The ‘Play’ Between Contemporary Culture and Art

After being introduced to Papastergiadis by Ally, my eyes have been opened far wider to the subject of place. I began reading an article by Erin O’Connor, a worker in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, where he spoke very highly of the writer and his book, ‘Spatial Aesthetics: Art, Place and The Everyday. O’Connor mentions how that in the book Papastergiadis talks on the subject of mixing politics and art; a statement made by O’Connor standing out particularly so is “the often banal aestheticisation of the everyday [on stage] and the desire to escape politics, and the elevated status of the artist and artwork.” These thoughts have been present within performance art for over a century; about how art is no longer about the art and the message, but more about the artists and their egos.

It is not the aforementioned quote that this post is about though but rather an earlier quote in the previous paragraph. O’Connor writes about Papastergiadis’ concerns on art’s participation in the broader field of power and knowledge and whilst doing so, writes “It is the ‘play’ between the place of art and the space of contemporary culture”. It’s very relevant to our practice in the sense of how we ‘play’ between art and contemporary culture; how we will take these many instances of the beautiful and the ugly sides of contemporary culture displayed on the warehouse as research and then use the influence to create art, art which allows participants to celebrate either the beautiful or ugly side of contemporary culture when defacing our bodies.

 

Works Cited

O’Connor, Erin (2003) Papastergiadis, Nikos, Spatial Aesthetics: Art, Place and the Everyday, Online: http://www.polsis.uq.edu.au/dialogue/Vol5/Spatial%20Aesthetics_Dialogue.pdf  (accessed 26 March 2013)

The Lawns…Finally Picked our Site!

When Deciding upon a place on which to base our performance on, as a group we kept drawing blanks as each idea just did not have enough scope and depth to work with. The archway in Lincoln High Street was an initial idea at first, but there was just no imaginative ways that it could have been used as a site, another idea was to use Café Nero, but again this wasn’t a place where there were any historical layers to it which was something in which we wanted our chosen site to have. Picking a site seemed to be more difficult than first thought! But we worked through it and kept on coming up with more and more ideas.

Confusion

At this point, as a group we still were slightly confused as to what site specific actually was as a whole, which made choosing a site quite difficult. Other groups seemed to be steaming ahead with ideas for their piece, whereas we were stuck in a rut. Ideas were being created left, right and centre although none of them got any further than being mind mapped until there was a brainwave…

How About The Lawns?

It was then I had remembered I had been up to The Lawns last summer and it looked like a place that could really work as our ‘site’. When researching the history of this building we found out that it used to be Britain’s first purpose built mental asylum. It was opened in 1820 by Dr Reverend Francis Willis and was actively run until it was shut down by the NHS in 1985.  This seemed to be the site that got us all excited as there were so many ideas on how we could represent this site as a performance piece. By choosing this site, we knew that we would be able to shock the audience and alienate them by giving them a taste of history from the 19th century!

 

Risk

Although confident in our initial concept perhaps we have not fully anticipated how  a specific section of our installation might affect our spectators and ourselves. Sitting in a bath of real animal blood seems to be the most effective way for us to feel close to experiences of remedies offered to the lepers isolated the hospital however we must risk access our piece in order to push the boundaries yet keep ourselves and our spectators safe.

  • Appropriate Costume: To use a fluid of an animal we must wear protective clothing to prevent the blood from seeping into any cuts we might have in our own skin however small to avoid causing harm to ourselves as performers. Some form of latex swimwear may have to be worn as we cannot be certain that the blood is one hundred percent safe to touch our skin.
  • The welfare of our spectators.

Continue reading “Risk”

The Prison and Creating a Lost Space

“What do performance-makers mean by ‘site’? How specific is site-specific? […] It is concerned with issues of place and the real spaces of performance” (Wilkie 2002, p. 148)


This blog entry shall essentially be a summary of our research and the development of our ideas over the past weeks. I personally feel we have made great progress both conceptually and in terms of experimenting with practice. The first element of this research was a visit to the prison at Lincoln Castle: we felt that this was a location that, although well-known, would evoke many instances of the ‘lost voices’ or ‘lost identities’ theme that we have been interested in for some time. One part of the prison that proved particularly fascinating was the Chapel.

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Here we saw a recreation or demonstration of the Separate System. In the chapel, prisoners were ushered into tiny wooden cells within the pews and then locked in- unable to communicate or to see anything other than the priest in the pulpit. Much of the time prisoners’ faces were also covered and their individuality therefore completely hidden; this can be seen in the picture below. The feelings of claustrophobia, entrapment and disorientation we experienced when trying these cells out for ourselves struck us as something that could be very useful for experimenting with in performance, particularly with the involvement or participation of the audience.

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We subsequently found our focus and interest significantly shifted to this specific site, and decided to visit the Lincolnshire Archives in order to research further. Here, we were able to view original documents detailing the history of the Gaol: inventories, rules and regulations, prisoner records, and surgeons’ journals. Tim Cresswell argues that “An important part of the creation of a sense of place is through a focus on particular and selective aspects of history” (2004, p. 85), and indeed we found ourselves both intrigued by the specifics of prison life and inspired to include these in our performance. For instance, the recounting in a surgeon’s journal of a prisoner who persistently would lie naked in his cell and suffered from fits linked well to our theme of lost identities. In nakedness, stripped of the material trappings (clothes) that define us and our status, we are all essentially equal. Therefore, if we as performers were to be almost naked, could the audience be somehow encouraged to respond to our behaviour and ‘assign’ us identities?

The examples of isolation and depersonalisation that we had seen at the prison itself and read about in the documents then led naturally to thoughts about confining ourselves- and the audience- for a duration over the course of our performance slot. At first we experimented with this through the creation of ‘cells’ made out of boxes, testing how our movements and behaviour would be restricted or manipulated by this type of confined environment.

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However, after speaking to our tutor and to eachother we were struck by another idea: using the lift in the LPAC as a pre-existing cell. This is after all a space where one is confined, unable to significantly control their own situation for a particular amount of time, however short. In this way the audience could be made to participate even on their way to view the other installations and performances. Evoking the emotional environment of the Gaol in such an incongruous space as a lift seemed to make it even more potent, aligning our ideas with Fiona Wilkie’s claim that the use of other parts of theatre buildings apart from the main performance space “forges an intervention into cultural spaces, ‘reflecting or inverting its own habitat’ (Jude Kerr)” (Wilkie 2002, p. 144). We decided that we will defamiliarise the lift by papering it with clippings from newspaper and scattering the space with pens and items found on the prison inventories- these will hopefully be used by the audience to ‘write’ our identities, and theirs, as prisoners in the lift.

Finally, we decided to create a soundscape based on sounds one might hear in a prison: whispered prayers, footsteps, the banging of doors and coughing or retching. We then found a confined space within the LPAC (underneath a staircase backstage) and after taking two or three members of our wider group covered their eyes, led them to this space and used sensory deprivation and confinement to observe the reactions one might have to being in this situation. Whilst some technical problems meant that this did not go exactly as planned it was nevertheless useful to experiment with the ideas we had already developed in a practical context. We felt that we were able to recreate what Persighetti and Smith call “the visceral and intense narrative that somehow evokes the unspoken and unresolved contradictions” of our chosen site.

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Works Cited

Cresswell, Tim (2004) Place: A Short Introduction, Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Persighetti, Simon and Smith, Phil (2012) A Sardine Street Box of Tricks, Devon: Triarchy Press.

Wilkie, Fiona (2002) ‘Mapping the Terrain: a Survey of Site-Specific Performance in Britain’, New Theatre Quarterly, 18: 140-160.

Lincoln Unknown

Lincoln as out stimulus for our piece posed many questions in my mind and made me realise how little I actually knew about the city in which I have lived for some time now. With this in mind, reading Carl Lavery’s ’25 Instructions for Performing in Cities’ (2010) inspired within me a fervent desire to explore and get to know Lincoln’s little know past and present.

Our groups attentions were caught by a few of the instructions, but specifically:

  • 19 – Take a video camera into the city and follow a dog or cat for as long as you can.

As well as the instructions, some of the tasks for students also intrigued us, specifically:

  • Deliberately get lost in the city

After discussing in detail are approach to these instructions, Charlotte and I decided to meet up and explore Lincoln with this new found fascination. We began at the High Street, which as usual, was a buzzing hive of diverse activity, with so many different types of people all taking the same route up or down, following paths into the same shops, cafés or side streets. It was on the High Street in which we encountered a very unusual site. Continue reading “Lincoln Unknown”