Hatch at NEAT14: Host by Steve Fossey

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The last time I encountered a Steve Fossey performance was at Hatch: A Better Tomorrow, where an inexplicable mobile phone glitch meant that the failure of technological devices forced the at-a-distance conversation intended to become a decidedly analogue and off-script encounter. Perhaps it’s for the best that Host – taking place under makeshift cover in the slightly rainy courtyard of Cobden Chambers, just off Pelham Street – took a very different approach and required no technological co-operation whatsoever. In Host, everything is experienced face to face, knee to knee, and with some unsettling moments of food-related participatory intimacy along the way.

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

The set-up is that Fossey has home-cooked a large quantity of vegetarian curry and, working with a group of assistants, ‘hosts’ whoever turns up. But it’s not quite as straightforward as that. There are certain conditions to this hospitality, one being that Fossey’s ‘guests’ (we are, we must assume, Fossey’s ‘guests’ rather than his ‘audience’, just as Fossey is a ‘host’ rather than a ‘performer’ here) do not feed themselves but are fed, in a way that suggests both romantic intimacy and infantilisation, by himself or those working with him. The conversations are also directed, always to questions about love: How do we define love? Have we been in love? Are we in love now? What does love feel like? Where in the body is the feeling located?

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

As I take my own seat I find myself knee-to-knee with two of Fossey’s appointed hosts, one of whom periodically offers food on a spoon while the other leads the conversation. There’s a certain pressure to offer a definition of love, or simplify my answers to something succinct, but I find myself almost instinctively complicating the questions, occasionally questioning back, though whether this is some kind of resistance to the participation required or simply a more general interest in listening to someone else rather than myself talking is probably a moot point. Either way, the conversation strays into quantum physics (which none of us understand, but might be vaguely relevant), the work done by those questioning me, LSD experiences, Buddhist ideas about letting go and much else besides. Whether any of this is on or off script is hard to tell. There don’t seem to be any right or wrong answers, just more or less complicated ones.

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

In the meantime, after the first few spoonfuls, the curry is forgotten and grows slowly cold, and as the gathering grows, the conversations shift, from one person to another. It’s hard to tell exactly who is a ‘host’ and who a ‘guest’ here, or – I realise – to work out my own response or the intentions of the performance itself. On one level, Host is an uncomplicated staging of social generosity, in which guests are fed and attentively listened to, but this structure also echoes focus groups and corporate strategies, inviting us to trade our privacy and independence for an illusion of caring and belonging from our service providers.  Does Host itself have a concealed agenda? Or is the social context driving instinctive distrust of a situation like Host being temporarily set aside in a small, utopian gesture?

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

Steve Fossey: Host [image credit Julian Hughes]

Much rests on that combination of questions about love – the shortest of short-cuts to intimacy and personal exposure – and the gesture of hand-feeding, which is both literally and symbolically placing us in a position where we allow ourselves to be spoon-fed by strangers with unknown motives. The feeding could be experienced as a comforting reversion to infancy, or the substitution of an intimate gesture for the real connections of intimacy itself, or simply a genuine moment of intimacy in a public space. As with the simultaneously real and synthetic connections of social media, exactly how we process the experience of Host – and whether we fully or partly trust, or refuse, its seductions – is left entirely in our own hands.


1 Response to “Hatch at NEAT14: Host by Steve Fossey”

  1. 1 Hatch - Monday 26th May #neat14 - Cobden Chambers Trackback on Tuesday at 4:19 pm

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