A Fake Moon rises over College Green, Bristol and invites you to pause and contemplate the passage of time: drawing a slightly stilted, yet wonderfully poetical arc across a Valentine’s Evening sky, it challenges you to question your perceptions of natural and constructed beauty, blurring the line between true and contrived experience. IBT13 is launched. Inhabiting the liminal space between performance and art, strongly concerned with time, the physical plane, and their interaction, the festival brings together a highly eclectic mix of international performance artists, with a variety of practices illuminating different aspects of time’s passing.
Reckless Sleepers’ A String Section, starts with four empty chairs on a bare stage; eventually, four women carrying saws walk up to them in silence and sit. For a long time nothing happens. Intermittently the women shift a little, but for the most part look disinterested, almost bored. Then, one of them tentatively scrapes her saw against a chair leg. One by one, each starts sawing off the legs of her chair. There is no precision, no methodical action –the women teeter dangerously, fall; limbs sprawl in unfeasible directions, bodies contort awkwardly. From time to time, one of them stops and looks at the rest, still with a total lack of interest. Strangely hypnotic, A String Section is an ever-looping spiral of paradoxically soothing destructive determination. As you watch the gradual eradication of chair legs, you begin to question the role you yourself play in your own entrapment, wondering about the consequences of actions you perform mindlessly and unthinkingly.
Repetition is used to a vastly different, but equally poignant effect by Martin O’Brien in Breathe for Me. O’Brien’s practice is heavily informed by his experience of living with and receiving treatment for Cystic Fibrosis –a condition that causes internal organs to clog with sticky mucus, resulting in difficulty in breathing and digestion. Breathe for Me offers a ferociously honest examination of the “regulated, chronically ill body”. Indeed, as soon as you enter the performance space, you are assailed by the antiseptic, chemical stench oozing from a tub full of thick, hospital green gunk placed on the end of a wide strip of cloth. At the other end of it, O’Brien is busily inserting small needles into his midriff: a number of them has already accumulated there, and when he crawls on his hands and knees to the tub, they dangle off him like hideous decorations. He dips his head into the mucus-like substance, pulls out: his face is entirely covered by it, a green mask. Gasping for air, he crawls blindly back to his starting point. He smears an imprint of his face onto a triangular cushion, and starts over.
The action is repeated again and again. Gradually, other actions are added to it: O’Brien administers lung physiotherapy to himself, beating his chest methodically; he coughs violently; he gets up and dribbles spit into a sample cup. The continuous repetition lulls you into a sense of normality: the artist’s near-naked body becomes engulfed by a collection of therapeutic actions, administered like clockwork with medical precision. Yet a slight shift in your seat breaks the flow, as the overwhelming smell of antiseptic hits you, making you gag. You remember this is a person; you notice the blood trickling down his thigh; you wonder about the lung outlines etched on his chest; suddenly you are confronted with the devastating reality of living with Cystic Fibrosis day in, day out. Breathe for Me expertly juxtaposes the tedium of repetition with the moment of realisation, inviting an uncomfortable question of complicity: to what extent does the act of watching implicate the audience in what is happening?
The relationship between spectator and artwork forms the core of Helen Cole’s installation We See Fireworks: in a darkened room, a playback of various individuals describing their theatre memories is looped against a backdrop of lightbulbs turning slowly on and off, illuminating the space with varying frequency and intensity. The experiences described range from connections between spectators, the effect of a play on an audience member, the interaction of actors on stage, the aftereffect of a performance. Cross-pollinated by glimpses of other visitors in the flickering lights, the narrative creates a space for introspection, for consideration of the self as simultaneous actor and audience.
IBT13 ran 13 – 17 February in Bristol. More info at www.ibt13.co.uk
1. IBT13, Fake Moon, Simon Faithfull, Paul Blakemore.
2. IBT13, Martin O’Brien, Breathe For Me, Delia Spatareanu.
3. IBT13, Reckless Sleepers, A String Section(5), Delia Spatareanu.