Artificial mist envelopes Bristol’s Pero’s bridge, obscuring everything. In a moment I am lost. Uncertainty and possibility abound: perhaps when this fog clears I’ll find myself in another place – perhaps this is all there is, an endless intangible landscape. Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Bridge, which receives its UK premiere here, is a sublime piece of work, admitting of personal and playful responses, squealing children, bewildered dogs, awestruck bystanders, and confused Friday night drinkers. As the mist trails off into the the distance it becomes unclear where the work ends. The programme that runs through this year’s In Between Time festival will often share these traits: ambiguous, ephemeral, and all-encompassingly powerful.
Jo Bannon: Alba
Sound drifts in from the edge of perception. Opening in darkness Jo Bannon’s Alba is a solo that evokes and reflects upon her albinism and the mythos Bannon’s mother built around her very early life. The central mode of the work is the elevation of the domestic into the divine through the performance of delicately-lit and exceedingly spare rituals.
Appearing at first as a draped apparition drawn out from the canvas of an old master’s oil painting, soon Bannon is moving like a befuddled cartoon ghost as a dim light pervades the stage. This play between high and low status pervades the work where small moments of home life are replayed as intense moments of spiritual practice. Making the commonplace mysterious and finding the sanctity of the mundane. Dust and steam become ephemeral spirits, a cheese and crisp butty is Bannon’s stand-in eucharist. At one point we are offered the possibility of a miracle being recreated, only for reality to deny us a transformation. At their best these moments renew our view of everyday life, however the less successful ones feel more like drawn out visual puns.
Like the mass in Latin there is an impenetrable unknowability around the logic of Bannon’s actions, and a constancy of rhythm that carries the heavy weight of time passing. As with Bannon’s one-to-one experience Exposure, the ultimate revelation is that of the self. At the very end of the performance Bannon creates a transcendent moment when the simple spectacle of her genetic make up at first conceals and then reveals her, and at last we meet the performer in her entirety, paradoxically glimpsing a person who is truly unknowable.
Lucy Hutson: Britney Spears Custody Battle vs Zeus in Swan Rape Shocker
A shotgun ethical enquiry with charm as its gunpowder. The propulsive force behind this work is the present and playful engagement of its solo performer, and while there are myriad digressions from the central ethical questions of the meaning of action and engagement in the world, the work has a powerful dynamic and is genuinely funny and captivating.
Hutson’s theme is what happens when you open yourself to believe in someone else’s cause. The performance is delivered in a conversational tone, touching upon the hopes and fears involved in the making of the work and supported by dissident and recalcitrant members of the cast – dozens of My Little Pony figures who cover the stage. The work has a rich seam of comedy and the humour is knowing, self deprecating, and satirical, with a deal of clever wordplay best exemplified in Hutson’s denial of being a champagne socialist.
At points, the many diversions detract from the coherence of the show, but they are a pleasure to travel down and the work is really a meeting between audience and performer. It is Hutson’s humanity in performance that allows her to play with modes that would feel like tropes in less lively hands. Open to the ridiculous and chaotic, this is a celebration of an honest, DIY approach to answering the questions we ask ourselves.
Action Hero: Extraordinary Rendition
Physically, this is an installation that largely plays out across three small monitors observed by the solo audience member as you sit in a small wooden shipping container. Gemma Paintin is our severe flight attendant, the formality of implied power structures is woven around us with simple unquestionable procedures and the static authority of a neat uniform as she escorts us to the single seat. As headphones relay the distant voice of Paintin speaking into the cabin’s phone over a bed of confused music and the rumble of an airplane in flight, text begins to appear on the triptych of screens.
This work doesn’t play out in physical space, it is instead a journey into an implied dreamspace: the text associates us with a broken narrative that feels like the subtext of an unmade film about the subconsciousness of the United States. In this way the work is a continuation of Action Hero’s interest in the spirit and meaning of America, as explored in previous work including A Western and Hokes Bluff. Incoherence, repetition, iterative alterations, the impossibility of understanding what is being shown to us when text passes quicker than the mind can parse it.
Even in this stripped-back medium they achieve a sense of the violence perpetrated by an elite upon their targets. The surroundings and soundtrack are oppressive and the ever-present engine hum truly does transport us into a great understanding of the experience that is being implied.
The work engages with the poetics of state kidnapping without referencing the politics or ethics of this practice directly. The logical product of The Project for a New American Century’s principles – extra-territoriality, unilateralism, and pre-emption; the criminal and anti-human practice of kidnapping, imprisoning, and torturing people – this feels like exactly the kind of subject that artists should be critiquing. The kicker for me came afterwards, reading the show notes and discovering that the tiny box was the same size as the cells at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp: my stomach cramped at the horror of what is being done.
Trajal Harrell: Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (S)
As Harrell hands out the programmes for this solo (S) edition of Twenty Looks… I realise something about the previous night’s performance of (M)imosa: the work is not precious, a light touch is taken and no unnecessary weight is added, things are allowed to be. Harrell’s hands shake gently as he walks the space, making sure we have our documents: a tall pamphlet listing the twenty looks we will be seeing and some text elucidating something of the universe of the work.
The Looks are just that to begin with, a series of different costumes and attitudes, allowing of humour and transforming the identity of the performer in a gentle playful way. The changes aren’t rushed and this means the work doesn’t have the kind of continuous engagement that helps carry an audience through the work.
With Look 6 music kicks in and we have a change of pace as leaping choreography brings the space alive. There is a fascinating quality to Harrell’s presence on stage, there is a stillness at his core that feels like a boulder sat on the bed of a clear lake, and inside this rock is a living fire. As an artist he is happy to have us just a little outwith the scope of his initial references, asking us to imagine or make the links ourselves.
As with the (M) edition we are allowed to see the inner workings of the performance, sometimes it is clunky and other times it is like looking into the back of a Swiss wrist watch and marvelling at the intricate complexity that propels the simple hands around the flat surface of the dial, and we know that what goes on behind the work is the real work.
Trajal Harrell: Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (XS)
The work is made for an audience of 25, specially expanded to 32 for this performance. I am 33rd in line and make my way to the bar only for the usher to run up and tell me that Trajal wants me to see the work. He greets me at the door with a handshake.
Inside he begins by explaining that in this work he is exploring ocularity, how we see work with our eyes. He performed the work for 50 people and it failed, so he halved the audience and it worked. He wanted us to experience the work individually and because of the numbers we feel a bit too much like an audience.
It draws my attention to the heads of the people sat in front of me, a detail that my brain would usually edit out, that I am now seeing, acknowledging the actual facts of the room. I think too of artist’s authority and precision in creation, of the experience that allows a creator to define the exact mode of presentation or expression of their work.
Sometimes his hands shake when he gets nervous, that’s part of the performance too, Harrell tells us.
The same quality of the porous stage allows his entrances and exits and accompanying costume changes to be without comment or disturbance as nothing is excluded from the scope of the performance.
The work takes place in near darkness, with a sparse piano track. Harrell’s choreography manages to embody the same sustained quality of opposites in relation, thus it is both fluid and statuesque, intimate and performed. He is showing off in the most delicate and unshowy way, the movement is delicate, tragic and evocative. The dim lighting adds to the umbral quality of the work and Harrell’s intoxicating presence so intimately revealed is comforting and accusatory.