Author Archives: Thomas Bacon


About Thomas Bacon

Thomas John Bacon is an artist whose current practice focuses upon the conception of the body, being & the idea of a multiplicity of self/s in performance. His work can be located within the framework of live art and philosophical/phenomenological investigations that look to de/construct and challenge perception, alongside the assumed liminal barriers of body-based practices. Thomas is due to complete his doctoral research at the University of Bristol, with his thesis Experiencing a Multiplicity of Self/s. He is supported by the Arts Council England and is also the founder and artistic director of the live art platform Tempting Failure.

Requardt & Rosenberg: The Roof

The Roof - Photo Paul HampartsoumianMuch like the computer technology that runs, powers, and gives users access to them, the world of video games has developed at a breathtaking pace when one considers its short linear history.  Endless worlds that were only recently limited to power-hungry PCs spread across multiple households for online role play are now matched, and in some cases surpassed, by a generation of home consoles capable of delivering groundbreaking graphic detail and orchestral scores.  No longer the niche hobby of a select few, these machines have enabled a far wider audience to become accustomed to games with blockbuster budgets surpassing some Hollywood films.  Indeed, one only has to look at the freedom and scope of the most recent two iterations of the infamous Grand Theft Auto series to understand the potential extent of the worlds that game designers can create; lands where the attention to detail is so far ranging that cities, full of culture and interaction, are commonplace.

Gaming in 2014 is about possibility, freedom, its illusion, chaos theory, community, and to some extent a battle between structure and deconstruction.  It is therefore sad that The Roof, a 360-degree dance work that would have been perfectly placed to engage with some of these questions and conflicts, retreats to pedestrian enquiries around existence, repetition, and belonging, as seen from the point of a gaming avatar.  While there is certainly relevance to this conceit, as achieved most notably in 2012 by the Disney post-modernist animation Wreck-It Ralph, the exploration here feels lazy and misjudged.

As an audience we stand incongruously in an external gravel car park behind the National Theatre in London, while about a storey above and all around us is a platform, scenographically designed to appear like a basic grey rooftop. We then watch as our protagonist, an avatar distinguished by a red jumpsuit and a number, portrayed by a single dancer, explores this platform.  A brief humorous period of acclimatisation takes place; through trial and error he becomes accustomed to his landscape, losing a couple of ‘lives’ along the way.   As he progresses through the ‘levels’, his skill set develops, as does his desire to fight against this cycle of repetition.  The structure of the landscape refers to the platform genre of the 80s and 90s, yet the movement of the avatar, reminiscent of free-running parkour, draws instant parallels to more recent gaming developments as witnessed in Assassin’s Creed or Mirror’s Edge.  This clash of references, alongside the 8-bit Space Invaders that are pasted onto the set design, fuels the general sense of confusion behind the work: is this a struggle between being trapped and trying to break free?  If so, the protagonist avatar never truly evolves.  There are dalliances with violence, love and competition, while the ‘in-game’ monsters surreally evolve from being representative of external to internal fears.  But the game we witness never changes and ultimately becomes a victim of its own paucity of enquiry: stagnant, repetitive, predictable.  Assumptions about what games can be are made without understanding that game designers have long since taken avatars off the rails that locked in the experience.  While, where existential analogies could have been made through a retrospective lens, the mixed references of styles and eras simply do not logically match up to create any sense of thought-through commentary.

The open air environment, watching a dusky London summer sky change to night, planes flying overhead, clouds shifting, and lights changing in the surrounding buildings, created more drama and engagement than the performance itself.  The architecture of our environment housed a sense of anticipation, but the event never managed to surpass it, and so simply drowned in its own lack of spectacle.  The dancers themselves are all highly skilled and their ability to stay on cue to the foley effects was very impressive.  While the audience’s wireless headphones, delivering the soundtrack to each individual, did help to engage with ideas of isolation and shared community, ultimately the soundscape much like the show did little to excite.  Notably here the audio clips of shouts of encouragement, caring, or empathy for our avatar, that one assumes represented an unseen online community, stood in stark contrast to the audience present, resulting more in awkwardness than anything else.

The Roof could offer so much, the setting speaks to ideas of excitement and visual spectacle, while the notions of gaming could be excitingly relevant and its referents uncluttered.  The existential ideas should have been more powerful, free running itself vs. structure is obvious in its innate query, and the narrative of the protagonist needed some sense of powerful personal journey.  Even a sense of political commentary on freedom, illusion, and chaos could have come through but the execution failed to even live up to the company’s own online teaser video that seemed to say so much more about an existence in a modern landscape.

Lundahl & Seitl: Symphony of a Missing Room

Lundahl & Seitl - Symphony of a Forgotten Room - Photo Julian AbramsLundahl & Seitl’s Symphony of a Missing Room leads us into an environment where the individual is cherished.  It is our own perception of our world around us that makes this work beautifully unique.  In stark contrast to some larger-scale site-based immersive works, here there is a care, subtlety, and attention to each audience member unlike anything I have experienced.

Set in the Royal Academy in London, a small audience group meet at the foyer for a tour of the currently closed gallery.  Once inside we are left to wait; here the space is being prepped for the upcoming Summer Exhibition, an annual art event that is quite simply the world’s largest open-submission art show: a curatorial delight of the known and unknown.  We are greeted by an elderly tour guide, played with grace by the enigmatically beautiful Colin McLean, a figure who bookends the production with a gentle simplicity.  The world around us, typically hidden from public view, is a space filled with works to be curated into situ, divided by bustling groups of corporate suits congratulating one another, patrons, and solitary art handlers and documenters.  It is these solitary figures that capture the eye; they are the forgotten force behind the world that others celebrate, but like them so too this exhibition offers an incongruous blend of success and the eternally forgotten.  As indeed are we; our guide blending us further into the background we seemingly become ever more invisible to those around us.

Having been given noise-cancelling headphones, the sounds of the outside world are replaced by a new soundscape that develops from the vacuous space of echoing footsteps towards a score of ultimate magic and wonder.  Here, through a series of incorporated stimuli relating to relaxation and establishing convention, a sense of developing immersion is created through the accompanying narration. It doesn’t feel shocking then, when we are asked to close our eyes, and goggles are placed on our heads removing our sight.  From here on in the world is dictated purely through our other senses.  We can no longer see, yet we now can truly perceive so much more.  We are forgotten figures in a forgotten space; explorers of our own unique world.

The soundscape and its timing to the experience are exquisitely designed, but the real triumph of the work is the choreography.  Not only in moving through spaces and hitting our cues from a technical standpoint but in the reciprocal dance that you participate in.  Through the lightest of touches, the finger tips of unknown figures guide you onwards and with ever increasing trust, one finds oneself dancing with this unknown form through the private and public spaces of the Academy.  The care and attention given to establishing the freedom here, while very simplistic and potentially familiar to students of drama or dance, is wondrous.  To build this layer of trust and create this sense of freedom, and at times speed, is a gift.  In this symphony our minds perceive all, and our imagination runs free to curate our own hidden gallery, lost inside one of the world’s most famous; never to be seen or touched again.  This is true immersion, our participation is valued and this experience will live on long after leaving the missing rooms of the Royal Academy.

Greg Wohead, Hurtling

Greg Wohead: Hurtling

Greg Wohead, Hurtling

The lives of others, unknown and known, are filled with the perpetual motion of existence. Like them, you and I travel in our existence through time and space, hurtling towards an inevitable conclusion. For the most part this bond that unites us is seen yet unspoken – it’s analogous to an over-filled commuter train, where passengers are equal participants on a journey yet rarely dare to connect, make eye contact, talk to or acknowledge one another. Greg Wohead’s Hurtling, however, seeks to link each participant in the performance, one audience member at time.

To call this work a one-on-one experience is maybe misleading as it is filled with moments of connection. From the moment of arriving at The Yard theatre, where you’re greeted at the box office and given a card of instructions that leads you on a journey elsewhere in Hackney Wick, you find yourself actively open to the potential of connecting with others. As you inevitably encounter members of the public en route the piece cleverly alters your perception of those around you; suddenly everyone potentially becomes actively part of the experience, whether they know it or not. En route I was asked directions and found myself smiling at strangers, not knowing if they were part of the performance. Eventually however you are greeted, taken through an office block, and directed towards an access point on the roof. Here, alone with the world before you, there is a sense of isolation as you sit behind a desk, where a tape deck and headphones rest.

With an autumnal sun setting in a smoggy London haze, and a gentle breeze gliding its touch across the body, Wohead’s voice greets you through the headphones. Pre-recorded earlier that morning, his Texan tonality is gentle and embracing. A half-eaten apple and scrawled upon newspaper link us together in the immediacy of what becomes a fleeting yet shared existence. There is a sense of how small an individual can feel as the imposing industrial urban sprawl of The Wick clashes with Stratford’s monolithic Olympic Park in the breathtaking vista around you, yet there is a sense of peace and comfort in the voice of our guide. He is a narrator who aurally matches the visual magnificence of the sights before us with an intimate internalised landscape of image and memory.

Here, as past and present are shared, the work leads towards a perfect moment. To describe it would be to ruin its simplicity, but this fleeting shared point in time comes and goes in the blink of an eye. It hurtles past like the trains on the track that stretch out towards a vanishing point on the horizon. It leads our journey onwards and like those moments that catch one’s eye from time to time, that flash by and yet are never forgotten: it’s gone. And with that, the work is over; the tape clicks on the recording and one is left to wonder what has happened. Watching the analogue tape counter rewind, as you complete the task of resetting the desk for the next participant, you can’t help but feel that each of those numbers represents a perfect moment. And though the work relies heavily on a recording, as I left Hackney Wick on my own train home, I looked out and saw the next person on the roof, knowing full well that this next half hour would be truly unique to them alone.

Victoria Melody: Northern Soul ¦ Photo by: Liquid Photo

Victoria Melody: Northern Soul

Victoria Melody: Northern Soul ¦ Photo by: Liquid Photo

Victoria Melody just wants to join in, and in Northern Soul she presents herself as a sharing artist. She has a warm manner about her, and openly chats to the audience and herself in a quirky way that gives her a charming air of eccentricity.

The premise of Northern Soul builds upon this sense of sharing as Melody leads us through the documentation of her endeavours to immerse herself in two distinct, yet marginal worlds: Pigeon Fancying and the cult of Northern Soul. Melody celebrates the social oddities of these cultural institutions with a respectful tenderness that resonates with her own peculiarities as she relates her project-work to personal experiences of growing up as an ostracised figure – unpopular in schools and society, and sidelined to a certain extent at home.

Yet what should be a wonderfully engaging performance fails to sustain for the duration of its running time. Melody is charming and on four occasions during the performance she attempts to document the event by selecting a few audience members to take photos of her. While there are obvious resonances around performance documentation and the preservation of obscure events, these moments are actually the bedrock of her whole show, and it is here that the performance comes alive. I wanted to feel involved this way more often; I wanted to know Melody more. Throughout the performance, as she sipped a drink from a mug, I was left longing that she would more fully embrace this aspect of her performance – the premise of an inclusive seminar for a smaller, intimate audience. To have had the opportunity to sit in-the-round, drinking tea, listening to her talk and share moments from her project, or even learning a little Northern Soul dance, would have been glorious. Instead, in a work that explores those that could potentially be perceived as ostracised from ‘mainstream’ culture, we were left excluded in the dark raked seating of a studio theatre, leaving the performance to become a victim of its own conceit.

Northern Soul does have genuine moments of humour, but in an art-scene where there seems to be an increasing number of documentation-sharing solo shows, there needs to be something to set each apart from those that explore the form so well – artists such as Bobby Baker or Liz Aggis in her wonderful Survival Tactics. Otherwise what you are left with has the danger of becoming tedious and at worst self-indulgent. Melody presents a work that is full of unique potential that will hopefully develop from feeling like a quirky, student-led lecture into a gloriously eccentric immersive seminar.

Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido: Still Standing You

Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido: Still Standing You

Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido: Still Standing You

Portuguese performer Guilherme Garrido casually sits atop the feet of the Belgian Pieter Ampe, who lays beneath him with his legs in the air. This human erection provided by Ampe looks far from comfortable as Garrido greets the entering audience with a casual informality, as if he has all the time in the world. He openly chats with the audience about his day and his travels as a prelude before the performance – which he terms ‘the contemporary dance’ – will begin.

There is a subtle social dominance at this early stage that brings an exciting energy to the room. The two performers present themselves as a couple; one has the charm and grace to interact with everyone while the other is the support without whom he couldn’t function. And so what follows attempts to deconstruct the relationship of two men through physical action.

Without the theatricality of lighting or sound, the pair give nothing but their bodies to each other and our gaze. Language is replaced with grunts and snarls as machismo becomes the centre of attention – or a blurred machismo that explores the sexuality and gender deconstruction of the two men at play. Ampe and Garrido veer between representations of children one-upping each other or pretending to be robots / Godzilla in one moment, to stripping, hurting and exploring their genitalia with equal humorous innocence in the next. An innocence corrupted, not by them but rather through the gaze of the audience, as both grab, twist and blow into each others foreskins to our glee and delight.

The physicality at play is fun and while elements of contact improvisation lead us to set pieces within the work, the skill on display is competent but not advanced. Perhaps in a work that sets about deconstructing image this is as important as anything else as it subverts the ‘contemporary dance’ at play.

More, however, could have been made of the use of bodily excretion and fluids as the scent of male exertion was lost past the first two rows of the main auditorium at the Arnolfini. Vicarious excitement played fleetingly over the audience as they recoiled at what was a limited use of spit and sweat, and again these moments said more about us than them, in what felt like an opportunity missed. Indeed there was something too clean about viewing the work in this space. It needed to be tighter and more isolated; we needed as an audience to connect with the charges, throws and impact of the bodies onto the hard floor, but sadly raked seating and end-on staging meant that much of the action was performed too far downstage, meaning that only the first two rows could view certain moments and the audience was left disconnected rather than in rapture at the immediacy of the work.

Presented as part of the In Between Time Festival, this was a fun production that might have said a lot more. I would like to see it shown again in a venue working for it rather than against it. While the show does raise questions for us through entertainment and much laughter, one couldn’t help but feel that it could have done so much more in its presentation and deconstruction of us, them, and our shared symbiosis.