Archive for the 'definitions' Category

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 It was withdrawn, by myself, during Summer 2013 after the contract for publication not only offered zero payment, as expected, but also insisted on the assignment of full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]

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.

Hatch Twelve: Third Angel and mala voadora

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Third Angel and mala voadora: Story Map

Third Angel’s Story Map begins at 11am with a large, blank sheet of paper and gradually fills, over a continuous twelve hour stretch, to show and rewrite the entire world in stories, anecdotes and narratives of all kinds. The concept is that every country on Earth will, by 11pm, be represented with its name (in English) on a colour-coded post-it note, placed in its actual location on the map, hopefully accompanied by a line drawing illustrating a fact-checked and audience-sourced story about that place. A word or two to summarise each story collected will then be handwritten onto a paper wall behind the stage, becoming a kind of ‘key’ to reading the map as a whole.

In many respects, it’s a simple durational concept, albeit a far more ambitious one than usual: let’s face it, there’s something more than just a touch deranged about the very idea of rewriting the entire planet from scratch in something less than a full day. But it doesn’t come over this way in performance. Instead, the pressurised format offers a readily comprehensible framework that allows extraordinary and complex things to happen within its loose boundaries. Story Map seems to work as traditional folk storytelling, a miniature United Nations, a genuinely suspenseful against-the-clock quiz show and a massive, eccentric geography lecture, all at once. It’s also, of course, about difference, concepts of normality, who human beings are and how we live in different parts of the world.

It works like this: a card featuring the name of a country is drawn from a comprehensive but randomly shuffled deck. A member of the panel offers the country’s English name alongside its own formal designation and reads out a few facts about the place from a gazetteer. Thus named and pinpointed on the map, the audience – whoever happens to be in it at the time – is invited to share a story about that location: not a fact or legend, but a genuine, verifiable story. If no story is forthcoming, the panel move on to the next nation in the deck; when a story is offered, it is checked online (by Third Angel associate and Leicester performer Hannah Nicklin) and, once verified, added to the map in the form of a small line drawing representing it.

The result is a twelve hour long performance that ebbs and flows with its audience, to some inevitable degree, but is held together by very traditional storytelling skills and engages its audiences (whose comings and goings seem, intentionally or otherwise,  to echo wider processes of migration) by resort to a probably universal curiosity about the unknown, the quirky, the tragic and optimistic takes we all bring to that simple graphic representation of the planet we live on, the standardised World Map. Some countries seem barely to exist in our collective and individual imaginations, others quickly acquire multiple stories and seem to be haunted by the spectre of the urban myth and unverifiable tall tale (stories of uncertain veracity are recorded and saved to be checked and possibly added later).

Dipping in and out through the day, the sloping platform gradually fills with small line drawings, the wall behind it darkens with keywords to remind the company of the stories already told. As 11pm approaches, and the last few cards turn, it becomes a race to complete the map before the performance ends, the audience filling in gaps, the company sharing stories acquired at other performances, from other audiences. Gaps remain at the conclusion: Latin America and the Caribbean are sparsely furnished, for some reason, while Europe, Africa and the Far East bristle with multiple, overlapping tales. The conclusion flirts with homily but the performance as a whole – essentially a participatory exercise in making sense of complex geopolitics by way of small details and personal narratives – is undeniably fascinating.

Hatch Twelve: Annette Foster

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Annette Foster: Messages from the Sky

The one-to-one performance I had to slip away from Natasha Davis to attend was something of a return visit, on paper at least, to Annette Foster’s tarot-reading, as experienced one summer afternoon earlier this year aboard a stationary double-decker at the Hazard Festival in Manchester. As it turned out, though, the whole thing had been re-framed since then in ways that made the experience quite different and the new (sixties-style VW camper van) setting, use of props and costumes, the presence of a ‘guide’ and the twilight hour were all key components ensuring a separation between Messages from the Sky and its Manchester predecessor, which had gone under the slightly less cosmic title of Messages from the Big Red Bus.

From the lanterns making a path into the space to the smell of incense and flickering candlelight, the experience was strongly reminiscent of parties I’d been to while growing up in Wales, where the folksy hippy ethos hadn’t so much been displaced by subsequent youth movements like punk and eighties garage revivalism as simply merged with them and carried on its own merry way well into the nineties and beyond. The Proustian madeleine of a few joss-sticks and a set of retro curtains aside, Foster herself was now dressed in a daisy-chain head-band and early seventies maxi dress, as was her assistant (and my guide for the session) who combined similar clothes with a fake fur cape.

All of which ensured that the core of the performance (as in Manchester) was the tarot reading itself, far more blatantly ‘performed’ than the earlier manifestation, but no less revealing in its way of using the cards to reflect back the concerns of each participant. From the rituals of shuffling, dividing and laying out the deck, to the interpretations and discussions that took place over their enigmatic symbols, there is a flow and level of engagement here that pushes some way beyond most participatory experiences – even when it proved necessary to adopt and hold poses for the Hatch photographer occasionally, given that the low light meant it had been impossible to discreetly catch other sessions on the hoof, as would normally happen.

After the reading, Foster texts her interpretation to a location inside the Embrace building, where her guide leads us. The instrument of revelation turns out to be a theatrical object in itself, a reconstructed 1940s payphone, and when it rings, the voice that recites Foster’s florid lava-flow of mystic imagery and cosmic speculation is tinny and synthentic, a contrast between medium and message that ensures her reading carries all the inauthenticity of an automated customer service line and the authority of Stephen Hawking simultaneously. A few hours later, the card that had signified the outcome during our session (the Ace of Pentacles) appears miraculously in the cafe: another sign from the cosmos? Or a simple conjuring trick?

Hatch Twelve: Natasha Davis

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Natasha Davis: Suspended

Entering the room where Natasha Davis is performing Suspended the first time, I find myself walking into the midst of a ritual in which Davis walks outward from a centre and pours a spiral of white powder (salt or sugar, perhaps?) onto the floor. She moves in a slow, concentrated way, her eyes fixed to the line of the expanding curve that appears at her feet as she walks around the circumference, while a voice, perhaps her own, tells the story of her migration from her birthplace in Croatia, by way of Serbia and Greece, to Syria, Japan and England. With the last curve of the white spiral complete, an assistant takes the jar of white dust from her hands and passes her another jar, filled with cut grass, with which she begins a new progression, overwriting one path with another…

This is merely dipping into the three part, 90 minute, self-contained performance, so I make a decision to return later and see the whole piece when it’s performed again (there are two performances during Twelve) and when I do, I find the room seemingly still being set up, with Davis standing on a small table, working with two assistants – one male, one female – to tie lengths of string to strands of her hair then fixing these to the walls, literally suspending her, as though she’s floating underwater, at the centre of a spider’s web of connections and entanglements. I realise I have a one-to-one performance booked, so dip out yet again. Even a twelve hour Hatch isn’t time enough to schedule seeing everything without the odd overlap, it seems…

Returning for the third time, I find Davis free of string entanglements, once again walking her spiral and covering it with grass as a projection screens on one wall and her voice, detached from her body, relates those stories of migration between Serbia and Greece I’d heard earlier. When the second spiral is completed, Davis places her jar on the ground and walks away, stripping herself of the elaborate black dress she’s been wearing for this section; then she removes her black shift, too, and walks naked towards a length of blue fabric laid on the ground at the far end of the space. She wraps this fabric around herself, like a toga, then lies down and begins to swim towards us on her back, moving by pushing her shoulders and legs into the ground in a kind of rippling motion.

Gradually, as she comes towards us, the dress grows in length, crossing the whole room a few inches at a time as though Davis herself is growing preternaturally tall, or leaving a swathe of satin ocean between the beginning and end-points of her journey.  Music is played by her male assistant on an upright piano: first single notes, struck then left to resonate and fade away, but gradually becoming more frequent, overlapping, revealing patterns and a quickening tempo. At the climax, as Davis crosses and blurs that spiral of dust and grass, she stops abruptly, stands up, draws the whole length of blue fabric around her body and walks away. Images and a powerful atmosphere are created but we’re left to interpret them for ourselves.

Hatch Twelve: The Strange Names Collective

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

The Strange Names Collective: A Descent is Not a Fall/A Climb is Not an Ascent

The balcony from which Greg Wohead’s Rear-view Mirror is experienced is located on the other side of the Embrace dance studio, a room with one floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall where Philip Stanier’s Winchester-based Strange Names Collective (for this outing, it seems, consisting solely of Stanier himself, who appears to take no breaks) spend the full twelve hours of the day, 11am until 11pm, working through a strange, rambling historical lecture housed in a large box file, the speaker reading each page into a microphone from a seat high on a scaffolding tower, then letting it fall to the floor of the studio, which gradually fills with discarded notes and observations: by the end of the day, the floor is carpeted like an autumn woodland with white A4 sheets.

On the ceiling, projected still images succeed one-another, sometimes illustrating the points being made by the words, sometimes redirecting them. Dipping in and out through the afternoon and evening, certain stories seem to be recurring, each time told with a different emphasis or viewed from a new angle. The cornerstone appears to be a episode in which the former US President Teddy Roosevelt was shot in 1912, then delivered a 90 minute speech immediately afterwards, but this story becomes a kind of shifting signifier, taking on a variety of meanings as it recurs in different contexts and alongside different images: the fact of the bullet remaining in Roosevelt’s chest, a piece of immovable historical shrapnel, seems the core metaphor of the entire 12-hour lecture.

During his durational monologue, Stanier touches on astronomy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, shipping routes, Hollywood films and much else besides, his 600+ slides themselves altering the frameworks in which his words are heard. As the title suggests, the intention seems to be an exploration of cultural ideas surrounding heroism and villainy, ascents to and falls from grace, with the distinctions between these categories kept slippery and unfixed. It’s hard to know how far the ongoing commentary followed a larger structure that would have been perceptible to anyone staying for the whole 12 hours, and how far it remained fragmentary, as it appeared to those who drifted in and out of the room and heard only ten or fifteen-minute fragments of the whole.

Hatch Twelve: Greg Wohead

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Greg Wohead: Rear-view Mirror

The last time the London based Texan Greg Wohead appeared in Leicester was earlier in the summer when he presented an embryonic version of The Many Apologies of Pecos Bill as part of Hatch: Scratch, but his contribution to Twelve is an altogether different set-up, despite sharing the one-man nature of the performance and some comparable reflections on Wohead’s own past memories of life in Texas with its predecessor. In Rear-view Mirror, the theme is a kind of time-travel, mediated by the decidedly retro technology of a cassette tape and headphones placed on a balcony on the outside of the Embrace Arts building, overlooking the forecourt and road.

When we step onto the balcony a note tells us to put on the headset and press play, and once we do Wohead’s voice begins to speak very quietly. We are asked to consider the nature of time and to look over the road, where Wohead can be seen standing on a pavement opposite. The voice explains that the thoughts we’re hearing were recorded earlier that day, so the displacement of the audio and Wohead’s own presence is emphasised: the figure we see, wearing his favourite blue and white sweater and a scarf, is talking to us in the past, even as we stand on the balcony and watch him in the present.

This displacement is made more suggestive by the way that joggers, mothers with pushchairs and other passers-by seem to walk by without noticing Wohead, even as he choreographs semaphore gestures to communicate with us and ensure he can be seen. Accidentally, perhaps, the impression that he may be invisible to everyone but the sole participant in each performance becomes a factor. As the tape unspools, and Wohead discusses ideas about the flow of time interspersed with some memories of his own – notably a recollection of being involved in a minor traffic accident in Texas in his youth – the notion of rewinding time to escape moments of past embarrassment, difficulty and loss is raised.

Near the conclusion, we’re asked to imagine a moment of our own that we might want to reverse and leave behind, then visualise it and – at a certain moment – mentally free ourselves from its clutches in a small act of imaginative escapology. With that, the moment is gone, and we’re brought back to the present, the performance ending with a practical and metaphorical rewinding of the cassette ready for the next participant. The structure is strong and the slightly unreal air generated is real enough – though the memories evoked seemed relatively slight: perhaps a good thing, insofar as this keeps our focus on the formal qualities of the presentation, but does the lightness of touch reinforce the sense of an inconsequential moment assuming significance over time, or might the evocation of some weightier material produce a deeper, more memorable piece?

Hatch Twelve: Kathryn Cooper

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Kathryn Cooper: Union, Connection, Contact – The Gesture Perfection Class

There are further virtual/real crossovers in Nottingham based artist and performer Kathryn Cooper’s Union, Connection, Contact – The Gesture Perfection Class, a series of deadpan participatory self-development workshops in which Cooper promises to help those who have lost their real-world social skills during too many hours interacting with other people only on social media to regain their ability to function offline, in the ‘meat space’ of actual handshakes, introductions and raised-glasses rather than the ‘cyberspace’ of clicking like and adding or deleting friends in your digital accounts.

Structured as a yoga class, participants begin by reclining on mats and joining Cooper in a visualisation exercise to prepare themselves for the exercises to come, a segment that seems to be done pretty straight. Once everyone is suitably prepared, both mentally and in terms of awareness of the body, Cooper begins a series of exercises designed to reintroduce  us to concepts like ‘saying hello to an actual person’, ‘bidding farewell to an actual person’ and – for those unavoidable family and work occasions that can’t be attended via a Skype link from your laptop – how to hold a glass of wine and raise it in a convincing imitation of a toast.

It’s everyday stuff presented as elaborate ritual, which much of what we take for granted as basic social nicety really is. But Cooper’s ability to keep a straight face and play the session in an entirely persuasive imitation of the approach of any genuine corporate skills workshop raises the humour bar substantially and allows her smaller subversive flourishes to hit neatly home. Near the end of one session, in a closing relaxation exercise, she invites her group to picture their own gravestone embedded with a small screen, where their last Facebook posts – probably a comment on a cat photo – will be preserved as something to remember them by for all eternity.

The execution is light but the core material’s exploration of the social downsides of over-reliance on digital communication and online anonymity is not so different to many rather more serious and academic treatments of the same notions elsewhere. Somehow, the idea that we might need corporate re-training in even the most basic social skills, the kinds of introductory ‘getting to know each other’ stuff that precedes everything else, is both darkly comic (the market will over-complicate and sell back to us even the most stupidly obvious things if we let it) and perhaps even a little touching in its urge to rebuild real connections between individuals.

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.

Hatch Twelve: Polly Wiltshire and Tina Carter

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Polly Wiltshire and Tina Carter: Use the Force(s)

Popping up at random points around the building all day, to present a different five minute performance on the hour, every hour, Polly Wiltshire and Tina Carter’s Use The Force(s) is something like a Hatch: Twelve cuckoo clock, marking the passing of time with their own spin on the spirit of Wilf Lunn and Johnny Ball. Which is to say, their twelve appearances take cues from silent comedy and popular TV science, illustrating a range of scientific (and not so scientific) forces in ways that would arguably be educational if they were only a little more reliable and a touch less eccentric in their construction.

Due to the unpredictable nature of their appearances, I can only claim to have caught a handful of the twelve segments making up this contribution to the day, and while those were mainly in and around the cafe-bar area of the building, Carter and Wiltshire seemed to have licence to appear pretty much anywhere they chose, from a doorway to a storeroom to a cafe table. As it happened, at the turn of every hour, the two women would wander in wearing white coats and (sometimes) carrying clip-boards, then discuss either what they’re going to do, or some scientific matter between themselves.

Generally they appeared to disagree and the discussions, while inaudible, often seemed to get a touch heated. As the clock turned to the hour, they’d immediately stride into action and execute some kind of demonstration of an unnamed scientific principle, which could be anything from a refereed arm-wrestle to show the difference between strong and weak nuclear force to a full blown Frankenstein routine for the force of evil. It’s a series of variations on what might well be a mute Royal Society Christmas Lecture or a ‘Brian Cox explaining Black Holes with his arms’ routine on the BBC.

Mainly comic in intent, and certainly not prone to take their contributions too seriously, Wiltshire and Carter turn up as a kind of marker, especially when their performances intersect with GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN’s penitential Weigh Me Down, whose stream of apologies punctuates the irregular duo’s far less serious (or strenuous) physical routines with ever more accumulations of wrongdoing. The contrast between GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN’s marathon and these bright little sprints becomes an aspect of the performance, as though mischievously short b-movies are deliberately casting their white-coated shadows over a self-conscious epic.