Holly Blakey‘s work exists at the intersection of art and popular culture. She’s worked on music videos for Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware and Jungle, choreographed campaigns for Paul Smith and Gucci, and worked with artist Hannah Perry for her Horoscopes (Déjà vu) performance at the Serpentine Galleries last year. It was a cross-disciplinary collaboration working with music, dance and storytelling-via-instant message that was then re-articulated in the online club space of the Boiler Room, along with Blakey and music collaborator Mica Levi six months later.
Blakey is a working choreographer and director whose become increasingly present within an art context, and her work as ‘performance artist’ for Some Greater Class directly addresses that juncture. Performed at Hales Gallery in East London’s trendy centre of Shoreditch on August 21, the press release calls the live event one that explores the “complexities and contradictions of performance and its context”. The context of this performance is key to the central themes of the work, which go well beyond the closed sphere of a particular creative field and into the hybrid practices and lateral mobility that has become a source of creativity as well as emotional and psychological conflict for contemporary artists. In the case of Some Greater Class it’s a conflict that’s physically realised.
A crowd forms outside the doors before opening. People are drinking cans of beer on the sidewalk and there’s a guest list at the door. Some Greater Class feels less like an art opening and more like a Friday night gig. Inside, seats are limited and the performance space is at capacity. Square white pillars either side of the stage affect and obscure the view, depending on where you’re sitting, squatting or standing. Six bodies appear there to move, walk and dance; touch, writhe and contort to a soundtrack that runs over forty-five minutes and is composed by London-based musicians and producers Gwilym Gold and Darkstar. The dancers are bathed in a green-y blue hue of dim stage lighting as they respond to each other, the audience and the space: one, bent over, bum out; another, prostrate and pantomiming sexual foreplay.
“Grand Theft Auto”, a friend whispers to me about twenty-five minutes in to the performance, as the dancers are standing still, save for the slow rock of their hips and their heads, their heavy breathing from all the physical strain barely perceptible. Perhaps the comparison to the steady motion of an unmanned avatar, swaying to the repetitive stock sound of said video game’s soundtrack is a far-fetched one, but it’s true that there’s something supremely violent, and certainly sexual about Some Greater Class. It’s a sense of a clinical and alienating distance that’s achieved in spite of its physical closeness.
Grace Jabbari dances in a figure-hugging, ruffled red dress and Naomi Weijand’s legs are wrapped around Chester Hayes’ neck. The huge macho frame of Busola Peters is sat cross-legged on the floor, tenderly breast-feeding Luke Crook. At points everyone is on the floor, entangled in a fleshy orgy, or hiding in plain view among the leaves of the potted green plants either side of the stage, lightly rippling from the breeze of a fan. There are GroPro cameras fixed to the pillars, their small ring lights shining a ghostly blue that’s ominous in its ubiquity, everywhere and always watching. A pale and moustachioed Ted Rogers leaps out into the audience and prances through the crowd while brushing a hand across a stranger’s shoulder. It’s an act that’s as intimate as it is intimidating.
The press release describes Some Greater Class as a “site responsive work” that involves several dancers, musicians, videographers and producers. Blakey herself does not appear as part of the live performance, which is to be followed up by a screening of its recording in a film the following day. The dancers become actual avatars to be filled and controlled by the whims of an artist and then remediated through the filter of a camera lens. “I kind of feel like you’ve lost your identity a little bit”, says a disembodied voice that breaks through a grunting, growling industrial score of the live performance. It’s one that expounds on the role of the contemporary artist in broken sentences littered with uncertain linguistic qualifiers: “Or you, kind of, are struggling to, kind of, really feel what your purpose is, or why you’re here. Like, what’s it all about?” **