Spill Festival 2012: On Proximity

The following is a selection of texts written during my residency as part of Spill Festival 2012.



Philosopher Jacques Ranciere speaks of politics as a process of re-distributing the sensible; a confrontation through which that which has no voice and no language becomes visible, infiltrates the public sphere and thus displaces and fragments its constitution. Live art is a cultural strategy that often engages with such processes of reconfiguration, coercing the cultural into the public sphere trough a range of critical strategies, in proximity to socio-economic infrastructures. When tentative, it can fold in on itself; when overt, cheeky, confrontational, it can engage with processes of visibility, be it through the nature of an encounter or appropriation, or through a range of material practices. How does a festival as a form of reconstitution of cultural value within the particularity of a context make politics? It strikes me that there’s potential for a form of activism and a gesture of confidence; the curatorial as a tool for infiltration that leaves the sustainability as an imperative afterthought.

Within a neo-liberal political landscape that acts as a set of authoritative processes of absorption of difference, questions of historical imperatives and social negotiation emerge. From the deliberate rigidity of Grace Schwindt’s Tenant that alludes the problematics of post-marxist rhetoric and the construction and understanding of social relations to Rosanna Cade’sWalking: Holding, an intervention seeking to engage with affect as a process of reconfiguration, to Empress Stah’s intergalactic world of chaos that recalls the womb without end and Adam Young’s construction of a concrete wall, there’s an underpinning questioning of the relationship between experimental practice and political interventions. Is radicality that which engages in Ranciere’s political process? What is political work within this neo-liberal climate, and what constitutes the landscape of art and activisim? In what ways have histories both cultural and political shapes our understanding of radicality and its potential agency?

If difference is that which is contested, visibility that which is necessary, then are some of the performative strategies that might be disruptive temporary modes, or constantly recurring modalities of work? It’s a precarious negotiation, particularly when that which is at stake is the particularity of publically shared knowledge and its contention. Take, for example, Rosanna Cade’s Walking: Holding, a one on one piece in which an audience member takes a walk through the centre of town, led by and in interactions with strangers. Within this process, differentiation is both challenged and made visibility: race, gender and sexuality acting as the material for the piece. A drag queen holds your hand; a girl with a shaved head walks next to you. This is a double-folded intervention; the participant engages in an affective encounter involving both processes of identification and subjectivity whilst at the same time witnessing the shifts and changes of what has been termed the secondary audience – public unaware that this is a performance. There is a confrontation with status and notions of power as relation to levels of danger, be it social, intellectual or perhaps even physical. Dependent on the nature of the site, on the engagement of its participant, an ethical and political discourse emerges. A provocation  but also a problematisation; one both gentle and confident.

In Tenant, Grace Schwindt uses the medium of film to engage with questions of historical legacy and contemporary political frameworks. Processes of enactment, of control, of inscription and social relations are conflated within highly controlled environments. The form of the piece – film – is an intriguing proposition of the ways in which visuality and action holds power, and in fact within its rhetoric, this notion of power is constantly subverted. Using an intricate cinematic framework and theatrical language, Schwindt questions the ways in which knowledge is produced and eradicated; problematizes the ways in which social relations are produced and the anaesthetic effects of totalitarianism not in its political specificity but conceptual breadth. It juxtaposes affect and aesthetics and enables a particular confrontation of meanings. The film is constructed out of a non-chronological set of tableaux, each suggestive of domestic spaces: a living room, a dining room, a bathroom, and so on. These spaces are precise and minimal re-enactments of her grandfather’s home in Berlin; overlaid on top of these tableaux are interviews robotically recited and enacted by a range of voices, conversations between the artist and her grandfather about the lodger who occupied the Berlin apartment during the Second World War. This lodger- Mrs Schumacher- and her politics- she was a communist who helped Lenin travel to Russia in 1997 just following the February Revolution- serve as the conflicting narrative of the piece, which keeps attempting to replay and re-enact events in order to better understand the ways in which history and genealogies reconstitute what is a social relation, the impact and boundary of ideology and individual agency within conceptual understandings of totalitarianism.

In the construction of these postmodern images- in which each aspect constitutes an aesthetic layer- movement is the operational agent; only specific colours are used to recall historical period without any explicitness; costumes are either white or beige. The gallery space that sites the tableaux is made overtly visible; archetypes emerge through visual collisions, and the interruption of the static nature of the images is what provides the mode of critique and problematisation. Tenant reconsiders the metaphor of occupation and inhabitation, both as a metaphor to refract our relationship to history, but also as a questioning of the rhetoric of ideological participation. The house is a political landscape.

If language in Tenant is what dilutes and problematizes historical narrative, it provides a mode of inscription in Bean’s durational piece ‘O’, taking place in the eerie and derelict sites of the Malthouse, half plastered walls and shuttered bricks. How writing can enact and inhabit this continuous act of physical inscription is a problematic query that evades the architecture of this text; yet there is potential in the consideration of Bean’s spoken words, fragmented and reconstituted by time.

You see, you see




See yourself

The violence of inscription and precarity of locating and relocating meaning in language proposes a different understanding of personal narrative and proposes the body itself as political landscape. In an opposite gesture to Tenant and with an entirely different materiality and form of inhabitation, Bean [re] considers domesticisation. In the soundspill from Adam Young’s own durational piece inhabiting a small enclave within the same space, some intriguing comparisons and meanings emerge. Alone Alone Together We Stand Alone is a piece in which the artist constructs a brick wall from scratch; the sound of concrete being maid, of bricks rubbing against each other, of this labour of boundary-making being enacted, and the eventual possibility of its destruction, there is a sense in which association and appropriation emerge as investigative devices. Within this context, the wall becomes an act of aggression but also one of release. Territory is claimed; movement is a strategy of deconstruction.

Within these political reconfigurations, writing acts as an agent; albeit a precarious negotiation, a deferral or confrontation of personal politics and perhaps even an act of transgression.

Writing not just as a mode of making visible, but also a mode of access

Writing as a consideration of the I who is writing and the event written,

Writing as a mode of resistance to the analogy of an event
Writing as a mode of proximity

Writing as displacing the temporality and specificity between the historical and the contemporary

Writing as a form of dissipation and empowerment

Writing as cartography.



“Here [in the plane of immanence] there are no longer any forms or developments of forms; nor are there subjects or the formation of subjects. There is no structure, any more than there is genesis” Deleuze and Guattari

The ways in which a festival can make difference visible and at the same time allow for a decentralisation of practice; within its cartography, genealogies collide, action intermingle, sites interact.

I like the potential of action to both construct and obliterate meaning; there is something inherently aggressive in viewing the processes undergone by an idea only to watch it crumble. The idea both exists and remains within itself; a bit like the ways in which Forced Entertainment obliterate the potential of meaning in narrative in The Coming Storm; a bit like the ways in whichEmpress Stah in Space disrupts meaning through spectacle yet at the same time engages in an activist gesture of empowerment: “womb without end”, “rebellion of false virtue”, “finding love amongst ruins”.

In Empress Stah In Space, an intergalactic collaboration between Empress Stah herself, Ron Athey, Lydia Lunch and Peaches, the plane of immanence emerges as a different proposition of embeddedness and resistance; lost in interstellar landscapes, interspersed with circus as a set of acts of physical precision and skill; engaging with the occult and crafting an experience both nomadic and removed. Animations flirt with the grotesque, rhythmic journeys with meaning, unformed elements and particles of thought collide. There is no centre. There is only spectacle and body politics.

In my memory, the aesthetic strategies of Empress Stah collide with those of The Coming Storm. Perhaps because both consider rhythms, shifts of meaning and mythologies. Because through the constant confrontation with narrative in all its potential shapes, Forced Entertainment displace expectations of the theatrical and bring echoes of affect into their work [without ever addressing this explicitly].

In that sense, the image of the [recurring] shipwreck is a powerful tool.


Adam Young’s wall broken into pieces

Shards of narrative lying on the floor at the end of The Coming Storm

A cartography of footsteps traced on the dusty floor of Bean’s ‘O’

A pile of clothes , dust and mud in Aleks Wojtulewicz’s Man Vs Woman

The traces left by the melted black ice in Emma Dixon’s piece

The threads of magic and folklore in Tim Bromage’s Untitled

Bits of cake from Selina Thompson’s Pat It and Prick It and Mark It with a ‘B’

Drops of blood and orchids in Nicola Canavan’s A Divine Trauma

Heavy butter and shreds of black cloth in Tonya McMullan’s Criteria for Failure

Severed doll heads, spilt milk and oil, burnt tin foil and a grave of cables in The Thinning Veil

Thoughts that haven’t made it onto this page.



by Diana Damian

Memory Intervention[s]

I remember the smoke, the strobe/s, the dissonant sound over-spilling over a set of transfixed gazes. Flashing lights, jerky bodies, liminal imagery, sounds colliding, figures emerging, carcasses appearing; narrative; muscular noise, trashy noise, filthy noise, dark noise, dangerous noise, ritualistic noise. An Artaudian spectacle of cruelty. In JM Bowers and Ryan Jordan’s The Thinning Veil, sound emerges from deliberate, scientific collisions; a table of mixers, computer screens, oils , severed doll heads, overwhelmed with cables and steeped in the myth of languid, distant, discordant voices of screams, adorns the stage. Confronting, receiving and inhabiting this landscape, we are both effigy and witness, caught in this metalwork of sound.

Writing from memory is writing about memory; in close proximity to possible avenues, navigating a landscape of work, the texts emerging from these encounters keep asking for remembrance; for a consideration of this cartography of history – personal or public, recent or distant; here writing becomes a process of enactment and fragmentation. A strategy for remembrance, flirting with narrative and criticality.  In the negotiation of these variables, spectatorship emerges as an act both individual and collective; the assumed participants within this act of remembrance and proximity.

Take, for example, Ipswich’s Town Hall, a site of political activity implicit and explicit, inhabited by and confronted with experiments in visibility, in materiality, language and form. Central within the festival, it stands as a gateway to history, as a guardian of site and as potential witness, its past holding an agency, its day to day rhythms disrupted and de-stabilised. I wonder how the memory of the festival as a performative gesture might reconstitute its future. Whether, in the encounter with live work, there is a sense of the civic permeating the act. Dominating one of the hall’s main galleries is a wall-wide definition of live art, written by Lois Keidan. In its form, tone and language, it restructures and considers the potential of such definitions to disrupt the encounter. Hardship, endurance, provocation, representation and interactivity remain inscribed on this site. Genealogies are recalled as the work acts as document of future histories; a space of fragments, jolts and bonds that keeps reforming, not allowing the specificity and boundaries of the individual pieces to sediment themselves in the particularity of fragments; rather, they becomes memories enmeshed in meaning.  The Town Hall becomes a theatre of difference and the definition an aesthetic critical intervention.

It’s an interesting condensation of possibilities lying side by side with the construct and concept of failure – of meaning to emerge, of memories to form, of change to be affected [or inflicted]. Negotiating between failure’s embodiment, its affect and its impact is Tonya McMullan’s Criteria for Failure. Occupying the corridor of an institution and gallery space, McMullan constructs its criteria through a range of materials: the body; a heavy lump of butter, a pair of scissors, a black dress, a rock. Moving slowly up the stairs, she tries to chew on the rock, the sound of her grinding teeth and the shape of her moulding cheeks intersecting. As she arrives on the landing, she moves the lump of butter which hides on the edge of a window onto her body. She carves it away from the window and sculpts it around her chest and arm. In a final act of transference, she climbs a precarious tower of chairs, casting herself against the wall whilst precariously stripping away her dress with scissors. In this distance travelled and enacted, there’s a constant confrontation with failure as a framework inhabiting the piece; acts are reconstituted and formed around their potential to be completed; the status of the body [the artist] changes dependant on risk; metaphors weave in and out of this image with a precise temporality. As the temporary inhabitation of the institution, Criteria for Failure considers the potential for shifts rather than the precariousness of accidents. As meaning is reconsidered throughout the process, a certain politics emerges, one

Acts of conscious freedom

In the same way, Reynir Hutber’s Critical Distance stands guardian to authenticity, alluding to the memory of performance and inhabiting it at the same time. The audience is invited to make a decision with ethical repercussions; a sheet is laid on the floor surrounded by low barriers. Next to it, on the wall, a screen shows the same site occupied by a body; a real body that is absent from the room, yet within reach. In this white box, no distinct rules of engagement are laid out; instead the ways in which you chose to interact with the piece forms its meaning; touching the box is touching the body. It’s affective and at the same time constructing.

Critical Distance references two seminal pieces of live art dating back to 1974. For White Light/White Heat, Chris Burden spent twenty-two days on a platform outside of the gaze of the gallery visitors; they could not see him, and he could not see them. In Rhythm O, Marina Abramovic placed seventy-two objects that audience members were invited to use; she would remain silent for a period of six hours.

Acting as a provocation and deliberately referential to this particular genealogy of live art, Critical Distance turns an ethical decision into an aesthetic strategy. The body on the screen doesn’t materialise; you consider, given the references, that there might be someone watching you; you negotiate witnessing and participating, and construct a set of permissions that might allow you to engage with the work in some way. In this process, the ethical framework also becomes a critical operation. The possibility of radical acts is there, at the same time blunted by the impossibility of any physical contact.  In this appropriation, a history emerges; a form of participation becomes politics; the white box becomes a particular form of public space, and a lineage of its politics inherently emerges; aesthetics becomes affect which in turn refracts and distorts. At the same time, I navigate this encounter as both witness and participating.

In an entirely different guise, Lynn Lu’s Misfortune Does Not Travel With a Bell appropriates a folk saying and turns it into a gesture of transformation and transference. Whilst being asked to dig within my own memory, which would emerge in some else’s pocket as a healing provocation [with a bell], I considered the ways in which such an exchange distorts the chronology of that recall. What is turned into a document also holds a timid politics; in the same way as Emma Dixon’s Ice, where watching black ice turning from solid to liquid dilutes memory and flirts with the aesthetic potential of such a strategy, probing the ethics of participation in a different manner. Occupying a hexagonal, central gallery space, six performers with white shirts hold a ball of black ice that melts through the pressure, leaving traces on the floor. These traces not only become careful occupants, scripted documents and memory archives, but also silent propositions of meaning.

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