Sunday, 12 June 2011

‘poolside emergency 2011, The Bluecoat

2011 sees the second collaboration (or should that be collision?) between The Bluecoat and Manchester's greenroom arts. Whatever you want to call it, there's no doubt that it offers an intriguing programme of live art and all the forms, positions and places it can take.

I am not going to attempt to write a comprehensive overview of the whole day. I am going to write about two pieces which reflect the possibilities that a platform like 'poolside offers to the viewer and artists alike.

The first piece is Victoria Firth's The Butter Piece, put simply this sees the artist pushing a knob of butter with her vagina while the artist menstruates. The piece has been underway of a while when I enter the space to see Victoria naked at one end of a gantry, everything is bathed in a golden light and the room is filled the sound of a droning chant. I also imagine that this is what it might have felt like seeing one of the 'body art' pieces from the '70s.

It's difficult to describe the position Victoria is in, it's an awkward position I guess it's the best for pushing butter. She crawls along the gingerly down the gantry and it feels 'painful' I don't know if that's a response to the vulnerable position she's put herself in or what. When she stops and there's a sharp intake of breath it's a shocking moment, strangely I don't know whether it's a moan of pleasure or pain and what the difference between the two is, I can't tell by her face as it's turned away from us focused on some spot way above our heads.

Maybe it's the combination of her actions and the monk like soundtrack makes this feel like an act of penitence or self-flatulation but what for? Her physicality? The fact that on a regular basis her body has to go through a process which involves bleeding? No, it isn't her shame it's our shame, our shame in our embarrassment of our own spurting, farting, bleeding bodies and our failure in coming to terms with the nature of our flesh.

The second piece is Pas de Deux by the Lab Collective. The stage for Pas de Deux is the lift in The Bluecoat's gallery, so after seeing The Butter Piece I head towards my pencilled in appointment where I discover that this Pas de Deux has become a Ménage à trois, by that I mean there is a second audience member taking part. The lift is called; the door opens to reveal a dancer who cheerfully welcomes us into the lift. He introduces himself and admits to being a Take That fan which leads into a story about a lost opportunity to meet Jason Orange. This may sound slight but when he asks us the audience, about our own regrets we offer them freely, this surprises me; I don't if I just have been swept up in the piece's good natured charm.

I think it's more than that, it's a simple and effective way of creating an experience which had me questioning why I had let those opportunities go, and perhaps I should act on the suggestion handed to me at the end of the performance, which was to: 'Buy a stranger a cup of tea'.

Both performances show how platforms like 'poolside work, by using live art's unique mutability it provides the audience the opportunity to engage in an experience slightly removed from the norm.

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