Monday, 19 March 2012

Indiscriminate content production since 2010

Calum MacAskill
How Peas are Made
The alliance of agricultural multinationals and radical physical theatre performers has given the UK some of its most vibrant performances of the last ten years: MacAskill, until now better known for his adaptations of Faust and Pirates of the Caribbean – both one man shows that astounded audiences with his versatility and ready humour – now joins this veritable industry with a site-specific study of DNA, evolution and delicious meals.
The decision to take a working farm as venue is a brave one – when MacAskill climbs atop a threshing machine and bellows the show’s title at a vast uncaring barn, he highlights the intrinsic horror lurking behind both the blind idiot force of natural selection and playing about in what is, after all, just a big factory for food production.

Yet in these moments of bravado, MacAskill reveals a deeper truth. Existing in the modern world demands compromise, not least the willing forgetfulness of the processes that conspire to make us who we are.

Undoubtedly, this is his big break: the theme tune, that plays in the background as he leads the audience around the farm, has already gone viral online, and threatens to be the Christmas number one. It’s heartening that such a series look at man’s relationship to nature has become part of mainstream conversation.

The VileArtsMercury
Indiscriminate content production since 2010

Julia Bauer
I Done Broke It
Collecting Bauer’s photographs from the past year – during which she travelled across several countries, snapping landscapes and buildings as she moved – I Done Broke It evinces a fascination with the structures beneath structures and the raw materials that surround us, hidden in architecture and concrete. By finding those places where natural decay has set into objects – a broken table leg is surprisingly moving, a crack in a wall exposes the infinity of Blake’s leaf of grass – Bauer seeks to reveal those materials usually hidden by the facade.

The images – set up around the stage at Glasgow’s O2 Academy, an unpredictable choice of gallery – are overwhelming at first, a series of stunningly beautiful and colourful snapshots. Undoubtedly, prints of Bauer’s photography will be covering up the patches on student walls well into the next century: yet the irony is that this beauty speaks of her philosophical interests. In the gallery guide, she notes that she is not fascinated by the exterior, but the hard working materials inside. Her analogy of the duck, serene on the surface but with legs paddling furiously beneath, is apposite and profound. She introduces the viewer to a world beneath and beyond the apparent.

This dualism runs through the exhibition like an evocative crack, celebrating the unnoticed while drawing attention to her eye for specific detail: the very chemistry of concrete is rendered poetic. Elegant, emotional and intelligent, I Done Broke It announces the arrival of an important new artist on the international stage.

The VileArtsMercury
Indiscriminate content production since 2010

Steph Black
Frog Music
Frog Music is that rare thing, a piece of performance art that is both witty, intelligent and popular. Relying only on Black’s physical presence, with a little help from her exquisite use of raw materials, it combines a sternly political intention and a playful flirtation around danger. Despite only lasting three minutes, and performed in silence, it has the immediate impact of a summer chart-topper.
Throughout the performance, Black is balanced between a yearning for the extreme and a desire for stability. Taking a single news article as a foundation,  she uses movements gleaned from popular culture and eastern martial arts to comment on the emotional impact of the global media. The title, taking from her experience of listening to frogs in the darkness, belching around a swamp, hints at her message: the news itself is merely the meaningless commentary on events, relegated to the sidelines and failing to either enlighten or engage, leaving only the constant barrage of static.

It is clear that Black’s evolution as an artist is honing her longer, abstract explorations into shorter, more forceful and immediate pieces: Frog Music is still beautiful and elegiac, yet has a more focused political passion. Despite the lack of language, script or sound, she communicates her ideas directly, echoing familiar choreography while injecting humour into her taut physical essay. By creating a moment of silence, she answers the relentless assault of contemporary noise disguised as information.

The VileArtsMercury
Indiscriminate content production since 2010

Catherine and Lee

Catherine and Lee, in their debut duo performance, ask hard questions about the lines between genres. At once a startling example of experimental musical theatre and a fine piece of autobiographical drama, it explores the city landscape as if it were a wilderness, challenging the traditional categorisations of performance and location. Wilderness may well be the world’s first site-specific street festival contemporary dance musical: it is certainly a bold statement of intent.

Starting with Catherine dancing alone – since Wilderness is part of Glasgow’s inaugural Festival of Busking, she uses the music floating across George Square from the various other artists. Suddenly, she drops the carefully choreographed tango, and moves instinctively with the melodies, shaking and twisting as if in the grip of an ecstatic trance. Lee provides a commentary on the dance, relating specific movements to the surrounding buildings. Advertising tends to provoke crouched, aggressive stances: the dreamy spires of late Victorian architecture inspire leaps and twirls that recall ballet.

Clearly influence by the freedom of contact improvisation and the serious monologues that came from the Glasgow Live Art Young team of the early 2000s, Catherine and Lee add a sensitive to both environment and music. If the underlying message is that the wilderness exists inside the urban, their versatility celebrates the freedom of the wild.

The VileArtsMercury
Indiscriminate content production since 2010

Katrin Turner
Two Hours and Counting
Turner’s debut long form feature film flatters to deceive. Coming on like a boys’ own adventure tale – the appearance of space pirates dressed in pig costumes has the tone of earnest fan fiction – it revels in the fundamental impossibility of the human understanding either destiny or the vast reaches of deep space. Nominally a science fiction epic, where the heroic captain chases a captured princess in the best Star Wars style, it gradually reveals its nihilistic philosophy, of a universe neither hostile nor even aware of the great human experiment.

Captain Morgan – a flawed hero, quick with the one liners and tart replies, but nursing a broken heart and gentle disposition – is revealed as a contemporary everyman, desperate to believe that his mission has a purpose. The plot – peppered with action sequences and loving depictions of planetary systems – is of secondary importance to the character’s journey, which moves from posing cynicism to sincere confusion. Turner’s use of the close up, catching the slightest frown or smile, makes the landscape of Morgan’s feature more expressive than the expensive and lavish long-shots of the Universe.

Having made her reputation with a series of shorts that unflinchingly captured theatrical performers talking about their craft, Turner may have seemed a strange choice to direct this summer blockbuster. Yet she carries off the drama with aplomb, while infusing the film with a distinctive intelligence and thoughtfulness.

The VileArtsMercury
Indiscriminate content production since 2010

Danielle Heath
First Album
Danielle Heath’s photography is reminiscent of family snaps – appropriately enough, given the title of this exhibition. Bodies float in and out of focus, awkward smiles and strained poses recall the way that a group photograph was, once upon a time, an essential ingredient of a night out. Spread out across the walls of The Arches’ basement, the collection is nostalgia and almost embarrassingly personal. Yet by elevating these snatched moments towards the status of art, Heath lends a nobility and poetry to the hidden history of family life.

What makes Heath’s collection stand out from a mundane session around the photo albums is the use of a sophisticated visual language of gesture and expression. Sometimes, the photographs are arranged in sequences that suggest a series of stills from a film: across the entire exhibition, clenched fists, raised forearms, twists of the body towards or away from the camera take on a symbolic meaning. That few of the people in the pictures actually touch one another gives the images an alienated, frustrated atmosphere: the single embrace – the last image of the exhibition – becomes a surprisingly triumphant presentation of connection and warmth.
Whether Heath was inspired by The Arches as a space – its oft-mentioned stone walls have overshadowed many productions and given them an unexpected sombre tome – or is allowing the venue to enhance these sweet images of disconnection is moot. The synthesis of content and gallery is as coherent as the gap between her style and message is startling. In a single exhibition, Heath deconstructs the way that the shining surface can hide the depth of feeling.

The VileArtsMercury
Indiscriminate content production since 2010

Rosie Reid
Swimming with Rosie

Rosie Reid’s first play for children may be a solo show that echoes her established series of intimate theatre pieces, but it is supported by a lavish production that gives her quirky autobiographical fables a more polished and family friendly veneer. Performed in a swimming pool, with the audience of under-fives sat, feet in the water, around the edge, she tells stories of swimming and - in the spectacular finale - becoming a champion board diver. Many of the stories have a clear moral, yet she never allows the message to overwhelm her cheery good humour.

From the very beginning, when she appears from the changing rooms in a glamorous 1940s’ bathing suit, Reid holds her audience rapt. There are occasional cheeky asides to the adults that do not detract from her direct communication with the children. Indeed, her tone of child-like wonder wins them over, without ever descending into simple childishness.

The bulk of her stories deal with her fascination with sea-creatures: when she ponders how a fish finger could swim (until her teens, she was convinced it was another sort of fish, like cod or a prawn), or acts out the moment when a large eagle splashed down next to her, she has the children giggling along with her. Her warm, comfortable style - she is never hurried, never worried - allows her to go into complex tales and their dire warnings without missing a beat.

Not only is this a fine lesson in water safety - the support of the Lifeguards Association makes perfect sense - it is a superb example of how a performer can flourish, even when she is literally out of her element.

Edward Crawley
Beats International

The cold, hard world of chemical science is not usually associated with the naked warmth of the human voice. Yet Crawley’s masterful encounter installation finds the embers of compassion in the coil of human DNA. Beginning the show encased in what appears to be a cage of twisted metal - later revealed as a flexible model of the human chromosome  - Crawley sings his way free of the wreckage and finally stands proud as an individual of considerable talent.

Recognising the intimate relationship between man and technology was Crawley’s first step. Previously, he has attempted to discover the ghost in the machine, by considering ways that choices could be made without the interference of a person. Now he goes further, and uses the chemistry of life itself as the blueprint for a solo, vocal performance. Working in full light, and making himself the centre of attention only adds to the humanity and humility of Beats International: against the austere majesty of the video projections, Crawley is almost vulnerable.

However, his plain chant is a testament to human resilience and the beauty of simplicity. Always aware of his audience, frequently picking out individual listeners for his attention, Crawley re-affirms the bond between an artist and his art in a manner that is romantic (in the philosophical sense). His intention, to wonder at the apparent random nature of DNA and its ability to nevertheless produce complicated and elegant forms, is eloquently expressed in his music. Emerging from stutters and moans, it slowly takes on a more recognisable form, first as melody, then as words.

Crawley may provoke questions about the evolution of language, and the importance of art and artistry in the development of even mundane communication. But perhaps more importantly, he has composed a love song to the humanity encoded in the chemistry.

Yes, it is Performance
an interview with Mr Criticulous
As he has commented himself, Mr Criticulous may not have any talent, but at least he was the first Performance critic. He’s been knocking around Glasgow for the past couple of years, generally making a fool of himself and trying to find ways to prove that the critic is as much of an artist as the poet, only in a different medium. With his distinctive smell and world-weary look, Criticulous is unwilling to speak to the press: “I am part of it, and my insanity doesn’t yet include talking to myself,” he insists. Yet we caught up with him in the street outside The Arches, where he was contesting a restraining order brought by the cast of River City.

What is a performance critic?
I like to think of the performance critic as a romantic hero: a man with compassion in his heart, a square jaw and a clear sight of the world’s inequalities. He is just another man on the street, you might walk past him without noticing, but he is preparing to change the world.
Is he always a man?
There is only ever one performance critic in a generation. And that’s me. Anyone else trying this on, and I’ll sue.
What does a performance critic do?
The thing is, it is only the critic who really understands art. I mean, the audience has some idea of what is going on, the academic a little less and the artist nothing. So the critic elucidates meaning. The performance critic does that through a performance - the clue’s in the name, thereby becoming an artist.
But the artist understands nothing...
And that is the first paradox. Next.

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