Experimentica Festival Review
Experimentica is a festival for challenging, provocative and imaginative artworks. From 12-16 of October, the 11th annual event took place at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.
Experimentica 1.1 showcased both emerging and established artists from Wales and beyond. This year it focused on pedagogy, art and performance.
I’ve selected and reviewed my highlights, bringing you some of the best of what the festival had to offer.
Iwan ap Huw Morgan: Gweledigaeth/ Vision
The theatre at Chapter was turned into a sacrificial-altar-meets-builders-yard. Ladders, buckets and tools were interspersed with candles and mysterious objects such as twisted lumps of metal. This hinted at what the audience could expect from a work described as “ritualistic performance” and a “visionary experience.”
Gweledigaeth/Vision began controversially with Iwan ap Huw Morgan lowering his trousers, pushing aside his underwear and plunging a needle into his upper thigh. He then slowly poured the drained blood down his face and into his mouth. He seemed to be making a sacrifice to some unseen force in the room. Boundaries blurred between live art, ritual and self-harm.
Moving on instinct alone and rampaging angrily across the space, he released raw emotions, taking them out on the inanimate objects that surrounded him. It was intimidating and striking to watch as an audience member, yet seemed like a cathartic and meditative exercise for the artist himself.
I felt like my presence was incidental and unnoticed, as if Iwan was immersed in the primitive rituals he performed and cut off from reality. It would have been interesting if a greater level of audience engagement was incorporated into this performance, as it was with most other artworks at the festival. Or perhaps this would have broken the spell the performer was weaving over onlookers.
He appeared to undertake a series of quasi-religious ceremonies and rites throughout. Like a druid for the contemporary age, he performed ablutions over buckets of water, seemingly acts of spiritual purification.
Iwan proceeded to daub himself in paint, with echoes of a Celtic warrior preparing for battle. At the end, marking the climax of the performance, he cried out loudly. Was it in pain, or triumph? Anger or ecstasy? This felt like the culmination of a performance which was itself a rite of passage.
He then marched out of a side door, and the audience remained still, stunned into silence. Slowly people funnelled out of the theatre, and a woman declared: “Nobody clapped. You know a performance artist had done well when no one claps.”
Iwan ap Huw Morgan during his new ritual performance work, Gweledigaeth/ Vision
Elbow Room: Intercourse
Formed in 2010, Elbow Room is a cooperative of three creative practitioners which aims to develop creative activity in public spaces through a collaborative, open and engaged approach.
Intercourse, the work they presented at Experimentica, explored ethical issues around themes of surveillance and public/private observation. The idea was for members of the public to enter a room in pairs. Isolated inside, they were free to perform any actions they wanted. This was screened live in the cafe bar.
Intercourse posed a vital question, not just about art but life itself: What are the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in public?
I spoke to Cinzia Mutigli, Co-director of Elbow Room, about the ideas and inspiration behind this artwork. She described visiting Chapter’s Common Room and finding it a really interesting space. From there, the concept of Intercourse “built up quickly over a glass of wine”. Initially, they thought of installing a bed, but decided that was “too prescriptive”.
Staring competitions, hand stands and arguments are just a few examples of what the public did in the empty room during Experimentica. There were even a couple of people who pretended to be dung beetles while inside!
However, Cinzia revealed to me that, “so far nobody in there has pushed boundaries yet.” In a way I’m disappointed that I never saw anything truly outrageous and uninhabited take place during Intercourse. This was a space without rules: people could let go and take risks. Yet so far, no one really had.
Does this mean the work has been a failure? I don’t think so. It has at least succeeded in helping to answer the question of how far people are really willing to go in public.
Pester & Rossi: Survival!? Survive-It!
Survival!? Survive-It! is a product of the imaginations of Pester & Rossi, aka Ruby and Nadia, graduates from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art. They describe their work as “an experiment in bizarre and unpredictable worlds”, and I couldn’t put it better myself.
Survive-It! (part experimental laboratory, part quirky art workshop) involved the public thinking of items they would need to survive if they were ever caught up in a disaster, such as an earthquake. Pester & Rossi then crafted this for you out of colourful playdough. Their “lab” displayed an interesting selection of products, from torches to swords and even night goggles. There was nothing they wouldn’t have a go at creating. In return, you had to bring them an item to swap it with. Books and CDs were just some of the objects traded in.
When people ask me what I saw at Experimentica, it’s this work that has most captured their attention and imaginations. After telling people about it, I always get an excited and enthusiastic response.
Unfortunately though, it didn’t say in the brochure that you had to swap items in order to take part, so I couldn’t get fully involved. All I had with me was my purse, mobile, notebook and camera, and understandably I didn’t feel prepared to part with them! It would have been good if the trading aspect had been better publicised.
Nevertheless, this lively duo brought a sense of fun and play to the festival, which otherwise could have become a little too focused on learning in a strictly academic or intellectual sense. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in Cardiff and beyond in the future.
The word karaoke come from the Japanese term for “empty orchestra”. Mark Bell’s experiment with “visual karaoke” adds a twist to this: instead of singing along to the lyrics, you have to move your body to match the images.
Dressed in a head-to-toe silver catsuit, Mark proceeded to launch himself around Chapter’s Stiwdio, as he tried manically to keep up with the characters displayed on the ceiling-high screen.
Visual Karaoke was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s a concept that’s difficult to get your head around at first unless you see it, but it’s entertaining and addictive viewing.
One of Mark’s opening videos was a dance sequence by Vicky Lynne— a man in drag. It was interesting watching a man trying to copy the movements of another man who’s trying to move like a woman! During this performance, the audience couldn’t stop laughing.
My highlights were the performer’s attempts to mirror the movements of famous music videos. His efforts to keep up with Christopher Walken in Fat Boy Slim’s video for the song ‘Weapon of Choice’ were hilarious. So was watching him try to dance along with Kate Bush in her famous ‘Wuthering Heights’ video.
Mark’s performances were also punctuated with short videos of him discussing the ideas and inspirations behind his experimental work.
The event wasn’t a complete success though. Towards the end, Mark misjudged his audience, announcing he was going to do visual karaoke to the first twenty minutes of The Sound of Music. He might as well have said “I’ve got bird flu”, judging by how rapidly half the crowd exited the building. For a minute all I could hear was the sound of feet walking to the door.
It all started to go a bit wrong from there. The video began to stall, and he had to try and iron out the technical glitch before re-starting his performance. Mark must have been running late (or he was about to collapse with exhaustion from running around so much) as he fast-forwarded most of The Sound of Music. It ended quite anti-climactically, and people didn’t seem sure whether the show had finished, and if they should leave or clap.
Mark’s performance was thankfully redeemed by the audience-participation elements and sheer potential of his entertaining idea. Onlookers were encouraged to shout at him and guide him as he ran around the room. People were able to control the images on the screen to dictate his movements. The audience was even invited to put on suits and have a go at visual karaoke themselves. All this added to an uplifting sense that performance art can be fun and accessible.
Who knows, perhaps in a few years time Cardiff will have its very own visual karaoke bar? I certainly hope so.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Random People: Live Art Live Blog Launch
Random People was founded in Aberystwyth in 2007 as a platform for collaborative projects in the field of performance. They are the team behind the innovative LIVE ART LIVE BLOG. This blog aims to increase the visibility of live art events and improve access to live art, which is sometimes seen as exclusive.
A live art blog launch wouldn’t, of course, be complete without some live art itself. This came courtesy of artist Kathyrn Ashill, who proceeded to eat the Experimentica Manifesto in front of a surprised audience.
This session involved a lively discussion about antidotes to conventional art schools, and setting up alternatives. These new schools would become “pitstops” for people along their creative life. They would encourage artists to come together, form relationships and engage in conversation.
Current issues affecting artists, as well as their hopes for the future, were also debated.
FIND OUT MORE
- View my ongoing project to document and photograph artists’ and audiences’ experiences of performance art. See what people said about Experimentica here.
- Want to join the debate? Check out http://www.culturecolony.com for an insight into the festival’s events and to be part of the conversation about them.
- To find out more about Experimentica and to read the festival’s Manifesto, visit Chapter’s website.