“Here there remains nothing to achieve, witness it, as it floats by like clouds in the sky.” This is one of the many articulations that permeate London’s Chisenhale Dance on March 5, 2016. Through a meditation on subject position and how a body of thought gets defined and grounded in truth, Taylor Le Melle‘s curatorial project, Citizen brings together a pile up of voices thrown together by installation, film, and live performance. Each presence in the space contributes to the overarching rhythm of the event; leaning on one another, the order of appearance feels like a gradual build up saturated by the varying densities of individual lived experience.
Depending on your position, the haphazard layout of performer, audience and screen personalize our encounter with the evening. Facing towards each other from opposite sides of the room, the audience is split in half and our bodies take part as props in the event. Two screens on either side of the seating are placed awkwardly in the periphery of our vision and manipulate how much we can see. With a strong focus on structure, physical and intangible systems manifest through architectural motifs. ‘An Ornamental Way of Moving’ (2016) by Leonor Serrano Rivas and choreographed by Nefeli Skarmea, is a durational piece that appears and reappears over the course of the night. Situated between theatricality, performance art and architecture, five bodies are abstracted by large shapes of paper, moving in tandem with one another. In the corner of the room, James Clarke‘s ‘Coastal Forest’ (2015-16) also remains constant, projecting a glowing HD video of an abstracted landscape on a dynamic screen folding into a bisected tetrahedron.
Exploring painting through technological process, the first performance titled ‘Bread Trilogy’ (2016) by Benito Mayor Vallejo combines light boxes, film and French narration over a gritty soundtrack filled with high-pitched squeaks and audio malfunctions. Through a shared rhythm, the conversation between disparate elements reaches an equilibrium. In a similar attempt with a less elegant outcome, Stephanie Mann‘s video, ‘Still Life on Face’’ (2012 & 2016) is a futile experiment in stacking various objects onto a face. Placed one at a time, the inability to reach a balance ends in an clunky display of gravity as the various bits of plant and household detritus inevitably fall off each other and onto the floor.
An underlying current to the show strings together humour and anxiety through varying degrees of weight. Zooming into the microcosm of daily life, Calvin Laing begins his stand up routine within a single spotlight in the top corner of the bleachers. Setting a timer, he promises the routine will not exceed seven minutes and commences by saying “My name is Calvin and I’m really tired.” Walking towards the stage, and clumsily falling over people’s feet, the minutiae of his daily routine to, from and during work is drawn out into an existential monologue that remains unresolved. The inability to pinpoint the exact source of discomfort results in a desperate display of exhaustion; the type of exhaustion that comes from exerting little to no energy comparable to the endless scroll of unproductive behaviour within the landscape of a screen.
There is a certain luxury that cannot be separated from the question “what am I doing with my life?” The luxury to feel restless in the fact that you haven’t reached your full potential and the privilege of having this potential in the first place. The quest for self-actualisation places the over analyzed body in stark contrast to the under analyzed body in Imran Perretta‘s ‘OM’ (2016), placing exhaustion between the space of giving up and fighting. The film is played alongside a MIDI and keyboard controlled sound performance. Computer generated imagery of clouds, a black smoke trail, a naked man and the body of a drone are placed over top of real footage across the landscape of Bangladesh and interspersed with close up shots of the artist in his hotel room. A mix of tapping, industrial and clunky sound effects interrupt the voice of a North American woman who instructs us to “drop into the deepest state of tranquility and completely let go.” The sound of Om, a chanting meditation technique in yoga, morphs into the sound of an airplane during take off. The desire to attain lightness through the mind is made heavy by the context of Perretta’s tapping hands, knees and feet. The animated drone flies in and out of the different contexts, carrying a weight of symbolism associated with contemporary warfare. The dehumanising reality of the zoomed out, hands off technology also embodies a strong metaphor for the colonial impulse to view other as a macrocosm of singularity.
Rivas’s dancers move into centre stage as the film ends. They begin with a whisper and gradually start shouting. Their voices are speaking different words but their tone is in tandem. Like a stop button, a clap abruptly ends the incoherent noise and Sondra Perry‘s ‘My Twilight Zone Thing’ (2015-ongoing) video begins to play. Appropriated footage from episodes of The Twilight Zone occupy one screen and on the other is reenactments of this narrative in art studio, Recess, in New York. Impossible to watch both videos at the same time, Perry’s DIY remakes of characters who have entered over into the non representable, are narrated by a man from an early 60s sci-fi soundtrack. Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa‘s ‘Arquitectura Incremental’ (2015) also uses a nonsensical form of dry humour to straddle an uncomfortable and muted space. The performance video records a naked body housed under a five tier set of white architectural boxes stacked high on top of the torso. Dancing around through a circus act of balance, studio assistants are on hand if any fall off and need to be replaced. Three men in suits play a xylophone alongside, each body becoming a prop in depicting an immaterial narrative.
The evening comes to a close with a FaceTime call to Eoghan Ryan. Titled ‘My Space’, the ten minute-long performance begins with a quote read in the context of a fictional email to the artist from “the late Rainer Maria Rilke, who was and still is the most lyrically intense german language poets”. After he finishes, Ryan asks us to close our eyes as he slips into the nude and grabs a glass of wine. He then guides us through poetic memories of sentimental objects over a soundtrack of club mix; “I fell in love with this wallpaper so I literally wrapped the room in it… a painting my parents gave me when I was 21… silverfish, silverfish, I bought my little fish from Mexico when I was 17, it is actually a bottle opener…” Playing on the opposite screen, a dry slideshow accompanies his tender recollections. Images that look like they have been plucked from a Google image search appear one after the next, sometimes overlapping. It is unclear as to whether or not he is making up these stories to go along with a separate form of research but the sincerity of the moment feels stronger than the question. Resisting any agreed upon ‘truth,’ the overarching performance of the event also questions this unstable desire to define and explain what is ‘real’ through a singular perspective. The divergence of voices highlight personal and empirical truths as relative, placing our multiple and shifting contexts at the forefront of the question: who gets to have the final say? **
Header image: Imran Peretta, ‘om’ (2016). Video still. Courtesy the artist.