Art – it’s a wild, scary thing. And very difficult to define, these days. From Damien Hirst’s pickled sharks to Tracey Emin’s crusty bed, what we now consider art stretches further than a mere painted canvas. In fact, in the Artes Mundi 6 exhibition, I don’t think one artist has painted a thing – or at least not at the National Museum’s collection. No, the artists on show here have gone from plywood panels to chocolate heads, from rotating goats to cardboard monuments. Film, music, sculpture, drawings – the mediums and materials are as broad and as varied as they could possibly be. Such a diverse range in style gives the viewer many different ways to respond.
As part of Artes Mundi’s series of response performances, I took part in a lunchtime response session in which I and the dynamic and abstract creative team Response Time guided an audience around the exhibition, subjecting them to live and immediate responses to the artwork on offer. The responses, much like the variety of the artwork, came in several different mediums – short fiction, poetry, dance, movement, scenes of dialogue… With some only written within 24-48 hours of seeing the exhibition, the effect art can have on the mind or the body was made clearly visible. The art provoked a crescendo of creativity and what emerged were thoughtful, astute pieces that could have stood alone.
My own response (which is available for your viewing (dis)pleasure at the end of this post) was brought on by the artwork of Theaster Gates, whose work ‘When We Believe’ pondered the notion of worship across cultures and its symbols. The particular artwork I was attracted to was a stuffed goat used in Masonic Initiation ceremonies which continuously circulated a railway track. At first, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I’d write but I knew the image of the goat was the most resonant in my head after seeing the exhibition. What I created in response would probably bemuse the artist. It’s a short story which aims to take the image of the goat and put it in the environment of a Welsh village. Performing this to a room filled with adults seated on the floor beaming up at me while a goat revolved behind has to be one of the strangest, yet most rewarding experiences of my life.
I hope you enjoy it. Or at least get to the end. Lady or Gentlemen, I bring you ‘Goat’.
by Sam Pryce
Note: This story was written between 27th and 30th Oct 2014 in response to the artwork ‘When We Believe’ by Theaster Gates.
It was the third night that George had not come home. Margaret did not feel particularly nervous about this fact. After all, George was a grown man of fifty-five years – he could do what he liked. But for three nights in a row now, Margaret had sat in front of the television with only an incontinent cat and an empty, moist armchair for company.
It wasn’t that Margaret was worried about what her husband could be doing, no. It’s not like he’d be with another woman. Good grief, no; not George. The only woman who’d ever endure his body odour, his pedantry, his weak spirit, his complete lack of charisma, his ingrowing toenails, his pot belly and his tragic face was Margaret. Not even his mother could put up with it; got out as soon as she could.
Now she thought about it, Margaret had perceived something lost in George lately. He had lost his… Well, he didn’t really have much to start with, but Margaret had certainly noticed something off about him.
She recalled a conversation that had happened earlier that day.
George was sat reading a beaten, brown book intensely, when Margaret entered to ask what it was.
‘Oh, it’s nothing really,’ he said, somewhat startled. ‘I just found it upstairs.’
‘Well,’ she said. ‘If it’s nothing, let me see it.’
‘No, really, it’s nothing, Margaret.’ He slammed the book shut and left the room, declaring, ‘I’m going for a cack.’
‘Oh, okay,’ replied Margaret. ‘Enjoy.’
It was not strange that George should want to go for a cack; he usually went up to five times a day, depending on what Margaret had cooked him. But what was strange was the fact that he was reading something other than the Western Mail or Page 3.
Whenever he would leave in the nights, George would say he was going for a drink and would not be back until ten – accurate enough. Only, when he would get back, she could not smell the slightest whiff of drink on him.
Overcome with suspicion, Margaret switched off the television, slipped on her coat and walked out into the night to find George.
The village pub was called The Goat and Compass – a name which Margaret had always found peculiar. Why would anyone want a goat and a compass? Perhaps you could ride a goat and use the compass to tell you where you were going.
Margaret pushed open the heavy wooden door to a near-empty pub. She approached the bar, where a young girl slouched tapping into her phone.
‘Er, excuse me,’ whispered Margaret. The girl looked up and said nothing. ‘Hello, I wondered if you would know where my husband might be. He said he’d be here, but I can’t see him. His name’s George, if that’s any help.’
‘There’s a load of ‘em upstairs,’ mumbled the girl. ‘It’s like a social thing or something.’
‘Oh, good,’ replied Margaret, genuinely relieved. ‘I’ll just use the toilet then and I’ll be off.’
But the girl had already turned back to her phone, her fingers striking like lightning across the screen.
Margaret carefully ascended the steps to the toilet so as not to disturb her husband’s club. Once at the top of the staircase, however, she could hear something choral, something harmonic, some vocal exaltation resonating from the room to her left. A rising, echoing chorus of surging male voices, declaring love to a Great Architect. If only he had told her. If only George had said, thought Margaret, that he had only gone and joined a choir. He wasn’t so dull after all. She moved towards the door, charmed by the smooth gush of the choir’s refrain, and opened it only slightly, but was greeted with something far stranger within.
Inside, several men were congregated, clad in brown hooded cloaks, encircling a small, plump man in the centre, also hooded. The central man was blindfolded and visibly unnerved. His reddened, sagging body was shining in sweat and he was shaking.
A bell tolled. The choir stopped. Another man – whom she could not see – boomed to the congregation.
‘Render the candidate slipshod.’
Without hesitation, the closest hooded figure knelt to roll up the shivering candidate’s right trouser leg until it was above his knee and removed his right shoe. Margaret could do nothing but hush her breath and watch.
‘Expose the candidate’s left breast.’
As controlled as clockwork, another man came and slid the cape over the candidate’s shoulder so that his firm nipple and flaccid breast was out for all to see. Margaret could recognise it anywhere – it was her husband. She bubbled with indignation. He’d lied to her. She had lost all sympathy for him – even as the men tied a golden rope around his neck, she felt no obligation to go in and stop them. All she wanted was to show George up to them for what he really was – a liar.
But before she could, a gong sounded. In a tone of finality, the master of the ritual spoke again:
‘Divested of all metallic substances, neither naked nor clothed, barefoot nor shod, right knee and breast bare, you are ready to begin Initiation. Now, hold the instrument to his breast and lead the candidate around the room.’
The chorus began their soft, ethereal chant again. Margaret watched George – pathetic, sweaty, snivelling little Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie, kissed the girl and made her remain in a sexless marriage for over 20 years – being led around the room, a dagger held to his nipple. He wept with fear. He looked ridiculous. It was like watching an animal being led to the slaughter.
He’s like a goat, thought Margaret. A pathetic little goat. But not even as tragic as a live goat. No. A stuffed goat, yes. Lifeless, loveless, just staring blankly ahead, rotating around and around, no idea, no aim, nothing but dead skin and pillow flesh. No life left.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the Master now roared, ‘Prepare the Goat!’
The Goat they were referring to was brought out on wheels and George was made to sit upon its back. The Goat was treated with such reverence from the men. They had been told what it meant to them. The Goat was filled with the sins they had committed. The horns, the beard, the cloven hoofs – the Goat marked the Devil himself. By riding the Devil’s back, the men were able to free themselves of sin. Once all the men had gone through this act, they were truly accepted. It was George’s turn.
George clung to the horns of the Goat for dear life. The Master went behind the Goat and took hold of a large lever which protruded from the Goat’s backside.
‘I shall now buck the Goat until you fall from it, denoting your sacrifice to the Lord,’ said the Master.
And with a singular wrench of the lever, the Goat’s backed bucked and George was propelled through the air, flew over the Goat’s horns and landed with an almighty thud upon the floor. A barrage of mocking guffaws ensued. Margaret felt herself open the door and rush into the room. That was when he saw her. His hood had fallen back, his stunned face on show. They all saw her. She stood, held the room still with her appalled glare. George sat up, eyes wide and cheeks burning with shame. The others gawked.
A pause. This was broken by the Master pulling off his hood revealing the beaming face of Mr. Barry Blacksmith, a great friend of the couple and proprietor of the pub.
‘Oh, alright, Margaret?’ he said. ‘We’re just having a bit of fun by ‘yer, we are. Initiation for the, er…’
George plucked up the courage to mutter, ‘For the, er, Drinking Society, it is.’
The other men tore off their hoods quickly – as though Margaret were a symbol of the law – and all simultaneously confessed that it was all a bit of fun really, yeah, just a bit of fun, it is.
Margaret, however, was unconvinced. Instead of allowing relief to replace her resentment, she walked out of the room, out of the pub, out of the town, in silence and in disbelief.
For she was no weakling. For she would not surrender to her lying husband’s newfound religion. For she had seen the full, gruesome extent of what we become when we believe.
Artes Mundi can be seen at National Museum Wales,Turner House Gallery and Chapter Arts Centre.
|Created by Deborah Light , Chapter Arts Centre, Studio , February 23, 2013|
|When confronted by a naked, giggling woman as you walk into the theatre you know the show you are about to see is either going to be attention-seeking or daring. Deborah Light’s innovative first full length piece of course fell into the latter category – original and thought provoking.With a cast of world-renowned female performers HIDE showed how much is possible in a stripped back space. With just their bodies and a few mobile studio lights these women explored the boundaries between our public and private lives – as the programme asks, ‘are they showing themselves? Or is this a show?’
Wonderfully timid Jo Fong physicalised the constant battle between a performer and their onstage psyche, telling us ‘this is a show’ whilst performing conflicted choreography that showed a performers struggle with nerves more than words could ever convey.
Rosalind Haf Brooks on the other hand strived to make a connection with her fellow performers, even resorting to sniffing their clothes just to make contact. By turns equally humorous and touching in her pursuit for human interaction.
Most of the text based content came from the beautifully androgynous Eddie Ladd who chronicled the stages of her life by describing what length her hair was at any given time. She revealed that she has not always been Eddie, but as a performer she needed to change her name to avoid having the same name as another.
Each of the women contributed something new to the mix, each dancing in their own unique way and each bringing a different set of emotions to the performance. The fractured nature of the piece allowed them to disappear and reappear, transform and dissolve exploring the multiple layers of human nature.
The lines between performance and life were completely blurred – what was a performance and what was truth didn’t seem to matter as the piece delved further into what’s underneath the surface of our external facades.
Exciting and engaging, this is the kind of work that will encourage discussion and linger in your mind long after the event.
Chelsey is a member of the Young Critics Scheme for further information contact
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.