Saturday, 11 November 2017

I Told the Reaper I was on a Diet

I told the reaper I was on a diet
So I asked for…
Diet Death
I can't believe it's not Death
Gluten-free Death
Semi-skimmed Death
Death for vegans
Death - no nuts
Cruelty-free Death
I feel like Death warmed up - to a temperature that won't burn my mouth
Death lite
0% alcohol Death
A lighter shade of Death
Death condensed
Death is not dead – it’s just feeling a little poorly
Decaffeinated Death
Renewable Death
Death - the conspiracy
Dairy-free Death
I'm in an open relationship with Death
Polyunsaturated Death
Wholegrain Death
I may have an allergic reaction to Death
SlimFast Death
Organic Death
Death is a hoax
New Age Death
Recycled Death
Death for hipsters - so a double cold-brewed artisan skinny soya kale macchiato in a Mason Jar kind of Death
The Schrodinger's Cat of Death
Anti-gravity Death
Death with consent – unless you’re under 16, then you’ll need to ask a parent or guardian
Death is invisible
Death is an illusion
‘The reports of my Death have been greatly exaggerated’ (Mark Twain)
Imitation Death
Death substitute
I took a rain check on Death
Solar-powered Death
Death has a PG-rating meaning some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
The three-day weekend Death
The let-out-of-lectures-5-minutes-early Death
Procrastinating with Death
The comfortable-bank-balance Death
The discount-wine-and-someone-else’s-Netflix-account-night-in kind of Death
Death for novices, for newbies, for absolute beginners (why did you take Bowie?)
The virgin Death
Put a stopper in Death (why did you take Rickman?)
Death: the prototype
Death...but not as you know it

I’m on a diet so I faked my own....Death

Imperfect Orchestra's scoring of Sergei Eisenstein's 'Battleship Potemkin' at Plymouth University

Never been so unnerved, disturbed, and frightened by a piece of music or cinema before so this is definitely a first - and I loved it!

By definition, a silent movie is just that: silent. This makes whatever happens, especially if it’s a horror film, all the more surprising. Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet Kinema piece, “Battleship Potemkin” did not, initially, strike me as having the potential to be horrifying, set as it was on a battleship. So, when faced with Imperfect Orchestra’s scoring of the film, I felt secure in the knowledge that what surprises there might be could be anticipated with the appropriate musical warnings. Oh, how wrong I was. Each turn of events in the film was so sudden, and at times violent, that without the music I would’ve been suitably surprised, but with it, the entire mood did a complete 180 turn, the tone of the music switching in the same instant.
Working with the director’s wish that the film should be rescored every generation, contemporary electrical instruments like synthesisers, found sounds, and electric guitars were permitted to join the orchestra, creating a much more surreal, unsettling, and energetic vibe. This worked well with the cultural background against which the film was set, namingly the era of Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism, which sought the artistic freedom and experimentation of ‘making it new’. Thus, electric guitars were made to sound as if they screamed, violins mourned death, pianos crept by in the background in anticipation of death, drums pounded ominously, cymbals rattled jarringly, and voices chanted or shouted through a distorted megaphone. Every musical choice served to intensify the action seen in black and white on the screen behind the orchestra, to the point that, at times, I felt genuine fear. As the civilians reacted to the Soviet attack, so too did the orchestra, in a fashion which unnerved me until I was glued to the screen in uneasy anticipation of the first death. Of course, what made this a truly shocking film was the momentary emphasis it placed on the female and infant casualties of the Russian Revolution as a young boy was trampled in the panic, a young mother was shot as she clutched her baby’s pram, her falling body pushing the child down the steps, and an elderly woman was wounded in the eye. This series of events was montaged and alternated with shots of the advancing Soviets, and civilians fighting below, escalating the tension still further. Only when the final raising of the big guns, pointed directly at the screen, is called off, can the bubble of fear finally burst, the music become jubilant, and the monster of war slink back into the shadows.

I can’t say I have ever been a particularly big fan of silent theatre – or politics, for that matter – but while the latter remains a reluctant subject for me, if all silent movies were scored in such a way, I might be inclined to seek more out. The applause lasted for a considerable time once the credits rolled, and rightly so, as the collective passion and effort of Imperfect Orchestra had produced one of the finest collaborations of cinema and music I have ever had the good fortune to experience.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Past the Patina - In Memory of Poppy: Wave Installation

It’s a beautiful thing, as it rises, it rises, it rises,

A blood red wave in the shadow of

A wave of blood in the shadow of

A wave of blood to symbolise the names on

The memorial that pierces the sun.

It’s visually stunning the way the poppies reflect

In the puddles,

A sea of red heads made duller

Lost their colour –

Are they dying or have they already…?

No water can nourish these roots already

They are dead heads fallen like shadows of

Biplane fighters in brave flocks

The resurrected phantoms of their names on

The memorial that pierces the sun.

I’m in awe as it rises, it rises, it rises –

We’ll be home by Christmas –

It’s still rising towering narrowing looming reaching…

It’s stopped

Why did it stop?

They can’t stop it’s not over they’re too young there are too many too many

Too many flowers.

They were real people – note the ‘were’ –

Maybe you knew them

Can you pick them out?

Each face is a flower

A life struck out

But a legend no doubt

Of whom without

You could not take picture after picture after picture

Of your son in the shadow of

A graduation in the shadow of

A life made perfect by the shadow of

The memorial that pierces the sun.

I will stand and stare and remember

As it pours forth its floral fountain

A sympathetic tributary flood

A blood tide

To dissipate like a wave at my feet,

To dissipate dissolve disperse decompose

Into Flanders Field exalted in clay

Into Flanders Field exalted

In Flanders Field

They want us to remember

But what am I remembering,

Who must I not forget?

I never met him

You won’t forget him

I never met him

You can’t forget him

I never met him

You shouldn’t forget him

As he crawls through the wire

That tangles protects mangles resurrects

That reaches from the shadow of

Protects the beaches in the shadow of

Beyond our reach in the shadow of

The memorial that pierces the sun.

As daylight fades, the lights come up,

The colours pop, shine like rain-jewelled petals,

Like glacé buds

Like patent blossom,

Like blood-soaked soil -

The only kind fertile enough for such seeds

With such ravenous needs

That six thousand strong must feed the flock

By conceding to bleed to stop the clock.

But still it rises, it rises, it rises

And it can’t be stopped why won’t it stop the names are the same the fight is not is not

It’s not over yet –

We are infected in retrospect,

Cannot forgive out of respect –

So no one surrenders in the shadow of

We keep remembering in the shadow of

A day not just of peace but

A memorial that pierces the sun. 

Friday, 3 November 2017

The Anjali Dance Company presents Genius at The House, Plymouth, 25th October 2017

Frisson: a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill – something I was not expecting when I sat down to the Anjali Dance Company’s production of ‘Genius’. The company comprised of performers with various learning disabilities whose goal it is to break the stereotypes and perceptions of people with such disabilities through performance. Given the opportunity, their creativity and talent was allowed to shine through in the most amazing ways, and created the aforementioned ‘frisson’. Their unique and, often times, haunting use of sound, staging, and bodily interaction in ‘Genius’ created a professional performance that gave me chills.
In the brief first half, the six performers, all pale-faced, dressed in black, and gloved in blood, performed an amusing rendition of the big screen’s Nosferatu. Each would enter a small section of the stage, surrounded by iridescent tinsel curtains, to an eerily rising note, and perform their simple sketch (often involving bloodsucking) before exiting as the sound cut out. The repetition of the sketches felt very much like film takes, the pattern only broken when part of the curtain was accidentally pulled down, creating a break in the wall of indistinct silhouettes that stood on the other side.
For the second half, however, a contemporary rendition of the life of Beethoven was performed. This utilised stage lighting, voiceover, and the music of Mozart (and, of course, Beethoven himself) for dramatic effect. Since none of the performers ever spoke, all their emotion had to be conveyed through body language, thus the music became their conductor: reaching, holding one another, falling, and crawling across the floor. Scenes of performance and death featured heavily, the one slowly bleeding into the other, so that a celebratory effusion of white roses became a delicate cascade of red petals onto a fallen body. It was such poetry in motion that I felt myself tearing up a little. The grandeur of Beethoven’s music which made me realise just how perfect this story was for the stage – as well as why the protagonist of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange got such a kick out of the music. I had those beautifully intense and melancholic compositions to thank for several moments of frisson.
Of course, this whole thing would not have been possible without the co-ordinated efforts of the six performers. True to the company’s aim, they danced with a grace and dedication which belied any previously held beliefs one might have had about those with Down’s syndrome, autism, or other learning disability. They exuded an energy which never seemed to fail, a personality which engaged with their characters and struck a balance between humour and solemnity which kept the pacing fresh. Knowing this was a life story, it undoubtedly had to end. However, the final laying to rest of Ludwig van Beethoven, clutching a small bouquet of white flowers, was no less desired than the fact that it signalled the end of the show.

I wish Anjali Dance Company all the best with their future performances! 

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

In Bed with my Brother presents We Are Ian at The House, Plymouth - 3/10/17

The advertisements for this show were already crazy enough, but little did I know just how much crazier things could get. Not one for the epileptic, gluten-intolerant, or shy, We Are Ian took audience participation to a whole other level. A genuine 'you had to be there to believe it' experience, which I am glad I didn't miss. I hope I can give you at least a taste....imagine the taste of Maria or Rich Tea biscuits, it's the best I can do - besides this review, of course.

If you follow the trail of biscuit crumbs back across campus, past the raucous group of golfers with limp inflatable clubs, duct-taping each other’s legs together, down past the library, and into The House, you will find their source: a catastrophic biscuit massacre scattered across the main stage. But why such a bizarre scene, you might ask? Well, because We Are Ian was there, of course. 
In a bid to discover a better youth, the youth that Ian had, Nora, Dora, and Kat (the three ladies of performance group In Bed with my Brother) transported the audience back to 1989 in a trippy cocktail of lights, 80’s beats, clowning and chaotic dancing, and lip syncing; back to the last real era of youth culture. With attentive ears, they listened to Ian’s cynical yet nostalgic voice pulse through a single lightbulb suspended within reach of the stage. He told them about the illegal raves and acid parties which, only five minutes into the performance, got not just Ian’s protégés bombastically dancing their LED high-tops off, but the audience too, the immortal ‘hot potato’ and ‘cold spaghetti’ slowly infecting everyone present. However, this was only one level of crazy, as Ian went on to introduce them to the wonder of ‘getting wankered on brown biscuit’. Even if you aren’t fluent in street terms for ecstasy, the world you were presented with made the drug reference very clear. Taking the name literally, the ladies apprehensively wield a packet of biscuits, first rejecting the proffered novelty before individually succumbing to temptation, stuffing their faces, dancing with euphoric frenzy, and showering the front rows in partially-chewed biscuit crumbs. Again, audience participation was required. Although initially possessive of their newfound diversion, they coerced only a few people into eating with them, but were soon depravedly forcing handfuls of biscuits upon us as they raved in the strobe lighting. It was the most bizarre performance I had ever seen as Nora, Dora, and Kat paraded and bounced about the room, grinning inanely and miming for us to eat; having had at least ten biscuits forced upon us, my friend and I modestly obliged before trying to pass the rest along: no one was interested. Had the biscuit’s metaphorical significance sunk in already? Were they afraid of getting addicted? When the small pile on my knee reached its final two, I started to think maybe I was.
Unfortunately, all good things, they say, must come to an end, and soon Ian was reminiscing about the slip into club culture and football hooliganism and how things just weren’t the same. Frantically, the ladies began prodding at the lightbulb as if to change the channel back, but it was too late. This slip was mirrored in the seemingly interminable dancing which began to take its toll, their once ecstatic and inane grins slipping into pained and exhausted grimaces as the projected images in the background took on a familiar and contemporary tone: Theresa May, Donald Trump, Brexit. They eventually sank to the biscuit-strewn floor, silent once more except for their tired breaths. And then, just when we thought the whole thing would start over, we found ourselves prompted to dance for them, as if to symbolise a refusal to let modern society drag us down. One by one, we were compelled to take to the stage, ‘hot potato-ing’ and ‘cold spaghetti-ing’ to rainbow lights, mad beats, and Margaret Thatcher’s face plastered across the projected screen. And when the ‘party’ was finally over, we found ourselves looking out to our seats. We were at first observers, we were now participants. The three ladies looked back at us as if to say, ‘You are the future; don’t let it get you down.’ And you know what, despite the struggles of university life, when the rambunctious beat kicks off again in my head, I can’t help but smile and think ‘Don’t worry – I won’t.’   

Monday, 25 September 2017

Day Three of the Plymouth Arts Weekender 2017: Barbican, Athenaeum, and Union Street

I'm writing this the night after the events in question because, just like this time last year, I was mentally exhausted, and couldn't have put in the amount of effort I have done nor done the various artists the justice they deserve. So here, at last, is the final installment for your delectation.

NB: as this article was written in collaboration with Plymouth University's SU: Media online magazine, some editing has been done which I have applied (in places).

In true Plymouthian spirit, the last day of the Arts Weekender was another damp one, but yours truly mustered the determination to don wellies and raincoat, and go forth.
First port of call was to the Plymouth Arts Centre’s small Batter Street space which artist Jules Varnedoe had transformed into a cocoon of natural awareness for his installation Anthrosoluble Dispersion. Invasive plant species hung vacuum-sealed from the walls, a small display case of plastic drawn from the sea stood opposite another of sheep’s wool and fertiliser, while a video shot beneath the waves revealed a shoal of plastic waste. The sound of the rain outside gently bled into those waves, turning this into a fully immersive, yet minimalist installation. I almost didn’t want to leave; I had found a place where art was doing what it did best: opening people’s eyes to the truth. Unfortunately, my expedition was not over so I had to leave in search of the curiously titled I Don’t Believe Birmingham Exists by Adrián Bishop at Studio 102. Based on a statement from the New Scientist Magazine that ‘Nine out of ten people hold a delusional belief’, the exhibition greeted me with several psychedelic faces, most were sporting inane grins and wild red eyes, and illustrating their own real-life delusional beliefs in indelible ink, as if to symbolise the permanence of such philosophies. Wandering the small space, each bold statement seemed more deranged than the last, encouraging me to see that Adrián’s work does what we should all be doing, which is challenging those beliefs.
Having had my eyes opened a little wider to the world, I took a brief hot-chocolate-based interlude at the Boston Tea Party before continuing, this time to the Athenaeum for What Does Not Respect. This three-piece installation led me into the secret disused tunnel beneath the building where I found some curious sights:
Indistinct faces and figures gazing out of the cracked walls, an allusion to the ephemerality of photography courtesy of Katie Upton.
A deflated pool of bread dough on which artist Louise Riou-Djukic had previously lain for her performance ‘Eat Me Eat You’, an homage to the media’s obsession with female dieting and how food consumes us.
A stark canvas creation sitting at the end of the tunnel, gradually dripping icy meltwater into a sling below, dreamed up by Lisa Davison to conceptualise the ‘liminal period experienced during a rite of passage’, this being motherhood. 
If these pieces were removed from the tunnel, they would not have had the same impact. They interacted with all the senses to create an unsettling state of limbo. It came as something of a relief then to ascend to the Athenaeum once again, if only to peer into Rhys Morgan’s Platform, an audio-visual collage dealing with the media and the ‘claustrophobic isolation’ that comes with misunderstanding it. After a brief period watching videos being searched and buffered and layered, everything suddenly cut out – I never discovered why. However, from one installation about exclusion, I found myself moving to one of inclusion: Night Light by Jack Carberry-Todd (part of Transitional Assemblage) at the nightclub The Factory. Inside the unassuming venue were hypnotic, disorienting spirals and diffuse, unsettling shapes on the walls, brought to life under UV lighting to create ‘the techno sublime’, an experience one could only fully appreciate while dancing in this space after dark. Regardless of the lack of sensory overload, I still felt a part of the installation as the pages of my notebook began to fluoresce.
Returning to the Athenaeum, I sat in on Mark Leahy’s Threaded Insert, part of the Tears in Rain installation. As I waited for activity on the stage before me, a disembodied voice spoke from above, counting out steps, spelling out words, and describing exact location. After a short while, the speaker himself appeared in the doorway, showing himself to be taking orders from an mp3 headset. His steps continued despite any obstacles which meant he would climb over chairs or off the stage, and the words were spelled by touching corresponding parts of his body. It was a bizarre spectacle, deriving its content from ‘proper’ speech and conduct guides, and often repeating itself or being stopped partway through by new instructions, as if to emphasise the control this system had over the artist. I realised that the Weekend was similarly taking control over me, my hunger for discovering art meant I neglected my hunger for food. I decided to search for something to eat before I could wrap things up at the Union Street Afterparty. 
Having refuelled at The Bank nearby – and unsuccessfully refused free cake at the Athenaeum – I made it to Union Corner. On the bill was:
Sam Richards: a London-born folk/jazz artist who wanted us to know that everything we do is, one way or another, political
Simon Travers: creator of the Stackhouse Jones Project, this local poet’s haunting tones served up a bizarre reminder of the real world
Lola Beal: The Mayflower 400 Young City Laureate took us through her thoughts on poetry and the work she did to gain her coveted position
Richard Thomas: a surrealistic beatnik poet who gave us a brief glimpse into the anxieties of fatherhood and what it’s like to never run out of soup
Thom Boulton and Daniel Morgan a.k.a. Blaidh and Sounde: a duo who’d give Tenacious D a run for their money brought folklore humorously to life, especially when dealing with one angry ogre’s seagull vendetta
And lastly, only just making it to the Afterparty in time from his slot at Tears in Rain, was Mo Bottomley: when someone walks on stage wearing false eyelashes and clutching a handful of paper strips which all begin with the word ‘pants’, you know there can be no better way to end the night. Or the entire Arts Weekender for that matter. I hope you enjoyed it too.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Day Two of the Plymouth Arts Weekender 2017: Town and Millbay

Today did not disappoint in the quantity of stuff I managed to cram into 7 hours, and I'm sure my pedometer is sitting in the five digits region I've done so much walking. But it feels good to be engaging with this city in such a rewarding way. I hope I have done these installations even half the justice they deserve.

NB: as this article was written in collaboration with Plymouth University's SU: Media online magazine, some editing has been done which I have applied (in places).

As I very much predicted, having set out today with a plan of what I wanted to see and when...nothing really permitted me to follow said plan.
The time was half past nine and I arrived into town to view Temenos, an installation at the Methodist Church Central Hall. The installation revolved around the idea of thresholds, sanctuaries, and new things coming into being, only to find the opening time had changed. Afterwards, I was on a mission to find the Orbit Bus Session but this was unfortunately delayed. I came to realise that is was possible to be too organised.
Fortunately, I was now able to return to the former sanctuary of Ric Stott and Ian Adams. Through a series of 10 paintings (Stott) and poems (Adams), a viewer was taken on their own journey of self-discovery, the former balancing warm swathes of colour with cool scribbles and scratches over beautifully simplistic black and white drawings, which the latter gave greater spiritual meaning to. By the end, only warmth and strength remained, as if ready to start the ‘story’ over, an apt method given its religious vibe.
The Truth Wall - Plymouth What's On stand
Following this, I thought I would be at a loss once more until The Truth Wall began shouting its anti-politics at me from the "What’s On" stand. Organised by the Kiss and Bite Letterpress Studio, any potential traces of old announcements were virtually smothered by the haphazard pasting of 80s-style propaganda. Its boldly coloured declarations of ‘Don’t Be Calm, Be Angry’ were instantly eye-catching and subvert the typical 'Keep Calm and Carry On' narrative. After circling this outspoken piece a few times like an inquisitive dog, I wandered to the Hoe in search of Anita Lander; her unique decision to sit and listen on a bench beneath a tree for seven hours intrigued me. Alas, she too was nowhere to be seen so I turned myself back to town to continue the next leg of my arty odyssey.
Having sufficiently caffeinated myself with an iced Americano and picked up my constant companion in all things arty, Mark Jones, we investigated BankRUN, a small wooden ATM created by Lara Luna Bartley to mark the 10th anniversary of Northern Rock’s collapse. Having ‘activated’ the machine by trusting my finger to a small hole in the display, a magical hand provided me with the option of three bank notations and one of three radical economists to adorn the note. After a brief wait, the chosen note was delicately ejected through a slot, bearing Ben Dyson’s face on one side, and a female face oddly like my own on the other. Wishing it had any monetary value, we advanced to the bus stop in anticipation of the Wonderzoo Bus Tour organised by Peter Davey. Just up the road sat the number 34 Orbit bus, its top deck stuffed with brilliant pink orbs, taunting my impatience and self-inflicted schedule, but I had stranger things to attend to on a bus. Joined by some of last night’s Versify crew, we experienced out-of-tune group renditions of The Sound of Music. Oddly enough, West country comedian Richard James appeared to be more at home shouting at people on a bus (despite the unconventionality of doing just that) than small talk. Versify’s own poet, Nick Ingram, was looking to beat his own record for the verbal 100-metre dash, before Versify’s organiser Marian tantalised the ears with her poem on whales, whales, whales. After an hour, we’d ended up so far out of town, we needed to catch another bus back.
Once returned to familiar ground, we trekked out to what I perceived to be the final location on my schedule, the Plymouth School of Creative Arts, playing host to multiple installations for the weekender, which included:
The Curious Cattewater Dog Cabinet (Zoe and Callum Moscrip): a means of bridging the gap between artefact and community by bringing evidence of one such artefact (a shipwreck) to life in the form of a skeletal puppet dog. Despite its obviously deceased state, I felt it might move at any moment – if only the mechanism would allow it to.
In the Air… (Jenny Mellings): a set of three aerial painted scenes of remote landscapes – even as far as Saturn’s moon, Titan – which provided a way to make the distant seem nearer, and the reverse, in a tangible space.
What do you see? (Janine Rook): a series of visitor-created Rorschach inkblots intended to explore one’s psyche. Most of the images had a biological nature for me – lungs, tree, uterus – what could that be saying about my psyche?
Paradice Lost (Stuart Robinson and Kirsty Harris): in my quest for deeper meanings behind art, this minimalist interaction of a neon red sign saying ‘PARADICE’ (Robinson) and a colour scene of a mushroom cloud (Harris) said it all loud and clear. However, that was not all there was to it. Other interpretations emerged from my conversation with Stuart, such as the installation’s sense of not-rightness. This derived from the incorrect spelling of paradise and the innocuous ‘poof’ of the cloud.  It was through this conversation that my [true] final stop was mentioned: KARST’s contribution to We the People Are the Work, I Am Your Voice by Claire Fontaine.
In the spaces provided, we found a map of the British Isles composed of burnt matches, signifying a ‘tragedy perceived too late’, the smell of which tainted the air; and a set of three neon signs in red and white lighting up an otherwise pitch-black room which smelt of fresh paint. Their ambiguous messages allowed a viewer to question the concept of morals: I do it because it’s right/It’s right because I do it. 
An ominous self-portrait
The signs frighteningly seemed to communicate with one another as the individual words lit up, making me glad to leave the room – if only to peep into KARST’s own Peepshow. Through nine installed peepholes could be seen a snippet of the resident artists’ work, allowing the average viewer a glimpse behind the scenes, one piece proving difficult to tear Mark away from due to it living up to the installation’s name.
Phew, and with that, day two is wrapped. Any quotes are taken from the provided leaflets. Bring on day three!