Burrows & Fargion: Cheap Lecture & The Cow Piece


How can I not love a performance that includes a rendition of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper?

Burrows and Fargion. Fargion and Burrows. I am so grateful that Fargion is wearing those trainers because they break up the initial heaviness, somehow.

Say one word enough times and you’ll go through every possible emotional state, develop a relationship with the word that is nothing and everything at the same time. These two seem to have found a formula for making work that means that nothing can go wrong; by embracing failure, they appropriate it into the work and it stops being failure and everything becomes an absurd delight. Questions about whether the formula becomes self-defeating came into my mind, but I found myself pleasantly manipulated throughout the hour long performance.

Cheap Lecture, a performance based on John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing set the scene for the second piece. I didn’t enjoy it so much but that was fine – I am told that my boredom can/will leave space for my imagination to think of something better. I am told quite a few things about myself. I am not sure that I liked that. Although there is a certain glee you (sorry, I) feel when something naughty I have thought is recognised: They spoke about not wanting to clap after a performance they disliked but then, because everyone around them is clapping enthusiastically you feel that you too must clap, at least a little bit and this makes you hate the rest of the audience as well as the piece. Guilty.

Having taken workshops with both men and read Burrows’ A Choreographer’s Handbook, Cheap Lecture felt like a manifesto, an explanation of their formula for making work. They revealed their structure and in doing that, everything becomes expected but everything is too big to know what to expect so everything is unexpected…

I could have watched this piece without their speaking and just with the recorded sound, the timed changes of text on the projector, their different time keeping efforts – Fargion’s little bounces and foot-tapping, Burrows’ seriousness and nods, looks at Matteo, then the audience, then down at the paper, projector remote moving in time in his right hand – and the falling paper. Man, I loved the falling paper. They hold these white A4 sheets and when the text has been read they throw them onto the floor at their feet. Within such a tight structure I really enjoy this mess making, this chaos around their shoes. It adds a lightness and a slight ‘unhinged lecturer air’ to the whole thing. It also marks the time, as they state.

The Cow Piece: “Why plastic cows?” becomes “What genius – plastic cows!”

Fargion switches to a sonorous Italian pointing at the cows on his table and giving each one an Italian girl’s name then singing “Bel-la”. This is just very funny. As are the cow suicides/murders and Fargion squealing “Attack!” after a purposefully awkard pause. Why do I enjoy fake deaths so much? Maybe because in contrast to real life there is no real loss; the fatality isn’t fatal and the cow’s death is as great an amusement as it’s resurrection.

The changing quality of touch that they show us in the handling of the cows provides a narrative, gives life and creates emotional connections to each inanimate cow and the history of prior treatment is integral to how I relate to each section. They have thought about it all. The disparate fragments of the piece become tied by rhythm and the all important Rate of Change. The rhythm tells stories and sets up relationships.

Cows are important cows are not important. The words are important the words are not important.

Making work about making work can become tiresome, because I am not transported, I am here, there is no fantasy yet by being open to inevitable failure and doom, Burrows and Fargion avoid just that, inviting lightness and play. Everything becomes part of the game of wit, theft, challenge and rhythm. A fair few times they do remind me of middle aged guys playing Warhammer in a basement.


‘Cheap Lecture’ & ‘The Cow Piece’ by Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion, 13-15 October 2010, Lilian Baylis Studios, London