Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reviews: Apocalypse Bear Trilogy; Siren


By Stuck Pigs Squealing/MTC.

Yesterday Brian Lipson unexpectedly walked into my living room. He was wearing some cycling gear. He had a look around and we talked for a while.

(This fact is the ‘hook’ I’m using for this review. A hook is something interesting or unusual that pulls you into a piece of writing. Sometimes it is referred to again at later points in the piece, in order to create a sense of continuity and coherence).

In Stuck Pigs Squealing’s Apocalypse Bear Trilogy, a big furry bear unexpectedly walks into people’s lives at pivotal moments. They talk for a while.

(This is the ‘hook’ of the play, as written by Lally Katz. It’s the thing that ties together the three discrete parts of the overall work).

In Apocalypse Bear, Brian Lipson wears the bear suit and Luke Mullins and Katherine Tonkin play the various people he visits. Each of the play’s sections unfold in a slow, measured manner and are performed in a muted, fairly static way. This is in contrast to the usual erratic and surprising pacing of Katz’s signature style of writing.

(A ‘style’, here, refers to features of an artist’s work which are consistent and recognisable across a range of individual creations. In Katz’s case, this ‘style’ might include: uncanny surrealist intrusions into everyday reality; a metatheatrical playfulness; ironic humour; complex allusions to pop cultural forms which have sometimes lost popular currency. In my case, ‘style’ might include: self-indulgent made-up words to spice up a review (see ‘misosteopathic’ in my last post); gratuitous references to myself and my uninformed opinions; a false sense of humility and/or patently false attempts at self-deprecation; frequent boring digressions such as this one.

Apocalypse Bear is an uneven piece, mainly because it seems quite distinct from Stuck Pigs’ usual output. Having Lipson and Mullins direct is probably a part of this: the muted pacing and lack of physicality means that it edges close to being boring in parts. If you stick it out until the end, though, this choice makes sense.

The final, most fascinating section presents a married couple whose relationship seethes with an anxious undercurrent. He lies in bed reading as she comes home and begins a conversation. From the outset there’s a compelling tension – he still holds his book up awkwardly to one side, clearly hoping to resume reading soon. But he also explains to her how committed he is to listening to her problems, and accepting that even if he thinks those problems are rubbish their effect on her is still importantly. This is a brilliant little interplay, perfectly framing a relationship in which attempts at honest and open communication themselves hinder actual communication. It’s reflected throughout the rest of the piece in subtle and varied ways, but for me the clincher comes when she begins to relate a recent dream she had. This goes on. And on. And on. And like most people’s dreams, it’s vaguely interesting but not that compelling because you didn’t have it yourself. Nobody really cares to hear someone droning on about their night time wanderings. But we have to. The monotony, however, gradually creates an atmosphere of dream itself, since we can’t escape. And, when the telling is done, an exquisite effect takes place: it’s like when you wake from a dream to find yourself in another. The notion of reality as a solid ground to fall back on drops away, and by the end you’re left kicking out in the void and wondering if you’ll ever find earth again.

So: the Apocalypse Bear Trilogy unexpectedly wanders into your subconscious and has a look around and a little chat.

(This is the end of the review).

Lawler Studio, MTC. Ends Saturday.


By Ray Lee.

This performance is prefaced by an attendant giving a list of Things You Should Know. They’re mostly straightforward – it’s a low-lighting thing, there are cobblestones, watch your step etc. She ends by telling us that the artists have demanded that there be NO SPEAKING during the work. This gave me a bit of an ill-tempered sneer.

But not half an hour later, I was the one shooting purposeful glares at a couple speaking behind me! Lo, how the tables turned! But seriously, they wouldn’t shut up. I understood what the performers were on about.

The work is in the MIAF guide under “experiential” which is as good as saying “well where the hell would you put it?” It’s part installation, part live art, part sound art and part performance. Two guys wander around a forest of metal tripods of various sizes, switching on the sound generating devices mounted on top of each and setting them spinning. I counted 24 in all. Each machine emits a different tone but their pitches are modulated to form a complementary harmony ranging right across the frequency spectrum. The lower frequency speakers are attached to the lowest tripods, whereas the highest ones are so elevated that they require a ladder to reach.

The spinning effect adds an extra element to the soundscape, as it creates the sensation of sound itself moving. Moreover, as you could wander around the installation you could modulate the score yourself, by choosing which set of speakers to stand near.

I really enjoyed the 45 minute piece, but I think that might have been largely due to my long interest in dronology (no, I didn’t make the term up). Others I know found Siren deathly dull, and I even received an email from someone recently who’d seen the thing in Edinburgh and walked out hating it.
There’s a definite religious asceticism to the piece – it’s so pure, so austere, so minimal. Everything is stripped back to a minimum functionality, and there’s nothing to the devices themselves that doesn’t serve a utilitarian purpose. I suppose this was what I found most disappointing: I would have liked embellishments or aspects of the work that engaged on different levels, rather than reducing everything to a kind of monastic severity. As sound art, it never produces the overwhelming effect needed to alter the consciousness of the audience, but it doesn’t gesture too wildly towards other intentions, either. It seemed to me an enjoyable prototype of the kind of pomo cyborg creations Donna Haraway calls for, those ‘machines made of sunshine’. But that phrase was coined more than two decades ago, and I’m not sure this work couldn’t have existed that far back either.

At Arts House, Meat Market. Ends Sunday.


pedant said...

(A ‘style’, here, refers to features of an artist’s work which are consistent and recognisable across a range of individual creations...

I'm still waiting for Close Bracket

Born Dancin' said...

I believe you mean Close Parenthesis.

Actually, reading that typo as deliberate (it wasn't) makes an odd kind of sense, since the experience of Apocalypse Bear is a bit like a side comment that ends up devouring the main text itself or, as I suggested, a dream that becomes more real than any waking state.