SPILL 2012 - live art and white goods
Live art has traditionally focused on explicit bodies, unmediated exchanges between performers and audiences, biography and inner life. Objects sometimes feature but, more often than not, are figured as ‘materials’ or ‘tools’ subject to the will of the performer. Live art is celebrated as ephemeral, issuing no products for the art market. Influential German sculptor and performer Joseph Beuys described teaching as his “greatest work of art. The rest is the waste product, a demonstration.”
Live art thus can be understood as being in a dialectical relation with puppetry. In puppet performances, animators occlude and submerge their personal characteristics in order to bring focus to objects and instill in them the illusion of life. Puppetry performances might be fleeting, but puppet theatre’s performing instruments are never wastage: they are built to last.
Both live art and puppetry, however, are undergoing transformations. Puppeteers increasingly recognise the co-presence of actor-performers and objects, and work with sand, clay and viscous materials of indeterminate form. Meanwhile, contemporary live artists are today prone to understand their bodies and lives as being in dialogue with their surrounding environments.
The SPILL Festival of Performance – established in London in 2007 under the direction of Robert Pacitti and situated in Pacitti’s home town of Ipswich for the first time this year – occasions this comparative meditation about the uses and abuses of objects and performance’s material remains. SPILL is best known for its national platform for emerging artists and companies – with 46 UK-based companies selected out of 272 applications. This year, this was supplemented by three ‘headline’ productions from Forced Entertainment, Subject to_change and director Ron Athey. As such, SPILL offers a vital index of current trends in live art.
Two of the national platform shows, which centred around white goods, faced an issue emblematic of live art’s uneasy relation to objects and their performance afterlives. Aleks Wotjtulewicz, a burly and bearded man, wore a variety of women’s dresses and high heels during his seven-hour durational performance ‘Man vs Woman’. He dismantled one washing machine and washed his soiled clothes in another, a self-declared exploration of his masculine and feminine sides. At the Spill Congregation – a gathering of artists and observers on the festival’s final day – Wotjtulewicz queried what he should do with the scrap metal leftovers.
‘Leftovers’ was in fact the title of a performance with food by the ensemble Figs in Wigs, which hawked their refrigerator through a lonely hearts style ad (in which the machine described itself self-deprecatingly as “a bit square” and “frigid”) read aloud on stage. In a third show, Ira Brand’s ‘A Cure for Ageing’, a poignant reflection on mortality was marred by the unceremonious dropping to the floor of folded-up letters from an ageing grandmother, only just read through a veil of tears.
In part two, I'll look at SPILL performances that involved the active destruction of objects, participatory theatre and more subtle uses of objects, plus reviews of two of the headline acts.
SPILL ran from the 31 October until 4 November 2012 at venues in Ipswich