Some of the words I ate during this performance:
Scott chose and passed to me:
This was my first participatory performance. I had decided to place myself on a table for two around the corner of the pub from where the other performers were situated as the position and size seemed to fit my purpose quite well. I asked the compare, Tom Jenks, not to announce the performance but rather to direct people to the other side of the room. I wanted the performance to seem more like it was just something that was happening, not a ‘show’.
I set up two dinner places at the table, one opposite me with wine, plates and books. The books sat on a meat tray. The selection of books I eventually decided to use were Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue, Plato’s Republic, an old Girls Annual from the 1950′s, and a large well bound edition of the Bible, which on reflection was probably too large for the table setting. There is always a humorous element to my selections, anything that makes those kind of connections and puns are always going to get a giggle and I won’t shy away from them. I don’t try to avoid the obvious choice for the sake of it. For one, if it’s obvious to me it isn’t necessarily for someone else. I think that’s the only reason to avoid a strong connection like that is usually just for the sake of it. Those connections click into place because of our cultural, social and political backgrounds which are things I intend to expose in this work and in most of the work I do. Not in any sort of bland and obvious way though, I hope! I am quite confident that there is enough innovation and experimentation in my practice and my approach that I can use things that are seemingly ‘obvious’ without fear of the work becoming bland or closed in its reading.
I decided that I would gesture to someone in the audience to participate in the performance. I poured myself some wine and looked up, Scott Thurston was the first person I saw so I gestured to him to come and sit at the table, without speaking. Scott as a participant was probably the ideal choice, although this was unintentional. Scott is a poet and a lecturer so is used to performing. Saying that, everyone would have responded differently, no matter what their performance background.
I poured Scott a glass of wine as he sat down, then I passed him the Orbach book. Scott seemed very at home he was certainly game, and played along in the manner of a very polite diner. This was different to the way I ‘play’ or don’t ‘play’ in this performance. The fact that Scott was there did encourage me to do a lot of smiling and being more animated than I usually would in this performance. I usually sit and concentrate quite intently at the books and don’t look up at all. I still didn’t look up very often at Scott, one of the reasons for this was for fear of laughing. When I did look up at the beginning of the performance once, I noticed large blobs of chewed up paper that Scott had spat out. This almost made me giggle. I always cut out each word meticulously, as much as possible, with a knife and fork. I found it satisfying to see that Scott had formed his own response to the performance. I chose some words that I found appropriate for Scott, because he’s male, to eat. I can’t remember what they were but it made sense at the time. This brought an element of interaction and communication to the performance that at first I thought of as too theatrical and cheesy. I have now decided that it almost made the whole thing more ‘realistic’ because of the falsity or ‘camp’ over politeness; the theatre of seeing people who don’t really know each other at a restaurant. Like an awkward first date, or ‘speed dating’ (or maybe not quite that strained!). It was satirical. And to eat abject and/or politically charged words in this context creates exciting juxtapositions.
This performance raised a number of issues. The composition was very different from when performing this alone. Previously, I have sat at a long table and have been posed in a way that resembles Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. I still wore the blue and maroon colours that Jesus wears in the painting but this was the only real allusion to the painting. Basically, the participatory performance was a different piece of work altogether.
There are ways I could make more of The Last Supper reference in a participatory vein. One would be to set up a long table, like in the painting with a number of place settings and as participants to wear colours that would allude to the painting. I could ‘direct’ people’s actions by writing instructions. I don’t think I would prescribe my own conceptual concerns to others, but maybe that could work. It’s not really a collaborative piece, it’s people participating in a piece of my work so it would make sense for participants to be aware of my practice and intentions.
The other issue that was raised again was the fact that the audience couldn’t see the words we were eating. I used a camcorder and projector at the events to project the words from the plate to a screen. This was technically quite difficult because of lighting and the size of the texts I used. I am also unsure I want to have such a large backdrop, although it was visually strong in itself. I hoped that the venue of the Old Abbey would be so intimate that the viewers would be able to look over my shoulder to see what I was eating, but I also need to factor in that people will not usually come so close to a performer during a performance. I’m still unsure how to resolve this.Kraak
Matt Dalby suggested that the lone diner was more uncomfortable to watch. In some ways the forced interaction and politeness may be more uncomfortable but for different reasons. There is not the same intensity with two diners. It was far more jovial, not so serious.
I’m now less clear about the work in some ways as it’s raised more questions than it’s answered. Having said that, it has made me realise what makes each piece work. I’m glad I took the risk. This may become another piece altogether. I still feel strongly that I’m never really ‘acting’ when performing. Of course I must act differently in front of an audience but I still don’t feel I’m playing a part, no more than I do every day in any given situation, existentially speaking. I feel pretty authentic. I certainly don’t feel like a phony. I feel that different parts of my personality come through with each type of performance. For example, my music performances are quite aggressive, sometimes actually violent, which is one of the main reasons I need to perform musically. The eating words performance is intense but quiet and contemplative. The collaborative work with Jennifer McDonald usually starts meditatively building up to aggressive and destructive peaks and troughs. I love performing in all these forms.