London Topophobia was the first in a new monthly night of performance in Silwex House, E1. I may have done it a bit wrong. I tried to treat it like a sit-down performance, mixed bill kind of thing. The night was an epic three and a half hours long. I spent some time wondering if this was a problem and decided that it wasn’t. The audience arrived late or left early, or chose to stick with the whole thing and take advantage of the longish breaks to drink and chat and wander around the building. Sometimes we were all squashed in and sometimes I had space to lie down on the grey dance mat and listen to some music in the dark.
I heart Bruce Nauman: Amanda Prince-Lubawy
Amanda Prince-Lubawy walks toe-to-heel in a slow, even strut along the line of a square taped on to the grey floor: hips, shoulders, chin up. A camera films Prince-Lubawy and then projects her image on to the white brick wall behind her: the square of her walking within the rectangle of the frame. Her feet feel for the corners. I think of school gyms and basketball courts and the slight OCD of children tracing lines on the floor.
Amanda is reenacting two videos by Bruce Nauman, except I don’t know that whilst I am watching. I guess it, maybe. When finally she writes his name across her body in lipstick, I reach around inside my brain for memories of Nauman and his work and only come up with a vague impression of 1960’s and New York. Later, youtube clears things up for me. Before the youtube search, before I learn the title of the piece (no programmes), I watch it as though it is new. New and yet recognisably old at the same time: in Prince-Lubawy’s performance mode and aesthetic, in the precise, not quite pedestrian movements, in her nudity. As I watch her naked and slowly covering herself in white, I do not yet have the overlayed image of a man doing the same for camera, I see a young woman blanking herself out so that her enlarged image almost disappears into the white wall it is projected onto. I see the white of butoh that blanks out the detail of the body, leaving the performer room to transform, I see the exaggerated white of a white woman. As she writes across her body in red I see the (mostly) white bodies of the femen protesters. Amanda’s left breast becomes a love heart. It is only later that I see this man, in 1967 and wonder what it is to lay his body over the image of hers. I wonder about youtube and archive and the fact that I can watch Amanda in 2013 and then go home and watch Nauman in 1967.
Looping pedals feature a lot tonight and Hamilton is the first to use them. He stands in the middle of a nearly symmetrical set up of microphones, red box percussion block things and a wide score. He is completely still – except for the absolute minimum he needs to press the looping peddal or hit the blocks. His pose reminds me of those tiny toy monkeys that play the drums. The sound layers and builds: popcorn, to a swarm of insects, to a room filling alien invasion. The timing sounds almost random, but his concentration on the score reminds us all that it is not. Musicians and scores and the performance of precision. The body of the performer is there, but it feels like Hamilton is enclosed in his own loop of sound and score. I think of Amanda and loops and scores and precision.
Pool Piece – the real version, Eleanor Sikorski
Eleanor Sikorski’s performance is absolutely for an audience. She does not ignore us, we know she performs for us, that our laughter and our attention are part of what makes the piece work. Sikorski is a swimmer. She dives, she holds her breath, she floats, she keeps in time with her fellow synchronised swimmers, she sings songs that almost rhyme about poolside love.
I love watching Topley slide into her sequined slippers ready to press the buttons on her different pedals to loop and distort her violin. She sets a little glass metronome with a bell to mark the 6 and I notice I am not the only one who can’t help but tap along to a metronome. I also find it hard to let go of counting to 6 over and over again. I love her crossing patterns and layered sounds and the party blowers in surround sound. A lesson for us all: blowing 3 party blowers at a time is much harder than you would think.
Rewind it [part 2], Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome
Maybe it is a left over residue of Sikorski’s swimming pool, but the beginning of this gorgeously, unsettlingly slow quintet tips the space so that again the grey floor becomes water. Grey floor, white walls, women in grey and white, another camouflage. They establish a pace and stick to it. It is this shared sense of time and a visible shared sensitivity in hands, feet and skin that creates a powerful sense of groupness, of organism between these five women. As they glide around the space on their backs I look down upon sharks, powerful and graceful and unhurried and single-minded. I think it might be the music, and their oneness, but I keep seeing predatory animals and ritual in this work. No one else I speak to seems to have this feeling. The women rise up slow out of the ground. It is beautiful and creepy.
There is a long set up time and a lot of movement and shuffling and talking after the slow deliberateness of Rewind. There is a machine and a lot of copper wires and a mass of audience members and performers from other pieces gathered around this machine. They hold a little disc attached to one of the wires, and I think each disc represents a letter. I don’t really understand how it works, even after Charlie Hope stops to explain it to us: it is something to do with twitter and electric shocks and the alphabet. A modern day ouija board to channel the collective wisdom of twitter. I think. It is a kind of small cruelty to watch this group of people play the game. The players give out little yelps of letters as their copper disc buzzes, mini dances of spasms for those holding the more common vowels. Are some people just more able to take electric shocks than others? Or are some people more conductive? A gap amongst many other gaps in my scientific knowledge. I am watching a party game where everyone seems to be having a kind of mildly dangerous fun, I am a little too chicken to join in.
A welcome quick shift of focus to the back corner of the room and the lights go out. Eisl bows and plucks at the neck of an electronic version of an instrument that my ignorance wants to call a cello. A night vision camera rests on one end of the neck and projects it’s image live on to the wall behind Eisl. The giant face on the screen has the white eyes of a cat caught in torch light. As he swivels the tripod around, the white bow fills the screen and when it withdraws a different face, a different set of eyes are caught in the frame of the camera. The sound, the darkness and these unexpected reveals feel appropriate to this late moment in the evening. I can lie down on the floor I have been sitting on. The audience has ebbed and flowed a little, have shuffled out to drink. We are more than three hours in to the evening but this sound still holds attention.
Another long set up and I keep checking my watch, but this is a performance in itself. A forest of tree-instruments is being put together by men with impressive beards. I think about how great they look amongst their big chunks of wood and cables. It gets better. They are moss-men – they wander through the audience in bee keeping outfits entirely covered in moss to tap and hit and stroke their forest into vibrating sound. The smallest moss-creature sings into the microphone. A bigger moss-creature waves around a smoke machine through the branches. I want to dance.
I heart Bruce Nauman: Amanda Prince-Lubawy
Pool Piece – the real version: Eleanor Sikorski
Rewind it [part 2]: choreographed and performed by Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome; performed by Eleanor Sikorski, Charlie Ashwell, Alexandrina Hemsley, Flora Wellesley Wesley;