that before and it seemed like the online format of a blog was an appropriate form we could use, where each post would evolve into a bigger whole, a history of Hatch over time. That idea is closely linked to something that’s becoming more common now, where reflections on performance, the idea of embedding criticism in the platforms, and the process of creating the performances themselves, are becoming more widely used. When it comes to something like Hatch, which is often about unfinished work, you as a critic in that space are embedded within a process, witnessing the meeting of an artist, an audience, a moment and a space, in a way that is live and remains true to that moment, but also becomes part of the process of building a narrative around the work. There’s a sedimentary build-up of information there, so the history of Hatch remains in that blog long after the events have come and gone, and from that we can start to connect the threads contained in those different posts, teasing out themes neither we nor the artists have been aware of. It’s an interpretation which is partly objective and separate from the artist’s intention, but also subjective and embedded within the framework that Hatch provides for the development of new work.

Michael Pinchbeck, Marie Bertram and Katherine Fishman at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

Michael Pinchbeck, Marie Bertram and Katherine Fishman at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Another thing about these events is that, whether it’s one evening with twelve different things going on or a series of different performances in different venues across a period of weeks or months, we make it difficult to see everything. You might see one event but miss another or see a part of each thing but not the whole. It’s hard in that situation for artists to see each-others’ work, and hard for us to see much, sometimes, too. So while there are reasons why we’ve made those choices and set our platforms up in those ways, piling up a lot of possibilities and choices for our audiences, the fact remains that it’s hard for us to get an overall view of any given event and that can be a drawback. But if we have someone who we’ve specifically engaged to see everything, as far as that’s humanly possible, and to write a response to what they’ve seen, that can be useful for our artists, who can then read those discussions of their work alongside accounts of other work presented on the night – which they may not have seen – and get a sense of how it might have connected to their own in some way.

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The Gramophones [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: From my reading of the blogs, what you often do is put things into a broader context, so you might say “this is looking back to live art in the sixties” with a few examples, or you might mention other work that draws on a particular approach or source of material and comment on and add links to those examples elsewhere on the internet. It opens a dramaturgical inquiry that can be of benefit to the artists, because not all have that kind of dramaturge role being filled within their own process. I know that when you wrote about Ollie Smith’s Cat In Hell at New Art Exchange you made some comments how they might expand that material, if it was going to become a full length show, which I think he found useful. So it’s critical and looks in from outside the work, but part of what this embedded criticism does is bring a kind of internal dramaturgy into play, where the writing informs the process. It’s not just responding to the work, or reflecting it back like a mirror, it’s a driver, with some influence on the way the work is made, an active part of the process. That’s part of what we wanted the blog to do. It’s not the one night stand of a short newspaper review, it’s entering into a longer term relationship. It has that role, so there’s a use for marketing, where I know Hannah Nicklin and David Parkin, among others, have quoted the blog in their publicity, but it’s blurring those roles. It’s part of the pre-performance development of the work and a post-performance reflection on it at the same time.

WB: I think that’s an interesting point. If the writing, the platform online, becomes enmeshed with the platform live and potentially changes it, it becomes a bit like a  theatre version of the Heisenberg Principle in physics: “the act of observing alters the thing being observed”.

NJM: That’s always been the case for performance anyway. The audience, and the performers’ consciousness of the audience, affects the performance.

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Hannah Nicklin [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: And the thing is, if you present a finished piece of work and – let’s say, Lyn Gardner from The Guardian, for example – she writes ‘it’s ten minutes too long’, you have a choice: to continue performing a show that everyone will now assume is ten minutes too long, because she said it was, or to make it ten minutes shorter.

NJM: But then if you shorten it by ten minutes, but don’t say so, everyone will still expect to think it’s ten minutes too long because that’s what they’ve read.

MP: And then another person might see it and think it’s fifteen minutes too long or five minutes too short. But the point is that it’s no good hearing that kind of comment at that stage in the process because it’s already too late. But if you hear it when it’s still a work in progress, as it usually is on a Hatch platform, you can then consider that opinion when you’re making adjustments to the piece, agree or disagree, make any cuts or changes you think might be needed to improve the work.

Priya Mistry at Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Priya Mistry at Hatch Scratched at NAE [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: That’s a crucial difference between a digital text and an analogue one. The fact that it exists online and can be continually added to and changed makes it more informal and conversational than something with the finality of print. If we’d asked you to write a pamphlet or a short book, there’d be a point where it’s finished, or at least, has to go off to the printer. But a blog doesn’t have that finality. It’s never finished.

WB: That’s true. The process is often that a draft is uploaded, but might still be altered and revised, or have new links and material added, for quite a while after it goes up. One example is that quite often a piece staged later in an ongoing programme might be linked to one that took place and was discussed earlier. The writing doesn’t go up in a completely finished state, anyway, though there’s a point after which it doesn’t change, except to refresh dead links, things like that.

NJM: Maybe if this had been happening four or five years ago, there’d have been more discussion on the blog itself too. That’s fallen out of vogue a bit now and people are more likely to converse about it on Twitter or Facebook and other social media sites instead.

WB: Yes, often you’ll post the links and notice the sharing and discussions going on underneath them, so the conversations tend to be displaced from the source on the blog itself. If the sharing extends outside your own friends lists or the people you happen to be following, as it often does, you lose sight of the response quite quickly.

NJM: It’s an interesting evolution in the reception of digital texts.

MP: Sometimes, as an artist reading a blog about your work, something in it really prompts you to want to respond, whether positively or negatively, and it’s possible to enter into that dialogue. It isn’t possible to have that dialogue in hard copy, in print reviews. A possible extension of that is to think about how we can encourage artists to respond when we’re circulating the blog, to try and generate more of those responses and conversations within the blog, though as you and Nathan say, there are other avenues for that, too. But what it is, in the end, is a conversation between you as a writer and the Hatch programme: a dialogue. And in those terms, I know Jake Orr from The Younger Theatre and Maddy Costa from The Guardian are developing a website called Dialogue as an online space for theatre writing and writing about theatre. It would be good to explore how Hatch: Back might connect to that, because it seems to be part of a growing body of writing on performance that exists online and pops up on other social media, in a live-ish way.

NJM: These sites often carry more interesting writing because there are relatively few print outlets and those that remain do tend to follow the 300 or 400 word review format, so there’s not a lot of space for longer or more reflective pieces. They are now appearing in other places, like this blog or Dialogue.

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Eggs Collective at Hatch Mass [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: As I understand it, this movement of performance online grows out of frustration with word-counting and star ratings in print outlets.

WB: I can confirm that Metro used to specify 250 words for most reviews, very occasionally 350 words. The longer pieces, the 650 or 850 word features, were always interviews with the director, writer or performer and were written as previews before you’d actually seen the new work.

MP: One interesting question for us might be to ask what’s different about writing for this Hatch blog?

WB: As compared to reviewing for something like Metro? It’s completely different. With a 250 word review in Metro, you’re distilling down what you think after the event. You know it’s going to be fixed and you don’t know, really, who the readers will be, so it’s got to be open to a whole range of levels of knowledge about that particular performance. Some might be reading it from a perspective of deep involvement in theatre, live art or performance, others might just be picking it up with no previous interest in those things at all and there can be every kind of reader in between. You’re trying to produce a response that can at least potentially work for all of them on one level or another. The constraints of space mean you mostly give just a flavour of the piece, and perhaps imply a judgement in the way you phrase your comments, but there’s no room for developing an argument or suggesting a wider context beyond a few very basic nuances, which might be pretty subtle and depend on an informed reader picking them up. With the blog, I’m not sure if it’s more or less open. It’s more open in the sense that you can follow a thought process over maybe 2000 words, if that seems appropriate, but can equally do something shorter, 300 or 400 words, and keep it very tightly focused. But maybe it’s less open in that there’s a much stronger sense of who the audience is, since they’re the artists, or more generally the wider Hatch audience, which is often a peer audience of students of performance, or performance and live art professionals, but ultimately those at the more informed and engaged end of the Metro spectrum. But the key difference from a writing viewpoint is that the blog is not a distillation of my thinking, it’s more like the thought process itself. I start writing and work through my own thinking about the work in some way, so I might not be sure what I thought of it when I type the first line but by the time I type the last line I’ve worked something out and have a better idea of how I felt about a particular piece or series of performances. With Metro, I suppose I’d be more focused on pinning down a more definitive kind of provisional statement, a judgement of some sort, so in that way it’s a very different process.

fourbeatwalk: The Disaster Bar at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

fourbeatwalk: The Disaster Bar at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Obviously, all reviews are subjective to some extent but your writing on the Hatch blog seems more subjective than an average review. You’re letting the reader in on the process of your thinking about the experience, rather than making the kind of judgement called for in a traditional review. I suppose that’s partly because we’re not asking for reviews of that kind. We want a critical response but not a mark out of ten.

WB: Those aspects of it come partly from being able to let the reader into the actual experience of the work rather than to some extent generalising it, as you might in a review, where you’re considering not just what you personally thought of it, but how it might work for other kinds of audience. It’s a retrospective account of a live experience, like a review,  but its purpose isn’t to inform its readers about whether they should go and spend money on tickets. A good example of how that can work was at Hatch: Twelve, where Natasha Davis’s Suspended happened twice during the day. The first part of it I saw was a few minutes from the middle section, not the beginning. Then I saw the beginning of the second performance but had to leave for a one to one performance with Annette Foster. And when I got back to Natasha Davis, she was just doing the final part of the middle section I’d seen before, so I then saw it from there to the end. The point is that when it came to writing the piece, I suppose I could have reconstructed the show, as I’d seen all the parts, and I had the option of glossing over the haphazard order I’d experienced them in. But it seemed more worthwhile to reflect that slightly scrambled version, where the whole performance was there – beginning, middle and end – but not necessarily in the right order. That carries into the writing, so where I didn’t really experience a performance as it was meant to be seen for one reason or another, that can be incorporated, and I think that reflects the reality of the live platforms. It wouldn’t be possible to do that in a traditional review format, where not having seen the piece in full, as intended by the artist, would possibly invalidate anything you had to say about it.

Third Angel and mala voadora [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Third Angel and mala voadora [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: I remember something similar happened with Annette Foster’s fortune telling piece, Messages from the Big Red Bus, when that was on at Hazard Festival in Manchester. The technology wasn’t working, so you talked about what it ended up being and what it was supposed to have been, as though both versions of the performance happened simultaneously. It feels more embedded in the process, and maybe process is a key word here. These writings are about a process rather than a finished product. I don’t know if that sense of process having a stronger presence than a finished product is part of the nature of blogging as a form, or something that applies here because it also happens to reflect how Hatch artists often work.

WB: The Hatch at Hazard day in Manchester was interesting because there were a whole range of parts in it. There was the journey there, on a very distinctive 1950s double decker bus that became a venue on arrival. Then there was the context around the programmed performances, and finally there were the performances themselves. So the account of that event ended up as three quite distinct sections, one covering the bus journey there, one breaking down the day into its constituent individual performances and my own experiences of them, and then a third that widened things out to take in the context of Hazard more generally and the Manchester streets around St Ann’s Square where the festival took place. It was a way of reflecting the fact that the day in total wasn’t really about the performances, or not just the performances, at least. If I’d focused entirely on those discrete programmed works something important would have been missed about the experience.

NJM: The Hazard Festival writings also reflected your role as part of Hatch so there was a sense of how it felt from the inside, rather than as a member of the public in Manchester just encountering the performers, as a regular review would tend to do.  But that was an extreme example. We quite deliberately set up that Summer Holiday vibe by going on the vintage bus, then using that bus as a theatre.

MP: Yes, we wanted that sense of just turning up and putting the show on right there, like in an old musical.

NJM: Another dimension is a sense of the artists on the way to work, which is always part of these things but isn’t apparent to the audience. Our performers in Manchester had the bus as a kind of focus so being on the bus from the start enabled you to take part in that and to bring some of that hidden side of things into the documentation.

WB: Alongside that was a sense of Manchester itself. There were things going on in the streets around the performances that fitted in with or diverged from the performances, thematically and in terms of performance styles and intentions. If you moved further along from St Ann’s Square, where the Hatch and Hazard performances were going on, you quickly began to run into buskers, people doing street marketing,  people who dance in fancy dress or stand painted like statues, Classical music played on Farfisa organs, that sort of thing. These unofficial performances were sometimes more or less indistinguishable from the kinds of spectacle Hatch and Hazard were putting on with very different intentions. To give one example, when things were being packed up near the end of the day I was standing by the bus and two Muslim guys came over and asked me if I believed in chance: “What if you were crossing a desert and saw a mobile phone form itself spontaneously from the sand and wind? Would you assume this was the work of nature or God?” It did seem this could very easily have been the beginning of a performance, and I suppose it was a performance, albeit motivated by preaching or religious marketing rather than art. So these things raise the question of where the line should be between the programmed performances of the Hazard festival and Hatch and the things you might encounter in that location outside those contexts.

Simon Raven at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Simon Raven at Hazard [photo credit Julian Hughes]

MP: You also referenced Sean Burn, who was performing with Hazard in Manchester, but had been at a Hatch scratch night earlier in the year with a different piece. Your antenna seems raised, as if you’re sensitised to these connections.

WB: Another interesting thing about the encounter with Sean Burn was that his performance involved taking a flower from him and that flower ended up in Simon Raven’s performance because it seemed appropriate to link what the two of them were doing at opposite ends of the site. Maybe that goes back to your earlier comment about influencing as well as observing the performances?

NJM: One reason for asking you to do the blog because we knew you had experience of previous Hatch events, having been to most of our platforms since 2008 and even performed in one, so we knew you had some understanding of how we operate and where we’d come from. Something I’m quite curious about is how that changes the way you experience Hatch events, now you’re asked to professionally observe them?

WB: The very early Hatch events were as much social events as they were about seeing work, I think, so I’d be in the venue but might not see all that much of the performance staged on any particular night. Thinking about the street-based platforms, Hatch Abroad and Hatch Across, I guess I remember seeing maybe three or four things in full at each of those, and then lots of little bits of other things going on. When I’m covering it, I have to resist that social side and see the work, so I’ll now see at least some of everything, with a few exceptions that were unavoidable, such as not managing to get a slot for the one-to-one performance with Jo Bannon at Hatch Mass, say. That need to focus has changed my experience because that social side of Hatch has been much less the focus of going to the events than it was before I began writing about them. I used to miss things because I’d be in the café talking to someone or having a drink outside and now I’m in the audience – whatever that means in a given performance – pretty much from beginning to end. It’s not just Hatch that has this social aspect, since at Ian Nesbitt and Emily Wilczek’s Annexinema events audiences won’t necessarily come and sit down to watch every single film, they’ll dip in and out of the programme, come and go. Audiences go there for the ambience and that’s part of what makes these kinds of events work. In that way the Hatch platforms I’m attending now have a different focus to the Hatch platforms I attended before 2011.

NJM: I think some of our recent platforms have been more focused though we’ll still do the more chaotic and social sessions in strange venues when we can.

Rebecca Gamble's Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Rebecca Gamble’s Mariela Hosomaki [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: That raises another interesting point, because back when I used to miss a lot of the performance, because of taking part in that social side of Hatch, I might well have looked at the blog and other documentation to see what I’d missed, if it had existed then. So the documentation could, in theory, be seen as something that replaces or supplements the actual experience. I know people who have said the same about Glastonbury Festival. They go but the first they see of the headline acts is watching them on the TV coverage after they get back. You won’t necessarily go to the main stages when you’re there because there’s so much else to do. So it’s interesting how this kind of documentation could potentially replace parts of the live experience. On a similar note, I’d like to ask if one of the things you hoped the blog could do is communicate Hatch and its activities beyond the immediate audience, mainly in the East Midlands, who come to the events? There’s a now a way for people in Edinburgh, London or Belgium to have a kind of access to the work you’re doing in Nottingham, Leicester or Manchester that wasn’t possible before.

NJM: It is another function of the documentation. In order to illustrate what Hatch is, we need photographs, things written about it, so we can now send people from outside our region to the blogs where they can get an idea of what we’re about and what’s going on. Probably by accident rather than design there’s also a sense of self mythologizing about it, as well. We’ve commissioned this writing to be done, which beyond the immediate purpose of describing the work and feeding comments back to the artists, puts us into a wider context of theatre and performance and live art nationally and internationally. That very first piece you wrote for the NEAT Festival programme, defining Hatch and its ways of presenting work in relation to theatrical forms going back hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, connecting us to a history that wasn’t academic, but was very interesting. Perhaps it’s a bit of a cheat for us to commission a body of writing about ourselves rather than wait to be noticed but I think we’re conscious that it does have an effect on how we might be seen.

WB: That first piece in the NEAT series was written as much to get my own head around the idea of what Hatch is and does and where it fits into a longer perspective of performance of the sort NEAT was setting out to represent. But another part of it was thinking about the way that what platforms like Hatch do is usually labelled, a bit lazily, in my view, as ‘experimental’, a definition that rests on a partial, even false view of performance history. I mean, it happens in a lot of art forms, so in writing you’ll hear lots of commentary about ‘experimental fiction’ despite the fact that the experimental or postmodern novel demonstrably pre-dates the traditional and modern versions. In that case, when I asked myself what it meant to talk about the experimental and the avant-garde in performance I found that what it often means is that this work is doing something that was pretty commonplace 200 or 300 years ago, which was replaced by something else 150 years ago and has now staged a bit of a return to an older form: audience participation and site specificity goes back to the Mystery Plays in Medieval Europe, multimedia to Ben Jonson’s collaborations with Inigo Jones at the court of James I, or Handel’s music for fireworks in Vauxhall Park. I interviewed the American minimalist composer Steve Reich around 1998 and asked him about the process where the barriers between classical, pop and avant-garde music had begun to weaken, given his own influence on people like Brian Eno and Richard James, The Aphex Twin. He said he thought it wasn’t that anything radical was changing, but that musical culture was emerging from a slightly anomalous period where those distinctions had been upheld in more absolute ways than at other times in the past. If you went back to Beethoven and Bach’s day, court and church composers were always taking ideas from folk tunes and popular dances while people outside the courts and churches were taking the composers’ tunes and recasting them as folk tunes and dances. This was how it’s always been and it was only really after the mid-nineteenth century that the idea that they all had to be kept in separate boxes really gained traction. A similar process seems to be happening in many other art forms now, including performance, and perhaps the digital context helps that process along by technologically mediating exchanges that would previously have happened through word of mouth, meetings and chance encounters.

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Francachela Teatro’s Peccata Minuta [photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: One thing that’s often discussed about the online world is that we have access, at least in theory, if we’ve got a broadband connection and know how to find what we’re interested in, to more or less anything, at any level of achievement, in any genre, from any point in history or any place in the world, more or less instantly. Because of that there’s an idea in circulation that we have an artificially created commons that both artists and audiences have access to and this is quite new.

WB: That’s becoming quite explicit in performance, too, so when Olwen Davies performed her piece at Broadway, she talks about learning to do a version of Sixties Biba Girl make up from an instructional clip on YouTube. But then she points out that this actually removes her from the real history as much as connects her to it, because the woman whose YouTube tutorials she’d used had based her version on photographs and illustrations from the time and then filled in the gaps with informed guesswork. That apparent accessibility is partly fictional and can distance the reality of things from us even as it appears to connect us to them.

NJM:  For Olwen that whole piece is based on her idea of how these clips and fragments, which she’s conscious are as fake as they are real, shape her view of what it was like to be alive in 1967 or 1968. In the performance, she presents this amazingly detailed but completely skewed perspective. Zilla! Part Two by Andy Field links to this kind of digital hyper-availability too. He can tailor his Google Streetview images to make the fictional journey specific to any venue or place he happens to be performing in. He can change the text to include local material sourced online, sometimes with a bit of local knowledge provided by those hosting him, as his intention is to rewrite the piece so feels like it’s narrated by someone who has lived in a particular city and knows it well. That happens in every city or venue where Zilla! Part Two is performed. That is something new for performance. It could have been done before but might have taken days of preparation, site visits and research to do what can now be achieved on a laptop or smartphone in a few hours.

Andy Field: Zilla! Part Two at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Andy Field: Zilla! Part Two at Broadway [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: Interestingly, that kind of research can be valuable in the blog, too, particularly where you make a reference to something outside the platform, a performance from the past or a pop-cultural reference, and can link directly to a film or detailed account with photographs of the thing you’ve mentioned. That allows a kind of shorthand, a casual approach to referencing, that isn’t possible on a printed page, where you’d have to describe the similarity or difference you’re drawing attention to in much more detail. On a blog, the links can be used as instant footnotes, almost, and they allow anyone who might be interested to explore a piece of work in a wider context. It’s also worth adding that no matter who an artist in a Hatch programme might be, if I don’t know any of their previous work I can run a search and usually quite quickly find a website which gives at least some sense of their context and background. That kind of contextual information is very easy to track down. For example, I knew nothing about Eggs Collective before they performed at Hatch Mass, but I was able to find their website and find out that one member, Lowri Evans, had done a solo performance earlier in that year’s programme, while Sarah Cox turned up at Scratch 13, performing with Nicki Hobday. Not all of this goes into the writing but having access to these signposts means you can see the context things are operating in very quickly.

MP: Online context raises some questions for us about how we might develop the blog and has been part of our thinking about what it could become in future. When Green Room in Manchester closed, a website was made, Green Room United, which has documentation about all the artists who performed there while it was active. You click on a performer’s name and a list of all the companies and people they performed with appears, building a kind of Green Room family tree. If I click on myself, I see metro boulot dodo in the late nineties and early 2000s, Reckless Sleepers, Strange Names Collective and all the shows I’ve done solo. It’s a jigsaw showing all these collaborations and links, a kind of map. These blogs are mapping our history digitally, in a similar way, which is a nice concept. It’s a map with no edges. It’s immaterial. But it’s a map you can use to navigate those histories.

Lowri Evans' Live Letter at Hatch Scratch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Lowri Evans’ Live Letter at Hatch Scratch [photo credit Julian Hughes]

WB: I guess the immateriality of that history can be a bit poignant, especially when it’s linked to a venue or a company or a platform that is no longer active, that closed, ceased to operate or simply moved on. Maybe it’s at its most valuable then, too – these maps might be needed to rebuild when the landmarks on them no longer exist.

MP: Hatch has no fixed form and no home that can close, though many of the places we’ve temporarily occupied have closed down. But that temporality is in the nature of performance: it appears and then it disappears. It has no body or clothes. It knows that in the moment it happens it will vanish and leave no trace of itself. So maybe the blog is one way of trying to capture something from that process, with the writing in some sense replacing the performance once the performance is over. The blog becomes a trace it can leave. There’s a nice comment I read somewhere, that there’s a good reason why there’s no equivalent of the National Gallery for performance, a place where you could go and see Carolee Schneeman’s Interior Scroll or any of these classic pieces that only existed when and where they happened. There are various approaches to trying to reconstruct or preserve these performances, but they existed in some very fundamental way only in their particular moments.

NJM: You can go into the National Review of Live Art’s archive and see all kinds of things that survive: writings, photographs, films and video documentation. But none of them is the experience of the performance.

MP: The whole issue of performance archives is interesting, asking questions about how we might re-enact an archive, how you might use the documentation of a performance to restage that performance. The University of Bristol had a project called Performing Documents where they restaged a whole range of performances from the past. Tim Etchells re-enacted Bruce Nauman’s A Violent Incident – which he presented as a new piece called Untitled (After A Violent Incident) which performed Nauman’s video live, using the video as a kind of score. There’s something about how we approach the documentation of our own events that suggests it might be possible to reconstruct a Hatch event that happens today in ten years’ time.

NJM: That relates to what How We Run were doing in their piece at Hatch Scratch at Embrace Arts, when they were trying to work out how to restage or re-experience an iconic performance like John Cage’s Waterwalk. By doing that, could you create an iconic performance of your own?

MP: They were also trying to mythologise their own performances.

How We Run: Waterwalk at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

How We Run: Waterwalk at HATCH Scratch [Photo credit Julian Hughes]

NJM: Yes, that’s true. They were trying out the idea that by talking about something they’d done while still at university in the same way and in the same context as something canonical like John Cage’s Waterwalk or Andy Kaufman’s comedy club readings from The Great Gatsby they could somehow have some of that iconic status rub off on them. By speaking about their own work in that way they create a myth in which they are already part of that history rather than relative newcomers aspiring to it.

WB: I think one of the most moving performances I’ve seen was when Forced Entertainment did a new version of Emmanuelle Enchanted, a show they’d made when they were all much younger, but re-staged it a point in their lives where their ages were starting to show. So they were the same people, the same performers in the same roles using the same script, as close to the original as possible. But they couldn’t quite manage some of the things they’d done all those years earlier and it began to break down and became a show about themselves as performers trying to recapture a moment in their own lives that they can no longer quite reach. It was an interesting approach to re-staging because it had become a very different show, about something quite different to its original incarnation. The other version of this I find interesting is when Gob Squad try to reconstruct Andy Warhol’s Kitchen. Again, it becomes a performance about the discrepancy between one period in time and another. There was a similar sense of disjunction in Olwen Davies’s relationship to the Sixties in her piece at Broadway [Retroscape], which I imagine might have been at least partly influenced by Gob Squad’s Kitchen. In relation to the blog texts, the point is that neither my writing nor Julian Hughes’ photographs, nor the combination of them, can ever fully represent any of the performances they document. But perhaps they do end up, mostly accidentally, replacing those things and become a kind of alternate version of them, in the same way that any re-staging is by definition a new performance, whatever the intentions are. If Carolee Schneemann re-stages Interior Scroll, it can never be the event that’s been so extensively mythologised, it’s always a new event, one that might have very little connection back to its source.

MP: Maybe there’s a metaphor in this for the writing as an attempt at enabling the appearance of new work, by being part of the dramaturgical process when a performance is being made, while also resisting the disappearance of that same work at another stage. The writing can develop it, in a photographic sense, and also retain an impression of it so it doesn’t fade. Perhaps this suggests the blog embodies that idea of these writings as neither a process nor a product but something in-between.

WB: I’m intrigued by the sense that in a few years, or even just a few weeks after an event, the audience for these performances could be people who never had the experience of the performance in the first place. Are they reconstructing it imaginatively from the descriptions left behind in the writings and photographs or are they devising a new performance from the act of reading about an old one? There’s a kind of performative aspect to the writing, in that I tend to write each post in real time, following the thought processes down the page to a conclusion. So it would follow that the reading of these accounts might also have a performative aspect. The act of reading might make the performance visible again but as with Olwen Davies’s version of the 1960s it might also add distance within that illusion of experiencing what happened, or something a very little like it, or vaguely related to it, through the texts. I like the idea of resisting disappearance but I suspect it’s always going to be a case of failing to resist disappearance.

Andy Field: Zilla Part One at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Andy Field: Zilla Part One at Primary [photo credit Julian Hughes]

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