Performance Artings

Tectonic plates were shifting in my world in Autumn 2015. Vibrations increased through the Summer, but I was late to detect attraction with a new mate, having been certain of his unsuitability. A friend of mine had pointed him out a few years before, “I think he’d be good for you!” No, I said. He’s far too normal. He has a job. Far too functional. It would never work. Nice guy though, and 100% reliable and trustworthy… a few things in common. A few important things it happened, like a penchant for participating in nude performance art adventures!

I am not consciously tactical when it comes to choosing partners, but perhaps over the years I had retrained my unconscious. I don’t have a checklist; it’s all about desire and chemistry. I know in advance something is going to happen because I can’t stop thinking about the person I am falling in love with. I barely sleep or eat, and once contact is established, consummation is not far off. There then follows inevitable fall-out over some months, for not having addressed (or even noticed!) major issues of concern ahead of diving in. Aspects of their life and personality which will bother me and possibly vice versa. I work hard for some years to fix this stuff, and they do too, but usually after 5 years or so, I or we give up. This pattern repeated with Steve, however since things calmed down after the initial shock; it has mainly been peaceful and rewarding.

It’s not cool to listen to The Smiths any more since Morrissey came out as unequivocally supporting the far right. That is a shame because some of their music is brilliant, and he knows that for lots of people it captures an essence of a generation’s emotion. I played one tune over and over in Autumn 2015; ‘Money Changes Everything’ (maybe it’s ok since Morrissey isn’t singing? – it’s basically a Marr number). I was experiencing a new kind of awe, fear and heated anticipation. I am a serial relationshipper, and each partner brings a whole scene change of characters, sounds, places, smells, tastes, moods… the anticipation of these is all wrapped up in the attraction. You have an idea what some of the change will look and feel like, and then there’s the unknown dimension that is like moving to a country you’ve never been to before or learning a new language.

With Steve, as soon as I was conscious of the attraction, I sensed that massive change was afoot. My partners didn’t usually have normal jobs, a reliable income or own a house. I said I didn’t have a checklist, well I probably had an anti-checklist for many years. Mustn’t have conventional trappings of the sort parents tend to approve. That’s why Steve wasn’t even considered, until… our paths just crossed a bit more often, and I couldn’t ignore an interesting tension. Nothing has actually changed in the circumstances of my living since we got together, but I have been on a lot more exciting holidays. In the past I only travelled for work, or to visit a friend. The exception was in Summer 2014 when I took off to the Highlands for a week of solitude.

It took me a while to adjust to letting him pay for holidays. Was I giving away my power? I don’t know, but I got used to it. Sharing those travels is very special. Moving in with him in Essex is not so likely at least while I can keep my home in London, because my life is based there. Until lockdown, travelling was the longest time we would spend with each other – trekking a rainforest in Ghana, a desert in the Cape, or sailing to Zanzibar. It wasn’t just touristing; I always learnt about the places or had personal reasons to visit them. It helped me appreciate more viscerally what the UK is, to see its effect on other parts of the world. For someone who comes from quite a few different countries (and I haven’t visited them all yet) it has been incredible to go to those places. I understand not only the UK past and present better, but also my ancestral heritage.

The first time we travelled together was in February 2016, to Venice. It rained almost till it flooded but not quite. We wrapped up warm, tried to hold onto our umbrellas, and I was able to practice my Italian which had been dormant for 11 years. By chance or destiny, we ran into Steve’s performance artist friend, Glynis Ackermann, who lives in Switzerland, and happened to be performing in a festival there in Venice! That unexpected introduction guided our next two trips, for having acquainted ourselves with the festival and its organisers, it naturally followed to bring more than my packing suitcase in future.

A movement sequence from the 20 minute Italian ‘performance art’ version, April 2016.

Although my work contained performance art I’d always thought of it as interactive theatre, and barely paid attention to the live art scene. Seeing a greater possibility of travelling with the show I readily repackaged it. With shorter performance slots of no more than 20 minutes usually, there was a stronger sense of community as several artists would all perform the same evening and enjoy each others’ shows. Much of 2016 was spent in this effort, with denser scripts and more visual action. Italian friends translated my script (my own italian was learnt by ear and works for getting by in conversation) for two different Venice festivals – in April and August.

The complete 20 minute version of the August performance in Venice.

In April’s show, Steve was involved as a sort of prop, and as well in a longer, full length version in London in March, he had a speaking role. I have two scenes recorded from that show;

This show addressed feminist issues very directly in every version; about violence against women, gender inequality, and including in yer face menstrual art action.

Steve made his mark on how I approached performing that year, as we settled into being together. I went to the SPILL festival in Ipswich alone in the Autumn, to see how others do it – I’d made an unsuccessful application. It is a thought provoking genre of variety and endurance. It wasn’t all for me, and I felt there was a bit of a clique around who gets funding. Not surprising, I mean that’s normal. I peaked my head into that tent of curiosities, grafted applications full of appropriate artspeak, and finally found I didn’t fit so well. Theatre was my original love after all, but I do have room for live art happenings too, on or off-stage. The in-the-moment encounter speaks to my spontaneous soul, which is very fond of one-off performance art.

The image at the top of this post is from a show I did at Bethnal Green Working Mens Club in October 2016, at the Panic Sermons performance art event. The Venice shows were enabled by Steve’s passion for travel combining with my need for performance making, and both our love for nude art happenings. At the April festival we both took part in Glynis’ show as well as staging mine.

Glynis’ performance (called ‘MobilĂ©’) involved the three of us holding frames, with more nudes from an earlier version of her show projected onto us.

Script Variations ~ part 10

Noisy building work on my block in front of my flat sent me packing to Essex to play with volcanoes (and hang out with Steve, plant some seeds). When Dad texted did I want to meet tomorrow in Greenwich Park I said yes! Regular meeting up with him since the end of lockdown #1 last year, has been a high point of the pandemic for me. For us. Since Mum died nearly 3 years ago, he rightfully started making up time with getting into his music playing, catching up on Irish sessions and socialising. He needed it (Mum had been ill a long time.) But by 2020, he needed a rest. He had been out every night for 18 months perhaps.

With life radically simplified last year, he had more time for family, and it was truly a healing opportunity, still is. Being able to meet in parks when restrictions allow, is a very fine thing. We don’t live close enough for when the rules are tightest, to casually happen across each other in a local patch, so a little travel is necessary. It’s a risk I’d always want to take truth be told, after the horror of lockdown #1 in that respect. The not knowing if… when… And for people living alone, the isolation can be bleak. Being able to meet in a park is a very healthy option.

After spending time admiring ancient trees, elegant deer, Spring flowers, and passing on the week’s thoughts; I walked back to my place and he drove to his. In my flat without laptop, my usual screen suction was curbed. Mobile can’t hold me so long. I remembered old folders I’d wanted to organise; a chore not a treat. From when I’d been at drama school; feedback forms from Spirited Bodies; and especially a Girl in Suitcase script from 2014, through its many edited variations. This, contains golden nuggets in a raw unpolished slab. The file opens on a page which arrests my disinterest. What’s that I wrote? I remember it now but why has it eluded me lately when I had to produce my best work to impress X? I have to scan the play to see what I have done.

It goes like this. In 2009 when life was more precarious, I wrote two pieces of good script. In 2011 when my life was a bit more sorted, I combined them to create the first ‘Girl in Suitcase’. (2010 was a write off until Spirited Bodies began towards the end. 2012 and 2013 were entirely devoted to Spirited Bodies.) By 2014 I was itching to write and perform again, and I had stuff to get off my chest – the narrative of Mother/daughter relationship dysfunction, reached its zenith in the script. I pushed it too far in places, fluffing it out in others. As far as I could get away with. Further! Because I knew my parents wouldn’t see it – up too many stairs and we didn’t film it.

But the words written down – how did I block them from my – – remember that drug I was fond of?

Pieces. I want to hammer myself for not continuing with that script all its rightful way. How could I just push it aside? It needed to be worked up, smoothed out and sharpened. It’s obvious! It reaches out from the page screaming for life —

Hold on, calm down. Real life. The script imagined her already dead. There’s only so much you can keep on with that before — I had to let real life be. Just be. It’s not that the script was unkind; really it gave a lot of depth and compassion, articulating far beyond what was actually verbally possible due to illness. But, that stuff just needs to play out by itself sometimes, without the interference of art, I felt. With respect.

And there was my real life as well as theirs/ours. Connecting with Outsiders and the Sex Maniacs Ball in 2013 for potential Spirited Bodies collaboration, while tantalisingly tempting — I hadn’t been prepared for the attendant trickiness I’d attracted — which took till the middle of 2014 to shake —

There was a lot going on that year. I was heading for a relationship jumble, and by the time I performed Girl in Suitcase again, it was 2015 and I’d decided it shouldn’t be about me any more. It was about mythical Goddesses! And that’s how some of my most daring play-writing got blackholed to the bottom of a file for 7 years.

I performed twice in 2014; in March at Telegraph Hill Festival; and in June at Hampstead School of Art. The THF show had one of the best audiences I’ve performed for. The house was packed and friends were turned away. I was practically walking on people as I tried to move round the stage. I was accompanied by 4 live musicians – Roddy Skeaping and friends, on strings and percussion. That was very powerful and added an extra live dimension where we jammed body and sound in real time. Luckily they were up for working together with me again for the HSOA show. In that second show, my friend – model, artist and performance poet Ursula Troche joined me on stage to perform a few scenes. We had a bit more space this time, another wonderful audience, and artistically the script was tighter. If there’s any performance of mine I could have filmed but didn’t – it was that one. I guess some things are meant to be ephemeral. I even lost most of the brilliant photographs taken by David Alexander Murphy, who I think also lost his copies. Computer melt downs. I just have a few photos. And feel somehow more complete for rediscovering that script.

Images above and below were taken by Ursula at the Hampstead School of Art ‘Girl in Suitcase’ performance, June 2014.

Equinox Unravellings ~ part 3

Today it is twelve years since I first got out of a suitcase on stage, naked except for a bandage around my head. Where had this idea come from? I don’t remember but I had a large suitcase I’d found in the street, which I’d used when I’d moved house over a year before. That move happened in a year – 2007 – of several moves across London – from Muswell Hill to Battersea, to Wood Green, and then to East Dulwich where I stayed. That final move also heralded the beginning of my life modelling career as I began to get in touch with artist contacts my sister had passed on. All that suitcase action – which was accentuated by some of the moves happening in public transport dribs and drabs (the Battersea home was a squat so there was this flexibility) clearly left its mark in my subconscious. The large suitcase played a very significant role when I was moving to a new home on buses, as long as its wheels still worked (at one stage they broke but I found another suitable case). It could hold a lot of my stuff, so each journey made my new home more real and personal, as I tried to settle during a very changeable year. Finally the case helped to bring me to the place where I became a model. This episode surely fed into my imagination. It made me think of women migrating – and my performance partner Szilvi had migrated to the UK as had my mum. Some of the painful poses tutors demanded of me put me in mind of being a slave, so I thought of the sex slave trade of women from eastern europe. All these images and connections…

The suitcase stood outside my room on the landing of the top floor where I lived above a greasy spoon. That particular stretch of East Dulwich still had a way to go towards gentrification back then. So the case regularly caught my eye as I climbed the stairs to my room, after a hard day’s modelling. I think the bandage idea came from Szilvi, who suggested it when she saw me in the case. She had Naomi Wolf’s book, ‘The Beauty Myth’ and the cover reminded her of my position. She lent me the book and no doubt that reading fed into the fire that stoked up Spirited Bodies, 18 months later.

I was modelling at Heatherleys and a spell under the late and very eccentric, beloved tutor called Karn, produced a piece of writing in my breaks, from which I wrote the opening sequence. Bent over her stick as she walked, or using it to point out an unusual vanishing point; never predicatable – always keeping the students guessing – she inspired me too. And reminded me of my mum some years earlier still walking with a stick. A character was born as I responded to her instructions in her off-the-wall life room. Lots of tutors try to make students look and think differently. Karn certainly achieved it, by coming out with the most seemingly obscure, disparate stories, anecdotes, advice. Their meaning, if it was ever gleaned, trained the mind towards the cryptic. She had a nerve, ignoring students’ pleas of “what do you mean..?” and they learnt to wait. I think she had a degenerative disease which contributed to her sheer nerve to be as uncompromisingly, inexplicably, yet brilliantly odd. She had us all spellbound.

For reasons of being in very different mental headspaces, Szilvi and I could no longer work together. I am ever grateful for the opportunity she presented me with however. Later that year my dad became briefly incapacitated and couldn’t look after mum. My sister and I were drafted in to help; and dealing with that challenge was the subject of my next performance writing. 2009 was very significant in that regard, for writing and seizing random and awkwardly charged opportunities. It felt very very good and so pleasing to realise this calling, finally in my early 30s. Working out how to develop and continue was my next mission and took another year to manifest. That was a very fraught year, negotiating radical change I needed to make.

I was thinking of that recently; that longing and waiting for change process. When you really want a big shift, like moving up to the next level, and you run out of ideas how to make it happen. You keep trying, but after a while you have to sit back and sort of wait for things beyond your control to align favourably, without taking your eye off the ball. There might be a series of applications, carefully waiting in the balance. In the end it’s a freak encounter which gives you the breakthrough.

Today’s videos include that original opening sequence

and, the Equinox performance from 2018