Towards the end of a SPILL Think Tank event on death and dying Martin Russell from St Elizabeth Hospice Ipswich mentioned the work of William Utermohlen, whose self portraits document the artists journey into dementia.
Such searing honesty in art reminded me of the work of Bobby Baker, and particularly her Diary Drawings documenting her experiences of mental health. That same kind of honesty was also present in the work of Katy Baird, and her platform piece Work Shy. Chaotic and uncompromising, Work Shy is predominantly a personal confessional. But what makes the work both interesting and incredibly uncomfortable is the way Baird is prepared to blur the boundaries of what actually is a performance. Songs are sung bravely but with loud, dodgy pitching, food and drink are shared (courtesy of a local kebab shop – the delivery driver making a surprise ..and awkwardly late appearance), Burger King training videos try the audiences patience, urine is drunk. We learn that 47% of the spill audience earn less than £15,000, and that 81% have taken illegal drugs. On checking I realise I have lied at least twice during the show. I’m uncomfortable for much of the show and struggle to know what to think..but its an experience I will not forget.
At the same think tank event (on death and dying) Spill Director and Curator Robert Pacitti mentioned John Fox, the genius behind Welfare State and the Dead Good Guides (with Sue Gill). The legacy of Fox and Welfare State was evident in another unusual work. I want to blow up the Palace of Holyrood House by Harry Giles was more a ceremony, a ritual, a cleansing than a work of art. But when it’s as much fun as this – and when so engagingly presented by the artist (especially on the thin line between art and terrorism) – who cares about definitions even if the ‘big bang’ was more of ‘pffttt’
Text Home to 78070 by There There in its politics also reflected the work of Fox, but a more recent reference was the Occupy movement. Inside a tent, in a one on one experience, I listen to a distorted track about immigration whilst a masked character gently strokes my arm. Although together under a duvet, although I’m being stroked and caressed a mask and book ensure I feel alone and uncomfortable with some of the inequities of modern day living. As I leave a message is sureptiously pressed into my hand ‘Before you get the chance to miss home, you’ll understand you have a new home much closer. The Home Office’. Visit here for more advice!
My spill day was book ended by two polished and celebrated performances. Peter McMaster’s all male Wuthering Heights was tightly constructed and beautifully executed. It explores the male experience (and especially male friendship) through the dark eyes of Heathcliffe and his cleverly realised horse. Perhaps a little over long, it was none the less a funny, intriguing, beguiling performance full of surprising, beautifully choreographed and staged moments.
My day ended with the wonderful Gob Squad (in a previous life I’ve co-presented their Super Night Shot and Room Service) a company where popular culture and live art collide with hilarious and brilliant concequences. Are you with us? was, for me, eagerly anticipated and didn’t disappoint. Through a series of carefully co-ordinated sessions or scenes Gob Squad ask each other the questions they are afraid to ask each other in private. It’s a simple but incredibly effective format. The collectives ‘vision’ sequence should be mandatory viewing for all organisations struggling with their mission statement (apparently Gob Squad ‘aim to share hotels with intergalactic atmosphere and fuck buddies’), whilst Sean Patten and Bastian Trost’s ‘private’ moment was utter improvised genius. My only disappointment was having to leave early but even so a great way to end a challenging and exhilarating three days
Day one at Spill (from my spill festival notebook, day one)
Day two at Spill (rituals, beauty, blood and futility)