- South Hill Park Arts Centre
- South East England
Strange noises resonated through the historic building of South Hill Park, Bracknell on the 31st of October. These noises came, not from Halloween revellers, but from artists experimenting with performance and sound.
Testing Grounds, a live art organisation in the South East, as the name suggests, actively encourages artists to test out new work and ‘take a risk’ in front of a different audience. Together with the exhibition and music departments at South Hill Park, Testing Grounds selected proposals from artists whose work had a strong overlap of visuals and sound.
The result was five un-seen performances which challenged accepted definitions of art, theatre, dance, performance and music using props such as toasters, plastic bags, bottoms and ‘Biomagnetic’ devices.
The evening was curated so that the audience moved to different spaces in the building, from the wooden-panelled Recital Room for Stavroula Kounadea’s performative lecture, to the white-cube Bracknell Gallery, depending on the tone of the piece.
Dr. Maglev (Kounadea’s alter ego for the night) opened the event with a spoof-lecture on How to be a Love Magnet. Complete with over head projector and student hand outs, Dr Maglev’s theories on love and erotic attraction ‘from Ancient Rome and the Enlightenment, to Modern Magnetism and Popular Culture’, were almost convincing.
This was followed Jo Bannon’s Becoming Audile in the Bracknell Gallery. Exploring the ‘mysterious and mundane world of the Foley artist’, Bannon, positioned behind a table of props told the audience a story. The tale began in a woman’s bedroom and ended with a murder. On the table objects were laid out; a slab of raw steak, a glass bowl, a carrier bag, pair of red stilettos and walking boots, some Rice Crispies and a plastic bird whistle. The props provided sound effects to accompany Bannon’s soft, slow voice: a crackling radio, howling wind, a woman walking, a woman being followed, a slap of flesh and a crack of bones. The audience sat silent and transfixed until called upon to pull the party poppers they were given, to create the sound of gun shots.
More impenetrable, but equally intriguing was Holly Bodmer and Christina Jensen’s surreal Conductors of Ivories. Like Bannon, the artists were surrounded by an unusual juxtaposition of objects: a piano and nine toasters. The piece focused on pace and movement on the ‘stage’ marked out by the piano, toasters and wires spilling from the ceiling. From painfully slow squeaks created by the dragging of feet across the polished floor, to the artists hurling themselves over the piano, the performance held an immense sense of tension and anticipation. The piano, muted by holding down its strings was played in a dull, slow, rhythmical thud of keys whilst the curving arc of toasters on the floor, were systematically rocked back and forth, producing an orchestra of ticking and pinging as toast popped free.
As applause signalled the end of the performance, one woman stood up and shouted “I can’t believe we still have to protest this crap”. It was the beginning of Leah Lovett’s There Were Conflicting Versions.
Other members of the audience who had sat quietly throughout the previous performances got up and started shouting;
“SILENCE = DEATH”, “DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING”, “GOD BLESS HITLER”, “ADAM AND EVE, NOT ADAM AND STEVE”, “SAVE THE PLANET, KILL YOURSELVES”, “JUDAISM REJECTS ZIONISM”, “HOMOSEX IS GREAT”, “CAPITALISM ROCKS”.
They had transformed from passive viewers to performers. Pacing the gallery space, they canvassed the remaining audience with flyers created to contextualise the aggressive slogans being chanted. Black and white and Zine-like in style, the pamphlet contained Googled images of protest slogans cut and pasted together. This visual noise of language on paper echoed the noise in the gallery space that culminated in one actor pulling down her trousers as she shouted “FRED GOODWIN, MY ARSE”.
The audience, still in a state of confusion and bewilderment, were turned on as the performers shouted “GET OUT”. It took repeated screams of “GET OUT” and one audience member’s chair being dragged towards the exit whilst sat on, to realise that this was the end of Lovett’s piece. The success of There Were Conflicting Versionslay in its anarchic style from start to finish. Cutting off the applause for Jensen and Bodmer’s piece and interrupting curator Outi Remes’ artist introduction, the performance, in a way, protested against the formal structure of the evening.
Seeking solace in the bar, viewers discussed the piece as they helped themselves to toast and jam, remnants from the Conductors of Ivories. This eating and sharing of reactions to the work could have been an art work in itself, a participatory piece providing strangers in the audience with a catalyst (the toast) for conversation in the vein of Relational artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija.
After toast, the audience regrouped in the gallery for the final performance, Daniel Hunt’s An exploration of form…Yeah!Two men dressed in suits wandered through the space deep in conversation and oblivious of the audience. The two men spoke in open, non-specific sentences about ‘it’s’ size, colour, durability and usefulness while the audience tried to determine what ‘it’ and ‘one’ was, until one of the men sprinted across the gallery shouting “Fuck it, let’s dance”. In the corner of the space he tore off a black sheet to reveal a bamboo cage of musicians wearing faux-punk wigs who started thrashing at their guitars whilst he in his suit jumped and moshed enthusiastically. The piece ended with the audience’s startled laughter and clapping. Hunt’s work was a simple and energetic end to the evening.
The audience were left with a heightened awareness of sound as these very different performances were curated into a crescendo of action and noise. Every noise seemed amplified: each click of a camera, creak of the gallery floor, gurgle of a stomach or squeak of shoes could have been part of the performance.