51 Reasons for Living - BAC Burst May 2009

Feature in Issue 21-3 | Autumn 2009

Burst festival is a wondrous thing: a kind of smorgasbord of contemporary performance and theatre experiments, all crammed into a few short weeks. I have just a day to relish the Burst experience, but it’s a very full and satisfying day.

It starts, blissfully, with Adrian Howells’s Foot Washing for the Sole, a performance work for an audience of one, invited to spend time with Adrian whilst having their feet lovingly attended to. Howells is a highly competent performer who exudes an air of confidence, trust and authority. It’s very easy to put yourself in his care. Whilst my feet are washed and anointed I am asked to share thoughts about my relationship to them, and Adrian shares his thoughts on the symbolic relevance of feet washing, and the cultural resonances associated (the story of Christ washing his disciples’ feet is referenced, unsurprisingly). It’s a gem of a piece, small but perfectly formed.

From the sublime to – the supermarket. Rotozaza’s Wondermart sends participants off in pairs, each with a shopping list and an MP3 player that issues instructions. There is a feeling of delicious subterfuge scurrying down the aisles stalking other shoppers, contemplating shoplifting, or rearranging items on the shelves as instructed. Where the piece falls down is in the instructions that involve interaction with the second participant – the logistics of it are such that meetings fail to materialise or encounters feel awkward. I believe that the company has, since Burst, rethought this aspect of the piece, and apparently improvements have been made. But even with these reservations, it is an excellent piece – genuinely subversive!

Someone who I’m sure would like to be thought of as subversive is American artist Ann Liv Young, whose work Solo is a kind of cross between a vintage Annie Sprinkle sex-art performance and extreme karaoke. It’s loud and ‘shocking’, a kind of theatre of the senses I suppose. But I’m just not willing to be shocked – I’ve done my time performing with Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanny Tutti and Psychic TV so there is nothing, nothing at all, in the way of wayward sexual imagery, personal exposure, extreme body art or raucous dissonant music that I haven’t at some time created, witnessed or been party too. It raises a question that comes up with ever-increasing frequency as the years roll by: is something valid if it is new to a younger generation of artists and audience members who haven’t encountered anything similar before? Are we ‘old hands’ just being churlish in our dismissal of things that are repeats of what we did thirty years ago? To my eyes this comes across as ‘vintage avant garde’, and I’ve lost interest in this sort of work, but others may well feel it has more relevance to them.

Of far greater interest to me is the David Hoyle performance / installation here seen, a work-in-progress piece (with, as yet, no name that I know of) which finds him ensconced in a garret room where, he claims, he lives day and night, being an artist. He is dressed divinely, his flowing polyester kaftan a fetching shade of blue, set off nicely by a bird’s nest of hair, and panda eye make-up. A small table by the window has an assortment of interesting clutter – wine glasses, nail varnish, make-up, pencils and charcoal. In the corner is a dog food bowl and a pile of straw. Another audience member who has wandered in asks if he has a pet. ‘No,’ he answers, enigmatically. She leaves, a little bemused. I’m invited to share a glass of wine, have my portrait drawn, and to have my nails painted (in glitter black, which goes over the chipped gold already on them quite nicely, I feel). David Hoyle is (as always) outrageously entertaining, his banter satirically challenging cultural assumptions about life, sex, art and anything and everything else in this whole wide world. This intimate encounter feels like something to treasure; a special relationship just for one day.

My day ends with Lundahl and Seitl’s Rotating in a Room of Images, another piece for an audience of one. It starts like that theatre game where you lead people around a space blindfolded, the masked person subjected to tiny whispers and flutters of parting curtains. It goes on to become a gently disturbing and disorientating game of hide-and-seek in which the space constantly reinvents itself, and ghostly figures appear and disappear in quick succession – a kind of walking dream that is a fitting end to a day of waking dreams taking many different forms. Did this all really happen?

This article in the magazine

Issue 21-3
p. 25