Archive for the 'showcases' Category

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.

 

Hatch at NEAT14: Walk With Me by Sheepknuckle

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

In that peculiar way Hatch programmes sometimes have of forging unplanned (and rather tenuously significant-seeming) links between one performance and another, emerging from DJ Entropy’s The Golden Record to take a seat in the window of Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop for Manchester duo Sheepknuckle‘s Walk With Me makes it hard not to think about the parallels between the slender thread of communication we still have with the Voyager probes, now both billions of miles distant from us, and the everyday technological links that today promise to live-stream images from walks taken by the Sheepknuckle performers in the streets around us.

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Of course, technology being technology, it’s not quite as straightforward as that: an earlier visit had been postponed while the mobile phone batteries were recharged after an unexpectedly busy couple of hours had taken their toll on the equipment. Once everything was up and running again, however, the vicarious walk could begin. I put on headphones and hear a male voice, that of Padraig Confrey or James Monaghan, I assume, starting to tell a story about a man who is walking a city’s streets. In parallel, a Bambuser film, showing scenes from the walk, unscrolls sometimes jerkily, sometimes more fluently, across the laptop screen in front of me.

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

The images are neutral, recording the pavements and streets, the shop-fronts and alleys, the fragments of graffiti and signs glimpsed by someone walking at a steady pace, a camera-phone held just below eye level, improvising a route as they go. The story in my headset describes the city from the viewpoint of that man walking the streets, seeking contact with a woman who exists in a different time, their paths moving closer and closer in a context that seems to make any actual meeting impossible. There are occasional glitches in the broadcast, rendering movement as a series of stills, and the combination of this voice-over and the way the images pixillate and freeze, then release themselves back into fluency, sometimes contradicts, sometimes underscores the story being told. It’s not clear whether these moments are anticipated by the script or accidental.

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

As the remote walker loops around a circuit of familiar streets, moving further from the venue, then begins to find a way back, the story’s indication of its two characters’ paths moving ever closer together is more heavily signalled. Some of the time-travel aspects of the text suggest Chris Marker’s La Jetee has been an influence; the effort to evoke some mysterious but everyday urban epiphany reminds me of certain features in the work of Patrick Keiller or Iain Sinclair. Did these apparent references highlight the lack of a comparable idiosyncrasy or specificity in Sheepknuckle’s writing and narrative framing, making Walk With Me a more generalised experience, falling short of its immersive potential?

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Yet there’s a sense of exploring a familiar urban space through the random path taken by another person, a stranger to the city, whose attention catches on details that are slightly defamiliarised by being seen in this new context. Sheepknuckle gather tropes from many current trends in performance, whether walking, the one-to-one, psychogeography or the kind of technological mediation used by Blast Theory and Willi Dorner, to name only a few. Even so, Walk With Me is its own low-key thing. When the final line of the audio coincides with a view of ourselves on screen, and a white rose is placed into a vase, right beside us, the technological mediation is breached and the end comes to feel like the real beginning.

 

 

Hatch at NEAT14: The Golden Record by DJ Entropy

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

If Chris. Dugrenier has her work cut out encapsulating her own life experience in the short space of a stapled last will and testament, imagine the exponentially greater task of compression that faced the committee chaired by Carl Sagan, tasked to choose images and sounds that would represent the sum total of global humanity for some unimaginably distant potential alien civilization of the far future, their scope constrained by the analogue storage capacity of an encoded photo-viewer and a golden 16rpm LP record entitled The Sounds of Earth.

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

The contents of this record – which was actually compiled by Sagan’s committee to be dispatched into space aboard the two Voyager probes launched by NASA in 1977 – provided the raw material for Nottingham-based, Portland-born DJ Entropy’s performance at Screen 22 on Bank Holiday Monday, in which he live-mixed, layered and recombined the many tracks making up this portrait of humanity’s self-knowledge, representing our own sense of our kind’s place on Earth, and Earth’s in the Universe, with a few of our species’ musical ‘greatest hits’ thrown in.

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

The record embraces everything seen to be important – or essential – about humanity in the year it was made, and DJ Entropy treats the contents like sonic equivalents of the bits of glass inside a kaleidoscope. Birdsong and insect noises float through greetings in male and female voices, in dozens of different languages. Snippets from Mozart and Bach cross paths with Chinese flutes, a Pygmy initiation song, didgeridoos and Azerbaijani bagpipes, while the lovelorn strains of a Hindi song, a few bars of Louis Armstrong’s jazz trumpet or the opening chords of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode slice through the sonic canopy like comets.

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

Essentially a sound-piece, illustrated only with a slideshow of the diagrams, equations and photographs sent into space alongside the record, the mix varies, once ending dramatically, with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, another time dispersing into birdsong, rain and insect noise. The visuals show reproductive cycles, mathematical formulae, humans at birth, in old age, of all races and types, at work and leisure. There are landscapes and sunsets, images of animals, microscopic views of sperm homing in on an ovum, like spacecraft approaching a planet: all human life, barring the worst of us – the wars, exploitation and sufferings we inflict on one another – is here, one way or another.

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

Perhaps the curious thing, watching and hearing all this material unfold in the bridge of a starship-like interior of Screen 22, is how this global portrait already seems to have reached a future civilization very different from the one that selected its images and sounds. The 1977 launch of the Voyager probes, after all, pre-dates the entrenchment of economic Neoliberalism and it seems unlikely that any similarly capricious project would be viable today without corporate or media sponsorship. The NASA record, then, is itself an artifact from our own past, a mirror to humanity’s best qualities and endeavours, heading into the unknown, and already beyond the boundaries of our own solar system.

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

DJ Entropy: The Golden Record [image credit Julian Hughes]

 

 

 

Hatch at NEAT14: Wealth’s Last Caprice by Chris. Dugrenier

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Chris. Dugrenier‘s last appearance at Hatch took the form of Elan Vital, a scratch piece in which she combined an exercise class for her audience with her own quest to perform a perfect gymnastic back-walkover, all at an age when such a thing was liable to be difficult if not entirely beyond her physical reach. Perhaps there’s a certain intentional irony, then, in the fact that Wealth’s Last Caprice explores Elan Vital‘s opposite, the fact that we will inevitably run out of time and leave behind not just unfinished business and unrealised goals, but quite a lot of accumulated stuff.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Taking the form of a will-writing session (staged, appropriately enough for a legal process, in a neutral office space inside the Galleries of Justice), those of us in the audience are asked to be her witnesses and partial beneficiaries. The will made is, incidentally, genuine and legally binding – though it is revoked by that made in any subsequent performance. Dugrenier begins by printing out a copy of her last will and testament. She has, she explains, carefully itemised every single item in her possession, several thousand things ranging from books in French and English and a hundred and sixty-plus pens, to an easel, a silver pilates ball, a box of cassette tapes and a lot of socks. Not content with merely counting and listing her material possessions, she also photographs them, screening images of tangled cables, single socks, swimming goggles and caps along the way.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

The question she poses is what all this stuff means. Imagining herself gone, she wonders what use these things will be to those who might inherit them. We learn her estate’s total purchase cost, then divide it by the number of objects to find the average value of its contents. We hear personal stories attached to certain objects. One sequence maps the process of falling in love through the objects – saucepans, an artist’s print, an engagement ring – to which Dugrenier’s memories are connected. The debris on some level represents a life – specifically the eighteen years since Dugrenier arrived in England – but on another level is mostly a heap of everyday junk that only means anything because Dugrenier herself invests it with meaning.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Dropped in among Dugrenier’s explanations of her will’s intentions and her valuation of her own estate are projected sequences of handwritten ledger pages with readings from other wills, made in other times and places. One husband leaves his estate to a wife on the condition that she spends a year with her mouth taped shut, another expresses unconditional love in a single phrase: “what is mine is thine”. One will leaves nothing tangible at all, merely lists memories and some of the moments experienced in life, while another leaves only a letter and its author’s own body, reduced to a candle, to the object of his unrequited love.

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth's Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Chris. Dugrenier: Wealth’s Last Caprice [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Whatever the motive behind its drafting, a will reveals its potential to be a weapon of vengeance, an appeal to the future, a kind of eulogy, declaration and self-portrait all at once. Dugrenier, like many of us, has little of material value to bequeath – and seems burdened by the weight of even what she does have, despite a temperamental inability to get rid of even the least useful or sentimentally charged things. But Dugrenier is keen to redefine her estate as the traces of a life, perhaps lived well – something other than the physical things left behind even as those things might, occasionally, feel connected to us. In short, Wealth’s Last Caprice is a light, touching and optimistic piece about the inevitability of death – which is surely a harder balance to find than Dugrenier makes it seem here.

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]

Lightness: Drunken Chorus and Wolf Close at New Art Exchange

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

I hope to have shown that there is such a thing as a lightness of thoughtfulness, just as we all know that there is a lightness of frivolity. In fact, thoughtful lightness can make frivolity seem dull and heavy…” 

Italo Calvino: Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1988)

In a series of lectures written in 1985, but left unfinished at his death and posthumously published in 1988, the Italian writer Italo Calvino defined a series of (mainly literary) properties that he thought to be endangered by an increasingly dominant and formally prescriptive culture. The keynote memo, On Lightness, presents this property as implicitly opposed to traditional notions of weight and, by extension, significance, and Calvino’s notion of what ‘lightness’ might mean certainly comes to mind in relation to the two short performances, by Drunken Chorus and Wolf Close, staged at New Art Exchange in December.

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Developed into finished pieces from the earlier ten minute ‘scratch’ incarnations presented last year in Leicester, the two pieces aren’t really extended too much from the performances seen there, or at least, feel more like extended, around 20 minute, remixes of their ‘scratch’ versions than fully developed new pieces. Which is precisely where Calvino’s comments on lightness seem appropriate, because in both cases there seems to have been a deliberate avoidance of the usual development process which might add weight or overwork the initial sketches. Here, the lightness of the performances seems deliberately cultivated: a method of achieving a kind of formal equivalent of optimism and uplift, a sort of ‘breathing out’.

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Just Like Larry Walters by Sheena Holliday and Chris Williams, the duo at the heart of Drunken Chorus, makes this quest for lightness its subject. Larry Walters was an American who in the late 1970s strapped a bunch of weather-balloons to a lawn chair, grabbed himself a pack of beers and a pellet gun (to shoot out the balloons when he fancied descending to earth) and cut the rope that tethered him to his garden. Underestimating the lifting capacity of helium, he proceeded to ascend not to the 50 or 60 foot altitude he’d anticipated, but shot quickly upwards to a height of 16,000 feet where he drifted for hours, visible to aircraft and air-traffic control and stuck until the helium depleted and brought him naturally down.

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Drunken Chorus [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Williams tells the story of Larry Walters’ temporary escape from the ordinary, merging it with bits of Pixar’s Up and the award winning 1950s childrens’ short film and storybook The Red Balloon, while Holliday blows up balloons, wanting to inflate enough for a party, to fill the stage, the room, the whole building. While Williams searches for moments of rhetorical uplift and Holliday blows bubbles and struggles to speed up her production line of balloons – sometimes roping the audience in to help – the piece builds, then just as quickly crashes, its failure to achieve take-off marked by a rampage of onstage bubble-popping and balloon-bursting.

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Whether this ‘crash’ is intended as a metaphor for human endeavour generally, as unrealistic hope seems always to precede an equally unrealistic disillusion, is left open-ended. It does, however, obliquely connect Just Like Larry Walters with its companion piece on this double-bill, Onto The Roof, performed by Dartington graduates Wolf Close. Another attempt to build an ascent into escape velocity from the everyday begins to unfold, the emphasis less on literal flight than a (very Dartington) effort to find ways of achieving communion with nature. The duo begin with stories, dances and low-key rituals to set the mood, then gradually allow their words and actions to expand outwards from the confines of this particular stage into imagined forests, rivers and rainstorms.

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

As with Drunken Chorus, any notion of actual escape is held within a rhetorical, storytelling framework, as we’re asked to enter into this play-acted imaginary escape like the kind of children who might once have entered into the story of a boy befriended by and carried into the sky by a red balloon, or a man dreaming of flight in a lawn chair. The difference, perhaps, is that where Drunken Chorus imagine individual escapes, Wolf Close seem intent on drawing us into a collective escape: a journey by coach that crosses Europe, pays tribute to the giant Sequoias and Redwoods of some vast North American forest, then returns us all, exhausted, to our seats, while playing the violins we’ve made for ourselves and mastered in transit before rushing to the roof to dance in a rainstorm.

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

Wolf Close [photo credit: Julian Hughes]

It’s simultaneously a kind of hymn to unfettered imagination (what might we be capable of if we suspended our perceived limitations?) and an absurdist joke on the sheer unlikeliness of it all. Even so, that possibility might seem more worthwhile, for all the uncertainty of its likely outcome,  in the face of our own mortality, which On The Roof neatly symbolises with an RSPB clock inherited from a relative held, for a full, very long, minute  against a microphone, its slow but remorseless ticking a brief interlude to sharpen our engagement with the climactic scenes. On The Roof seems intent on telling us that it hardly matters whether we succeed or fail, given the blunt fact of mortality. What we choose is how to fill the ever-declining number of seconds and minutes we have left.

 

 

Take Your Partners: Primary Nights 1-2-1

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

I’m not sure if the ‘one-to-one’ performance has been undergoing something of a blossoming recently, but given that the Hatch: A Better Tomorrow platform at Embrace Arts in October was made up 50% of ‘one-to-one’ performances, and this platform at Primary is given over entirely to them, it’s either that, or something in the air around the Hatch offices that has encouraged a sort of minor proliferation. If ‘one-to-ones’ are more prevalent now than they were, perhaps it’s a response to social media, with its tendency to produce a strong illusion of intimacy even at a distance, or perhaps a more pragmatic response to the limited resources made available to performers by those Coalition ‘austerity’ measures that have, perversely, managed to run up more debt in three years than the measures that weren’t deemed austere enough did in the full 13 years preceding their implementation. Whatever the reason, Primary Nights was a whole night of ‘one-to-one’ performances, where the audience and performer stood evenly matched in a variety of spaces – some intimate and enclosed, some technologically mediated, some evocative of other times or places, some very discreetly tucked away in hidden corners of the venue, waiting to be discovered. Who knows why they all found themselves there just as 2013 entered its final phase?

Katy Baird's Cam4 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Katy Baird’s Cam4 [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Katy Baird: Cam4

The first mark on my Hatch ‘dance card’, at 7pm precisely, proves to be the most intimate of all, at least potentially. I put on headphones and sit down at an open laptop at a desk in an otherwise empty room where a Skype connection links to me to Katy Baird, who appears on the screen to tell me that she has, in the past, financed her art by working on sex webcams. So here we are, at first slightly awkwardly, Baird in a bikini top, surrounded by plants in a room that might be anywhere, and me wondering where this might be heading. After a bit of financial negotiation (based on how much I imagine I’ll put into the Hatch ‘pay what you like’ piggy bank at the end of the night) we have five minutes and I’m handed carte blanche to ask or order anything, up to and including the sort of thing Baird might have offered on the sex cams that inspired this particular piece of work. Instead, we talk about the relationship between sexual and financial fantasies, the idea of working for money as a kind of prostitution in all cases, not just the sex industry. We talk about how Baird sees her sex work and art work connecting now and in the future, both being species of fiction and performance. We talk about how banknotes are themselves, in James Buchan’s coinage, ‘frozen desire’, as unreal in their connection to value as pornography or sex work is to actual sexual activity: money as a fiction in which we choose to suspend our disbelief, just as religious believers or the readers of fantasy novels do. Because I’m on such a tight schedule, with another slot due to start at exactly 7.15, the roles get reversed a little: I’m the one who issues reminders that we’re on the clock and only have two minutes left as the time counts down to 7.13 on my phone. Even so, it’s an interesting conversation, and one that happens to touch on a subject I’ve been fascinated by myself in recent years, and when Baird appears in the hall at Primary an hour or two later, highlighting the fact that the implied distance of Skype hadn’t been much distance at all, I’m partly relieved that our conversation had stayed pretty respectable, all things considered, but partly curious about how this sudden face to face encounter would have felt had the Skype encounter gone in some other, more sexual or intimate direction. Perhaps Baird’s knowledge that she would, in fact, meet many of those she talked to in person, even if we hadn’t realised that, was part of the equation about art, power and intimacy being explored here.

Ehsan Gill's Man in the Park [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Ehsan Gill’s Man in the Park [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Ehsan Gill: Man in the Park

Ehsan Gill’s piece begins with a small coup de theatre, as I’m ushered through an ordinary office door but, as it’s closed behind me, immediately find myself walking through a thick layer of autumn leaves on the floor in an environment that is permeated with the smells of autumn and the sounds of birdsong: there’s a dream-like quality in the transition from corridor to performance that certainly starts things with an unexpected impact. Gill sits on a wooden park bench opposite, ‘speaking’ by way of text projected onto a wall above his head, putting soundproof ear-shields on and assuring that he can’t hear me, nor is anything being recorded. Then he makes a simple request, by way of that projected surtitle: ‘describe me’. I look at his trainers and grey track suit bottoms, as they send out one message about who Gill might be, and contrast them with the more traditional Muslim style of his long over-shirt and beard, the respectable student or young professional suggested by his neatly combed hair and glasses. He sometimes stares down at his feet, hands nervously clenched together on his lap, then relaxes, looks up, makes eye contact. I don’t say anything and the text above Gill’s head doesn’t change either, just reading ‘describe me’. Eventually, weighing up all the deliberately conflicting cultural signals of his dress and manner, I say out loud, ‘you’re a man I don’t know’, and that seems to be that, though the birdsong continues and the smell of the leaves still permeates the space for what seems like a long time afterwards. Then the text above Gill’s head abruptly changes: ‘Thank you’. I get up to go, leaving Gill sitting on his bench, his posture unchanged, the ear-defenders still (we can only assume) containing him inside his own bubble of silence among the ever-present birdsong, awaiting the judgement of whoever enters next.

Lisa Newman & Alex Leistiko's Mnemosyne [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Lisa Newman & Alex Leistiko’s Mnemosyne [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Lisa Newman with Alex Leistiko: Mnemosyne

The third item on the Hatch dance card takes me from an autumnal park to a Greek myth: according to the title, that of Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses and embodiment of memory. But apart from the technologically mediated spoken part of the performance, a seemingly synthesized voice booming through the vast space of an old dance studio over the sounds of the sea, the piece itself didn’t seem unduly constrained by the particulars of Mnemosyne’s story and instead operated as a kind of free-floating oracle, concerned with some attempt to remember a ritual of unexplained significance, or issue a challenge to destiny and fate. Nor was this strictly a ‘one to one’ performance, since we entered the tableaux created by Newman and Leistiko in pairs, guided to marked spots on the floor. Leistiko stands still, holding a raised lantern, and Newman hands us ropes, all of us doubled by our own shadows, which occupy a projected Aegean seascape on one wall. The location appears to oscillate between the darkened room and some other terrain, as Newman pulls on the ropes, as if hauling a boat through a storm, and the voice-over continues on its oblique journey, unravelling as it proceeds. It strikes me that its tone seems more indebted to 1950s B-movie re-imaginings of mythic encounters with the Gods than to any actually known mythology. All the while, our silhouettes appear to be engaged in a struggle with gravity and the implacable elements, as though only we are holding Newman’s body from the sea, at which point, she cuts the ropes and stands behind Leistiko, seemingly becalmed. Quite what it all means is left open, but in its blend of mime and dance, simple participatory action and technologically mediated theatre, it leaves a notable, if almost wholly indecipherable, impression.

Traci Kelly's Lost at Sea [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Traci Kelly’s Lost at Sea [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Traci Kelly: Lost at Sea

A similarly nautical aspect coloured Traci Kelly’s Lost At Sea, though in a very different way and to a very different end. Kelly pretty much distils the idea of the ‘one-to-one’ performance to its essence, inviting us, one at a time, to join her in a tiny under-stairs room (the very same space in which Francachela Teatro had goaded us into playing Russian Roulette, no less) where we’re offered a shot of Sailor Jerry’s rum, and, having downed it, drawn into a five minute long hug. Apart from reviving my own memory of the shots involved in the last performance I visited in this confined space, the construct of Lost At Sea also involves Kelly taking a shot with every person who enters her territory, a gesture of comradeship or complicity, but one that clearly has implications for Kelly herself as the night proceeds. The embrace at the core of the piece, then, is also, very literally – and ever more so as the night goes on – a matter of the performer putting her performance into the hands (or arms) of her audience. The prolonged nature of the embrace – five minutes is, after all, the kind of hug only usually encountered in the most intimate scenarios – also has its unsettling qualities: the level of intimacy is pushed to levels that are, to say the least, unusual with anyone, let alone a stranger or casual acquaintance. We’re conscious of a body’s weight, its small movements, breathing and instabilities. Meanwhile Kelly tells us how we are the ‘anchor’, the ‘rock’, something to hold onto to get through this particular night. At the end, we’re handed an origami paper boat, stamped with the words Lost At Sea, as a memento or object to discard. As with the performance itself, it’s up to us to decide whether this small paper boat, like the gesture of the embrace, is for safe-keeping or casting adrift.

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

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

Rebecca Gamble with Nadim Chaudry & Genelva Meikle: Mariela Hosomaki

I’ve still got Traci Kelly’s paper boat in my hand when I’m allowed through the door that leads down into the cellar where the digital avatar of Rebecca Gamble, a woman known in the artificial realms of Second Life as Mariela Hosomaki, stands silently among lit candles, a variety of numbered serving implements (ranging from chopsticks to skewers) hung on the wall facing her. Before descending, however, there are formalities to observe, as Gamble’s assistant (perhaps, remembering Newman and Leistiko’s Mnemosyne, some kind of guardian of the underworld, embodied by Effy Harle) issues instructions and requires decisions: we must choose a number, decide whether we will ‘feed’ or ‘eat’. Only then (all decisions made not knowing what lies in wait) can we proceed. On entering the space occupied by Mariela Hosomaki, the scene is uncanny: a woman stands frozen inside an elaborate red form, a sculptural costume made specifically for Gamble by the sculptor Nadim Chaudry in collaboration with dressmaker Genelva Meikle. It has a presence that’s part baroque Alien, part Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, part Marie Antoinette rejigged as a video-game avatar by David Cronenburg. Perhaps it’s less the form that’s unsettling than the way its folds are serving dishes filled with the small egg-like rolls of sushi we’ve committed to eat using the implement designated by that chosen number. I take the skewer, spear a sushi roll somewhere inside a lower fold of the host’s gown and eat it, then wonder if it’s appropriate to speak, or make eye contact, before it becomes clear that Gamble, or Mariela, depending on how we consider the relationship of the costume to its inhabitant, is apparently elsewhere. I return the skewer to its hook, look back as I prepare to leave (aware that in all good myths this is really not the right thing to do) and realise thatthe host – whose presence has brought those memories of Cronenburg and Alien to the surface – seems to have developed a quite different meaning to that of the giver of food, the person I visit in this cellar. As I turn to go, Gamble, or Mariela, remains perfectly still, casting flickering shadows across the peeling paint-work on the cellar walls, while the air is permeated with the combined scents of burning wax, fresh sushi and damp earth.

Laura Dee Milnes' Iuvenes Adeste [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Laura Dee Milnes’ Iuvenes Adeste [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Laura Dee Milnes: Iuvenes Adeste

Laura Dee Milnes, on the evidence of her all-too-convincing impersonation of a school headmistress in Iuvenes Adeste, would almost certainly be ‘a bit disappointed’ in her own lack of punctuality: this is a performance originally scheduled to take place at New Art Exchange in July but had to be deferred. In some ways, then, Milnes’ own school record – the subject of Helping the Young (in a rough translation of its school-motto-like Latin title) – has a certain continuity with her life since. We can certainly detect a degree of satire in her teacherly concern with her own youthful failings, ‘we’, in this case, being myself and Hatch technical manager Leigh Cunningham, who have been summarily made a couple of doting but – Milnes would hope, concerned – parents to her younger self. Milnes passes us reports, full of flatteringly phrased panic about the girl’s manner and general attitude to school. She shows us clumsy but obsessively detailed drawings of a handsome male teacher and folders of scrapbook pages where half-naked Boybands are scrawled obsessively around. So far, so predictably adolescent. Perhaps it’s the unfurling of a disturbingly plausible Jesus banner with serial killer eyes, or the evasion of homework by buying rather than making a new school skirt that has this headmistress a bit rattled, suggesting a latent sociopathy against which this headmistress may yet find herself completely powerless. Altogether, the situation created and Milnes’ own deft character comedy combine in a memorable and tightly written skit that might well develop further. Milnes’ headmistress has many of the hallmarks of a Victoria Wood-style fake-documentary subject, while adolescent Laura herself – in the headmistress’ account – has some of the makings of a serial killer, obsessive stalker or (at the very least) a serious contender on The Apprentice. That most secondary school pupils probably still have to adopt these qualities just to survive their five years in the playgrounds might be the real point of the piece, given the implausible fantasies about educational and behavioral Golden Ages that still circulate in the press and (God help us all) Government Ministries that are certainly old enough to know better.

Richard Hancock's Prisoner of Love [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Richard Hancock’s Prisoner of Love [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Richard Hancock: Untitled (Prisoner of Love)

The last performance I actually experience tonight is Richard Hancock’s oblique but atmospheric Untitled (Prisoner of Love), whose title indicates something about what kind of self-contradiction and ambiguity to expect (that is to say, there is no title, but there is, in that parenthetical allusion to Jean Genet’s final published work). I walk into the cavernous space previously occupied by Newman & Leistiko’s Mnemosyne, but it’s now lit like a secret police interrogation room, with Hancock seated at a desk under a spotlight. He beckons me to sit facing him in that pool of harsh light with a hand clad in a surgical glove. On the table are razor blades, a mirror, sheets of gold leaf, a polaroid camera and apples. I’m not sure when I first notice him, but a second figure stands silently in one corner of the room facing the wall. Hancock takes and bites an apple then hands it to me, so I do the same and hand it back. He rubs cream into the bite, lifts a sheet of gold leaf and carefully gilds the bite-marks I’ve made in the fruit, then puts it down on the mirror. He picks up the camera, changes the film, then cranks it, beckoning me over to where that silent figure stands in the corner. I’m supposed to take a photograph, so I do, and Hancock takes the camera back, his hands still in those surgical gloves, pulls out the polaroid and peels off the skin. We stare together into its black square but nothing develops. I’m led to a corner and stood facing the wall. The apple is put onto my head. I hear someone leave, another person enter. I hear an apple being bitten and the gilding brush. I hear the polaroid click behind me, the clunk of the photo being removed. At a certain point, I’m handed the black square of an undeveloped image and shown the door. When I look back, a woman stands facing the wall in another corner. When I look at the photograph an hour or two later, I see myself standing, facing the wall in one corner of that vast room. It’s a precisely (you might almost say surgically) choreographed series of actions, potentially endlessly recessive, and full of symbolic meanings – apples, mirrors and photographs; silences and presences – that ultimately refuse to quite add up. Perhaps that’s exactly why Untitled (Prisoner of Love) seems all the more inclined to retain its suggestive powers long after it’s ended.

Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys - Going to the Chapel [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys – Going to the Chapel [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys: Going to the Chapel
Random People: Speak Low

Sadly, the two items that weren’t precisely timed on the Hatch ‘dance card’ I’d been handed at the start of the night were only glimpsed as part of the general ambiance of the event rather than experienced as discrete performances. I did run into Leentje Van de Cruys & Tine Feys in the Primary kitchen early on, as the two were busy changing into their wedding gowns, but this was probably less embarassing for anyone involved than it might have been owing to Van de Cruys’ last Hatch appearance being Horsea very memorable monologue delivered completely naked but for a horse’s head mask and red high-heeled shoes. The experience on offer tonight – to join Van de Cruys and Feys in performing some of the rituals surrounding marriage – whether slow dances, exchanges of vows or walks down some imaginary aisle – seemed to be going on everywhere, and as the night went on the numbers of people sporting ‘Just Married’ ribbons increased to a point at which I might have been almost the only person in the building not to have been ‘married’ to one or the other of them during the evening: as my gran used to say, there would be plenty more fish in the sea. Which coincidentally was exactly the kind of pop-song cliche explored by the other performance that managed to evade me, Random People’s Speak Low, in which so far as I could tell, participants chose songs and then somehow used them as a basis for communication. Quite how it all worked, or whether the piece sought to discover universal shared truths in pop songs or expose the emptiness of emotionally affecting language in the same songs, is something I couldn’t tell you, having been always just passing by as others giggled, frowned or blissed-out to whatever it might have been they were hearing.  It just goes to show that with one-to-one performances, if you aren’t in them, experiencing them at first hand, they become mere rumours, tantalising secrets, like the thoughts of that person on the train wearing strange clothes, whose actions you can’t quite fathom.

Random People's Speak Low [photo credit Julian Hughes]

Random People’s Speak Low [photo credit Julian Hughes]