I had a full day of experiences yesterday- driving to Belfast from my parents house in Dublin, getting utterly lost and stressed in city centre traffic, finding the gallery, Catalyst arts, watching 4 hours of very different performances before it was my turn, getting through my own performance piece, negotiating traffic out of Belfast again and then settling into the 4.5 hour drive back to Clare. I would have stayed in Dublin last night and travelled home today but my Covid concerns were validated in the rising numbers of confirmed cases and hospitalised cases in northern Ireland, so I felt it better to steer clear of Dublin on my way home for that reason. Anyway my trip home was a chance to be by myself and reflect on the days events.
My plan for the event was to try performing a piece I’ve been working on; WTF: Working Through Feelings, which is summarised as the artist inviting audience members to contribute a negative feeling and then the artist (and possibly some audience, which did happen) works through this feeling by performing a body weight exercise. Drawing on my extensive background in fitness as a career, and my experience of the behaviour-isms and sometime dysfunctionality of the exercise class environment. Now I train, as in physically, at home most days, and so have been making versions of this WTF concept by myself long term, so in one way it was just a public manifestation of a regular habit.
I wanted also, significantly, to talk to the audience non stop throughout the performance, keeping up an endless stream of ramblings about the exercise, the feelings, and my own thoughts in general. This was the part I was worried about as I doubted my ability to remember the exercises whilst talking non-stop. I did not want to repeat any, rather work through as many different variations as I could. What I wanted to create was a relentless stream of chatter that almost became a background noise, thinking about how much a person will remember from a conversation anyway, apparently 10% at most. So as I pointed out it didn’t really matter what I said as they weren’t going to remember any of it anyway. I wanted to create a moving visual experience in the form of the evolving backdrop of chalked feelings on the wall with the artist in front constantly moving, performing the exercises, accompanying this with a constant verbal spew of comments, feelings, thoughts on the feelings etc. It was intended to be fast paced, relentless, annoying, manic, absurd and sometimes silly in its manner, because why shouldn’t art be silly? but serious in some of the topics, or feelings. I did not know how it was going to go as I was unsure if anyone would engage with me or if there would be a blank few faces looking back. Either would have been fine and I had other outcomes to consider: I wanted to see how the performance progressed through the beginning stages when I would have energy and then as the performance continued and I began to get tired how long I could keep going and how that might feel.
At 4pm when I was due to begin there were two other artists in full performative flow, Sandra Breathnach and Emma Breadman, each of whom were engaged in serious dramatic bodily performances which were non verbal and accompanied (Sandra) by a soundtrack of what sounded like very slowed down metal. Sandra had constructed a huge triangle of salt for her performance and was navigating this, and Emma was using a costume of flour sacks and what looked like hessian material as her accompanying material and making a series of actions based around this. All in all a heavy atmosphere to enter into. I was worried re coming in and completely disrupting this with my own piece but had been assured pre event, in a zoom meeting, that it was not an issue.
So off I went. I always think of the phrase from the guest tutor I had during Year 2 of my MA (whose name escapes me) who spoke about the energy required to push art out into the world – and that once you acknowledge that it’s not easy, that in a strange way it becomes easier. And a reminder to myself that we are all essentially ants crawling around a rock and my pre performance nerves mean nothing and are utterly significant and besides other people will interpret my actions differently than I intend them to so it’s out of my hands, I have no control over their reactions or response so I should just get on with it.
I think it went relatively ok, the first hour I did succeed in talking non-stop which was important to me as durational talking is a whole other avenue I have only started to explore. I wanted to see how challenging it would be to carry out the constant moving accompanied by constant talking. I was lucky in that some of the audience did engage, and because there was a no photos policy it meant people weren’t watching the performance behind their phones, as I have experienced before when performing, but rather seemed to be engaging in the moment. People were laughing and smiling which was encouraging. After the first hour I saw Brennagh, who was the last artist to be scheduled, come on at 5pm. I was conscious of her having had to wait till then and for her to have a less distracting environment to at least start off her performance within, she deserved that at least, so I continued on writing feelings on the wall and performing a cathartic exercise action in response, just without the talking. One annoying factor was that the chalk was not very visible against the white walls of Catalyst, and so I am not sure how well the audience could see it, if at all. Anyway when I looked up again I was the only one left performing, everyone else had finished. It was about 5.50pm when I finished so that makes this the longest duration I have performed for to date.
I got positive feedback from some of the artists post event and it was nice to talk to them post-performance when I was no longer nervous, as I was just so happy to have it over with. I was also introduced to Alistair McLennan, practical founding father of Irish performance art, who had been there all the time but I did not know who he was. I don’t have any documented imagery of the performance but that suits me fine for the moment. I need to put some space between me and the event so as to be objective about it and not be self conscious about it.