Sunday, 30 September 2012

Hitch (reflections)

Tracing Kieran Hurley's journey to L'Aquilla in 2009, Hitch is a personal take on the protests that surrounded that year's G8 summit. That Hurley has recently toured the show across the country suggests that the political issues he discusses have not yet lost their relevance and the autobiographical content only emphasises how the work came from a personal commitment.

Framed around a series of meetings - lifts on the way across, chats with fellow protestors - and set pieces - the arrival at the final protest, a triumphant set by Patti Smith - Hitch is laced with anecdotes and Hurley's own thoughts: his ear for the telling phrase lends itself to some concise slogans, but Hurley never offers a simplistic solution to the challenges of globalisation.

The monologue evolved from an installation that Hurley set up in The Arches (while he was on the road, making his way to L'Aquilla), and emerges form his investigation into the process that creates protest: this lively inquisition sets up questions and offers partial answers and, rarely for a piece that is so dependent on the presence of the artist as performer, is open-ended and reflective.

Hurley sets up his own position early: he is part of the protest, not an impartial journalist. The various people he meets on the journey do offer different perspectives - some supportive, others not even interested in the politics - and their characters are quickly sketched through telling details. Rather than deconstruct the reasons for his protest, Hurley gives a view from the ground and stresses details - such as the importance of a hard-hat - to hint at the broader picture.

Although the political critique does not aim to be balanced - Hurley's conclusions are more about the nature of the people that he meets and how this can be drawn into an understanding of human nature - there are many telling moments.The crucial hard-hat is a gentle symbol of how the protestors are met by potentially violent security forces: one lift is shared with an aging punk who cheers Hurley onwards, while lost in the nostalgia of his own youthful protests.

Equally, Hurley does not shy away from the power that prevented effective protest. On the night before, when he is elated by Patti Smith's People Have The Power, there's a subtle irony: Smith won't be appearing at the protests, but dedicated this (empty slogan) lyric to the protestors. Hurley takes inspiration from Smith but his own political art, which involves him actually getting involved and replacing fatuous pop sentiments with well-observed characterisation, eclipses the presence of this arm-chair general.

Throughout Hitch, there is a sense that Hurley is coming to terms with his desire to be politically engaged: the idea of hitching to a protest is romantic, but the seriousness of the opposing police in Italy brings home that this is no mere game. The broad sense that something is wrong, both in the nature of the summit and the way it defends itself, is neither questioned nor examined - instead, the journey becomes a lesson in how communities can evolve and grow, and the message is as optimism as the opening thumbs-up as Hurley arrives on stage.

Most importantly, in avoiding either dogma or turgid analysis, Hurley personalises the political. His character is neither rabid Marxist nor thoughtless rioter and his path to protest is contemplative and inclusive. Hitch posits that the act of being involved need not reduce the individual to part of a faceless mass and that personal growth is connected to political awareness.

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