Culture night was a much needed concentrated night of art and artistic experiences. It’s easy to forget the magic of the live performance until you see it again. The journey to Milford House, 90 mins or so, reminded me once again of the many pilgrimages I have taken to places in order to perform and see performance art over the years, by car, train, plane.
I was first up on the performance schedule for the evening and we had to wait until people had arrived and had eaten before I could start. My piece was to be performed outside, and due to it being late September, night had arrived fully by the time we were ready to go. We had planned it to start in dusk but by now it was pretty much completely dark, and in fact the darkness added to the atmosphere very well. Deej had found me two flood lights which I positioned as well as I could to light up the sheets once they’d be hung.
I’d spent the couple of hours beforehand frantically adding more phrases to my sheets, as I’d been so preoccupied over the week before in trying to finish painting my monolithic container in Abbey St Carpark, Ennis, that while I had been able to buy some more sheets from various charity shops, I’d not had time to write on them. The writing took a bit of time as I had to check where on the sheet I was writing, and think about what I’d already written and consider where on the sheet to place the words thinking about if they would or would not be visible when hung.
The week before I had been sat at the local swimming pool where my youngest child does his swimming lesson every Monday ( I get 40 minutes of time to myself at a point in the day where I normally wouldn’t) and I availed of the time to write out a page of words and phrases I wanted to use on the sheets. The words related from a day I’d had the week before when I was feeling so stressed, anxious and despairing- a big ball of heavy fear and anger in my stomach- that I literally felt like I was going to burst. I allowed myself to write those feelings down, to an extent anyway.
So I found myself sat in the top floor of Milford house, looking out into the grounds on a still September evening, copying out these phrases onto the sheets using black marker pens. I was so preoccupied with writing them out and thinking about how to write them stylistically that the semiotics of the words at that time was not a priority. I did a quick trial run of a few of the sheets on the washing line near the front gates and realised I’d need some larger words.
The performance I think only lasted for about 20 minutes. Parts that worked: the washing line was perfect height and width wise and the darkness- as mentioned an accident- worked beautifully. My black dress worked as I’d hoped aesthetically, silhouetting against the white sheet black drop and creating more of a 2D effect. (I’d brought 4 dresses with me to see which one would work best) I hummed a song (made up) repeatedly, which worked somewhat.
My concern about the performance was that there was potentially too much going on in it- between the action- hanging the sheets, and then the words on the sheets, and then my plan to deliver a non stop monologue also. I decided all of this together would definitely be overkill, and to let the act of hanging the sheets and the words on them be the main focus. The memory of the Portadown Workshop with Sandra Johnston where we focused on pared back movement and intensity in the action possibly influencing things here..
What didn’t work. It, the performance, was too short. Also, I spoke intermittently during the performance and I could hear myself – as in I heard the sound of my voice, high pitched, as I spoke and the words I said were not right. I’d planned to have a conversation with myself as if I was answering someone on the phone, discussing an event where we’d both been at. But it came out as random, and to me self indulgent and whiney. It spoiled the performance for me. I should have kept my gob shut and stuck to humming. I’d felt I needed to add the speaking as I’d planned this in my proposal – lesson learned here. And the writing on the sheets to me was not successful. It needed to be larger and less controlled, less uniform, and perhaps more haphazardly placed. More like painting and less like text.
Anyhow Milford House is a magical place and the atmosphere in the deepening darkness was amazing- very still, so you could hear each crunch of twig or rustle of leaves. Everything is always a moment in time and a work in progress. I am old enough to appreciate what did work and note what needs improvement moving forward.
After me there were 4 more performances- it was a treat to be able to relax and really watch and absorb the other performances. They were experimental in nature, like my own, and beautiful and brave, I thought.