Mapping Encounters – Bill Drummond and Spill Festival

The Coming Storm – Forced Entertainment – photo Hugo Glendenning>

I’m re-reading Bill Drummond’s 17 at the moment.

Last night I read the chapter ‘People Dressing Up’. It opens:-

‘Performance Art? It’s just people dressing up doing silly things, isn’t it? For me it has never been enough for artists to merely shock, amuse or prompt the question ‘why’?’

This made me smile – not only as this was written by the man who had once burnt a million quid –

but also as on the train home I’d been finding my way through the Spill Festival of Performance (Ipswich 31 October – 4 November) which includes the National Platform, supported by Jerwood. Despite this inauspicious start Drummond goes onto describe several encounters with performance art he has in a town called Sete, at a festival called Infr’action where he is performing the17. In relation to three particular works he writes

‘There is no part of me that wants to know why they are doing this or what it is to mean but [the art] communicated directly with my soul. Their actions contained meaning. Yesterday I thought of performance art as something left over from the 1970’s. Today it is affecting me in a way I can only be grateful for’

On the train the following morning that word encounter is buzzing through my brain. Again the Spill brochure is by my side. I find myself underlining key words from the opening pages – uncompromising, radical live performance works, works of vital artistic and cultural value. Prepare to be challenged and amazed.

My usual self wants to ‘map’ my way through the festival, identify the must sees and the would like to sees. But I’m struggling – my own lack of reference points is making orientation difficult. So often we look through brochures for the identifiable hooks – an image, a title or an artist you know or recognise. But by the very nature of Spill much of this is taken away – it feels at first glance like a slightly dark and intimidating collection of words and images.

At first I think I should navigate via the bigger names [Forced Entertainment for example or the re screening of On Landguard Point],

or the artists I’ve got personal connections with [David Parkins ‘Good Friday’

or Victoria Firth ‘In the Next Room’]

or perhaps by ideas and concepts that catch my eye –Rosana Cade’s personalised walk, Tonya McCullan’s exploration of failure or 11;18’s (@weare1118) homage to commuter rail journeys, Portal.

But ultimately this approach seems fake, inappropriate even. After all this is a festival – and the great joys of festivals is coming across the unexpected. Unexpected encounters – there that word again.

So maybe I’ll borrow another of Bill Drummonds ideas. Rip out each page of the spill brochure (in itself an act of sacrilege – it’s a beautifully dark and brooding thing), but rather than burn them lay each page out on the floor in a random order – creating a crude map. I’ll draw some form of line or maybe write the word SPILL in large letters across my map.

And that line can be my journey through the festival. Heres to a random encounter or two!

The Spill Festival takes place in various venues across Ipswich. Bill Drummond appears at the Minories, Colchester Institute, 6pm on Friday 2nd November.

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