SPILL 2012 - mass destruction and more subtle arts
A series of durational performances during SPILL in the semi-derelict basement of the club night venue The Malthouse all involved the active destruction of objects. In ‘Hardboiled? Exposing Masculinity’ a bare-breasted Paul Easterbrook compacted metal drums with a sledgehammer, spilling liquids of various colours onto the sub-basement floor. Another artist walled up a passage with bricks and mortar one day and then invited the audience to smash it with a hammer on the next. Sara Davies, "an artist, mother and feminist", smashed dozens of white plates in a fit of rage that reportedly expressed her marital discord. She then spent hours on her knees trying to reconfigure the wreckage into geometric designs in her piece ‘AOB Item 1’.
Less confrontational was Selina Thompson’s ‘Pat It and Prick It and Mark It With B’, staged in the main atrium of the Ipswich Art School Gallery, in which the artist and her assistants formed a cake over her dress and iced and decorated it as an expression of her conflicted relationship with food. Audience members were invited to eat the cake at the end, though apparently nobody did. Shows of this sort made a spectacle of wastage.
More subtle performative material transformations were also on view at this year’s SPILL. The performance collective Touch and Meet’s ‘A Volcano Perpetually Erases Its Own History’ interwove a story about a pilot stranded in Iceland during the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull with scientistic demonstrations including (naturally) that science fair staple, the exploding volcano. The failure of a papadum wafer to splinter into a shard of ash beneath a powdered umbrella did not mar this fine DIY show, but rather increased the appeal of its consciously amateur aesthetic.
A pair of children’s glasses, a present from the NHS to the performer Tim Bromage when he was four years old, was fitted with small red lights, the only illumination on stage during the conclusion of his folkloristic and nostalgia-tinged ‘Untitled’, which was filled with poetry, song and a deftly-executed magic trick. A highlight of Neil Luck’s ‘Notebook’, a solo concert in the style of John Cage for prepared piano, mobile phones and electronics, was the moment when the artist strove to create a sculptural form beneath a microphone out of discarded musical instrument parts (a mouthpiece, metal cylinder, guitar pick and string). The mute chimerical instrument’s failure to cohere as sculpture or sonic instrument offered a moment of reflection in an otherwise frenetic musical score.
The two headliners I caught in Ipswich, Subject to_change’s participatory installation ‘home sweet home’ and the intergalactic aerial ballet ‘Empress Stah in Space’, directed by Ron Athey, were both object performances in different ways. ‘home sweet home’ gave audience members the chance to buy into the property ladder. A £5 investment gave one a choice of architecturally-designed flat-packed cardboard houses to assemble and decorate in a plot of land within a model of Ipswich.
Children and adults gleefully whiled away hours building their dream houses, requesting songs and participating in competitions broadcast over Residents’ FM radio, sending letters to other houses via the town’s postal service and posting messages on the town’s message board. Marxist radical cells, porn shops, a live art theatre and a circus butted up against manicured lawns and Mediterranean villas. A celebratory street party ended the performance event with cakes, punch, a slide show of the town’s construction and the opportunity for audience members to take home what they had built.
Athey’s hilarious ‘Empress Stah in Space’, starring underground cabaret aerialist Empress Stah, manipulated inflatable sculptures, a dancing pyramid, oracular communications drawn on a tablet by an artificially appended penis and images shot out of a portable projector embedded in the performer’s vagina as the artist flew above the stage.
‘Empress Stah in Space’ and ‘home sweet home’ presented object lessons, in more than one sense of the term. It can only be hoped that emerging artists on the national platform were paying attention.
SPILL ran from the 31 October until 4 November 2012 at venues in Ipswich