Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Humble Market – AND Festival WE PLAY Expo, Miller Park Preston

You might remember that sometime ago I paid a visit to The Humble Market while it had taken up shop within the walls of FACT. That was at the beginning of summer and now where at the edge of autumn and I find myself waiting by the side of a railway bridge located in a rather nice park in Preston. Why? Well The Humble Market has set up a new stall underneath this railway bridge, which forms part of the WE PLAY Expo which has gathered many of the projects created via the Cultural Olympiad to mark the end of the Olympics.

Whatever the rhymes and reasons of it being here, or my own reasons for being here for that matter. Where here, and I'm looking forward it curious to see how the controlled installation I saw at FACT has transposed itself to this exterior setting. How will my experience of the piece differ, already I can hear excited whoops coming from behind the fencing separating us from the performance space. I can't help wonder how this all relates to the warning of the 'psychological challenging' nature of the piece.

Quickly we are gathered and allowed to pass through the fence and as we do so we are handed a foam animal mask. Mines a tiger. It briefly flashes through my mind that this could be a device used in order to break down inhibitions, giving each 'player' something to hide behind. There's no time to really mull over this as we are suddenly ushered through the space filled with various vehicles and the pounding sounds of Baile Funk by performers dressed in gorilla suits. Our hairy guides take us towards a stage area where another gorilla is on stage in boxing gloves and shorts, sparring with thin air. Behind him are the standard images of Brazil, beaches full of tall tanned people, all juxtaposed with facts about Brazil current state and it promised future state of power and status.

We are instructed to dance and contemplate the fact that the world will be more Brazilian by 2020 and are we ready for this? What does it matter anyway? Who is that figure gilding through the bouncing crowd, is it the king of Brazil as he is dressed in flowing robes. Whoever he is he demands that members of the crowd answer his question 'What's the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of Brazil'. The usual tropes pop up, samba, sunshine, the whole The Girl form Ipanema view of Brazil. Looking back on it I seems that this was some kind of brainwashing, as it was disorientating, pushing you sweeping you along with a strange energy. There's no way you can get out now. Suddenly I find myself hands in the air swaying along to We Are the World.

This is just the beginning. We are gathered into our packs and lead by a gorilla host to one of the vehicles. I'm lined up against the taxi I saw in Liverpool in front of some familiar looking head dresses, our workshops are about to begin. A countdown, a horn blares and it starts.

Time for a group photo and like before where ushered in the taxi. For a moment I wonder if the energy from the pumped up intro is about to dissipate. It all seems to running along the same lines as Liverpool, same car, same projection, same scouse accent coming from the radio. Until the car is invaded by a gorilla who rampages through the car. It's one of those moments that occur in pieces like this, as audience member you're face with a decision, whether to be passive or join in. Not knowing what to do I tickle the gorilla.

What comes next compounds the difficulty of deciding a level of interactivity. As suddenly a hand slams on the window. The door fly's open and women dressed in paramilitary uniform begin dragging the passengers out of the car. Is this a test of British reserve versus Latin confrontation? I don't know but as they point their hands in the shape of guns at me, I know who has the power here. This little group of soon dragged into a extreme samba workshop. All this takes place a corner tucked away from the rest of the space; it's at once sinister and exciting. It's also a great use of the under bridge setting as it hints of horrible acts undertaken away from the gaze of others. As we learn samba moves under the piss-yellow light of the streetlights our capturers demand we answer questions regarding the state of the poor of Brazil. The snarling policewomen detest our status as tourist only here for sunshine and bright shiny smiles, so much so that we are executed!

This must be the 'psychological challenging' section of tonight and one of our party does look genuinely shocked, but soon our capturers are cheerfully shacking our hands and it on to the next workshop.

Which takes place within a white stretched limo, on the way there were instructed by our gorilla guide to hold hands. I actually take the hands of the people either side of me, that's not like me maybe the last experience has pushed me to be more Brazilian. Once in the limo we discover that this is a song writing workshop where asked to drag up emotions from our mobile phones in order to create a song. After the shock of our car-jacking this part of the performance seems good natured and sweet. Almost a chance to catch your breath and maybe it suffers because of that.

Then it's on to the next workshop. I find myself face to face with the INTIMATRON. In its original form this piece came off as a little flat, but in this edited form there is more of a drive behind it. The format remains the same, questions are answered. After that I play a repeat visit to Philosophy Hill again to ponder the mysteries of the universe this time accompanied by hot water bottles and a monk who sits serenely in the back of a van. Maybe it's the adrenaline set off the initial dancing but peoples answers seem to come more easily.

It's soon time for the final workshop, which takes place in the back of a transit van. In the van we gathered around a round table in an atmosphere akin to a séance. We are taken through a tale of possible success; we are given control of the main character of this tale instructed to make decisions of their behalf. Though this questions are raised about the nature of success and also our individual attitudes towards it. During this element I begin to notice the group dynamic some members of the group are vocal, some still looked shell-shocked by the pervious events. We eventually steer our fictional creation 'Rob' to some form of success, whatever that means, we disembark from the van and head back to the stage area.

Here a apparently simple question awaits us 'Waiting room or Disco?' I go for Disco. We put our masks back on and are handing headphones to get the full effect of the music. We are joined by three gorillas and a brash record producer. He's going to ask questions and if we agree we put our hands in the air. So there we are in our Baile cocoon, I wonder what we look like to those who had chosen 'waiting room' do come off as foolish, does it seem where having a good time, do we appear more 'Brazilian'. At the time none of this occurred it me I just danced and threw my hands up in the air in a positive response to the questions. I notice that people are being ushered up on stage to stand in front of large projected images of the other people, is this the live link up to Brazil? I'll find out soon enough.

Before that something strange happens, after a group hug (hey, it's that kind of party) my headphones are switched to another channel. Suddenly I'm hearing a voice asking to look to the person in front of me and if we could be friends. I had been accidently switch to another channel and suddenly I'm confronted with an awareness of what I'm doing, sweating underneath this mask, but being so caught up with the whole atmosphere of the piece I keep going, and our guide switches me back to the right channel. Eventually I find myself to be the only once dancing; I get to be King of the Disco! Whatever that means, I get a cheer its some kind of success.

After that I'm taken to the stage where my telematic moment awaits. I'm about to be broadcasted to a stranger, if it wasn't for the fact that I'm probably on some kind of rush after all that dancing I'd be nervous. I stand on my mark and await my possible new friend to appear. in front of me there arrive a pleasant looking girl, were asked to scan each other, make judgments regarding the sentiment of movements. Eventually where both asked if we'd like to keep in touch over the year. I say yes, she says no. It's a little disappointing but who many times much this happen a day, who many times has it happened to me before, I can't and I don't take it personally.

Turning our backs on each other I leave the stage and begin to leave The Humble Market. Like before we are handed an assessment of our Brazilian-ness. The message still appears to be non-sense, but this time I have the sensation that somehow any concept of identity lays with the control of the other of someone else. This sensation raises the question of how can anyone think of commodifying something so elusive and maybe this leads to a way of circumventing the powers that set out to wrap us up into individual sellable packages. If no one can put a finger on how you are, surely they'll won't be able to put a price tag on you.

Having this question in my head as I walk away from the stage of The Humble Market, indicates that this configuration of The Humble Market has been more successful at articulating its concepts and preoccupations. Of course whatever form they have taken it has been clear that they have been ambitious projects and one of the highlights of this years AND Festival.







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