Itch fight – you’ve got to have Residence…

This week just gone (gone, fshwumm, vanished), I was well excited about a performance scratch night that my good friend and constant-future cohort Jenny Duffy was hosting at Leeds Met. The event is part of a series of fund/profile raising performastunts for the inaugural Lift Off Festival, a degree show project that Jenny is managing as a part of her enviably hip bespoke Live Art degree.

Since moving to Leeds in September, I’ve seen the BA Art, Event, Performance gang (or AEPers as they call themselves – I also call them that, but have no right to) regularly participate in, collaborate on and produce work that tips the cutting edge of the region’s spectrum. Whilst I was too hungover to blog about their Holus Bolus Art’s Birthday Party in January, and dazzled with educo-jealousy by their undergraduate conference in March, I still feel like I haven’t really seen the best of what the AEPers can do.

And after Wednesday, well, let’s just say I’ve seen that a very few of the AEPers can do some good. This is a blog post, and not a press release, but I’m not really into hating. Also, a scratch night is supposed to  a supportive forum to experiment, not the rotten tomato splattered stocks.

So, to start with the GOOD: Indivisible‘s ‘Third’, a stark and provocative, laid back and trussed up, stabby and desperate piece that sprang comfortably around the Live Art playground. The gentle, hulking form of Adam Young dragged a diminutive and rope-bound Becki Griffith‘s across the floor to the corner of the stage, leaving her to lure the audience with nothing but a piece of paper and a fiver from her pocket.

Indivisibles Becki Griffiths being dragged across the floor by performance partner, Adam Young.

After twenty minutes of watching her struggle, fall and be hoisted back into place by Adam, eventually Becki’s perverse and increasingly frantic hand gesturing dislodged one of the less sadist audience members from their seat, and she was relieved of her props – satisfied in her task, but still bound to her position. I liked that, it meant something.

Ryan Kitto’s one-on-one performance, ‘Contact’ was, as I told the usher waiting outside, probably one of the most erotic things that has happened to me for the last two years.

Semi-pro boxer Ryan emerged in pants and mask from behind the black curtains of the mustily fragrant intimate space, knelt before my seated, trembling self and proceeded to paint patterns on my face with paint-brushes dipped in water. Ryan’s bloodshot eyes seared with vulnerability, I could smell his taut determination to move me through is delicate brushstrokes. Er, swoon.

I barely had time to gather my skirts before Carrieanne Cara Vivianette’s ‘Frequented Tune’ began in the theatre. Evidently a skilled performer and storyteller, Carrieanne rushed the audience through a pacey and abstracted retelling a Native American myth, splashing a bowl of red and blue paint around with agility and precision…

O no! I’ve run out of space to mention any of the stuff I didn’t like about the evening. O well, maybe next time. Actually, I’m hoping next time that more people show up (especially people from the actual course that the fundraiser was in aid of, tut tut, bad AEPers), more of the performers have the respect to inform the organizer’s if their piece has changed at the last minute, and that every piece reeks with artistic merit (rather than sweaty, uncharismatic mundanity). Itchy fingers crossed.

In other news, I want to set the sort of thing up that Residence is doing in Bristol in my basement in Woodhouse next year.

You have been warned.

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Just Another Magazine • M-Exhibition

To see this article with some great images by Jay Hawley, go to Just Another Magazine • M-Exhibition. Text below.

M-Exhibition, The Arches, Leeds: Private View, 28th March 2011

On the first Monday of this year’s summer, the rattling iron doors of a disused railway storage space in the heart of Leeds burst open with a horde of infectiously ambitious contemporary artists. I was told that the ‘M’ in M-Exhibition stands for Materiality, Motion and Matter. Of the fifty-three young contributors from the Leeds College of Art, the magnanimous Max Rushton was eager to walk me through the works, and tell me a little about his hopes for the exhibition. ‘Ten percent of what you see is about referencing – the rest is really about what it makes you feel, how it changes you.’

Feeling the trains judder above, feeling the cram of fresh-fitted bodies, feeling the richness of skill and technique saturating the work on display, I cashed in my drinks token (a disused train ticket cheekily stamped with the M logo) and hustled through The Arches. At the entrance of the space, Christiana Bell’s columns of stretched skin-coloured nylon immediately processed the exhibition’s themes as a taut personal history of material and bodily exploration. The tangled, hovering theatricality of Elizabeth Flynn-Dawson’s cassette tape and hairspray sculpture, This is how I remember that you love me, knotted the materials of defunct memory and music into a demented monster that glowered over Grace Erskine-Crum’s Trapped, a ghostly cast of a foetal figure lain under cotton. Emma Mort’s suspended pastel orbs expressed a delicately playful take on human sin, where Christopher Freitag’s Elemental squares drew on a tension between pure, hunking metallic materiality and the force of an artist to forge precision out of messy matter. In a damp corner, John Wright’s melting blue cube of ice had a dripping soundtrack that isolated the processes of the each material with scientific precision, while Lucy Webb’s As cold as ice froze an ocean wave in textured wax and oil paint.

Peering around the corners and crevices of The Arches, there were origami animals creeping up to layered self-portraits, memories real and manufactured arranged on crafty canvas or through a show home of found objects, the molecular was magnified and texture and light challenged each other in a constant exchange of method and matter. An iPod tried to have a conversation with me, malfunctioning at the inevitability of its own desperate monologue.

The exhibition is going to be packed up by the weekend. We can all go on catching commuter trains, posturing in our collective conceptual wastelands, passing by the abandoned spaces in the city centre and thinking ‘hey, wouldn’t it be great if we DID something in there?’ Well, this is what happens if you do something. And, as Max told me in relation to his own savage series of untitled paintings, ‘each piece is a just a chapter’ – next chapter, please!