At first I was afraid what to expect during a 3.5-hour performance evening, knowing that performance art can be dreading. But to my surprise the evening was well balanced and kept me engaged till the end.
It started with Hannah Verril’s performance Kind of Play which was situated in the main performance space, the adjacent class room, and the garden. As audience members we were free to walk around the different areas. In the main room there was a huge projection of the classroom (located at the other side of the wall it was projected on and filmed from the outside to the inside). In front of the projection, which was visually overwhelming, there was an installation of objects that all belonged to the nature of the space: chairs, a fan, pedestals, a ladder, a music stand. Both in the video and in real time, Verril was lying on the threshold between the garden and the classroom, suggesting a pathway from the outside to the inside. The five other performers, who reminded of stage helpers, moved the objects from the main space to the classroom and eventually into the garden. It was an ongoing reconfiguration of the space, which mirrors the nature of a theatre.
Verril’s piece made me reconsider viewership and artist-ship as she drew me into her visual play of constructing and reconstructing a video installation, a performance, a sculpture. Was I witnessing an artist at work in her studio, a choreography piece, or was I part of the stage setup before the beginning of the show?
For Autumn Hays piece Operations we were redirected to the auditorium where Hays was lying on stage. Dressed in her underwear and with bandages on her body, she was quietly singing a children song. In order to take a seat we had to pass by her on stage. Hays doesn’t have the body of a model to say the least and we were directly confronted with the sight of an overweight woman. But as the performance starts she inverts our expectations by surprising us with humorous and painful jokes and gestures. Using her husband as her assistant, she starts cutting her bandages open with surgical equipment. This is filmed and live projected by her assistant. It looks very eerie until we get to see what she takes out happens to be a film-negative. It offers instant relief. All the while she tells bad hospital jokes.
Hays’ performance makes me once more aware that things aren’t always the way they seem and that we shouldn’t judge people merely based on their appearance. There are so many more stories going on within us than we can tell from the outside. The body is temporal and sometimes does its own thing, whether we like it or not. Hays’ piece raises many questions in a very compelling way without offering answers. How do we relate to a body that is different from the commons? How do we deal with sickness and decay? How do we deal with bad news from the doctor? How do we talk about it?
The evening concluded with a performative installation by Aundrea Frahm. We were invited in a huge inflatable where performers staged a light and sound show. I have to admit that due to the large audience and my height I didn’t get to see much inside so I observed what happened from the outside. It was visually very appealing, the people on the inside looked like sardines in a can who were all mesmerized by the play with the light. Though I do think this work would have worked better in a big gallery show where you would discover the piece. Maybe it is because of the impermanent nature of light itself that it wants to be found instead of presented to you in an evening filling performance night. As Verril’s piece reminded us, everything in a theatrical setting is highly staged and controlled. But the thin plastic and ephemeral nature of the materials makes me want to see it in a less controlled and staged space. It would have triggered my imagination in a more profound way.