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Holly Pester & Daniel Rourke

Friday, August 1st, 2008
Elevator Gallery, Mother Studios, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London E6


In the heady heights of Hackney Wick’s Elevator gallery, fifteen Dartington artists were assembled to expose London audiences to a sampling of their recent output. The group have recently been co-exhibiting under the name Whippit, created to breed dialogue within their interdisciplinary practices. The Elevator programme was dense with dissonant works that left sparse room to breathe between instances. It was a rough context that provided the process-based work with the invigoration it depended on. The famous elevator doors contrived a barrier whereupon those who entered the building had it in their power to stop people from ever leaving – a symbolic demarcation between inside and outside, audience and performer, art in process and art at the brink of completion.
The event diverged in kind from its first to last moment, its boundaries constantly compromised as the artists - and sometimes audience – interacted or interfered with the gallery environment. At some point during the night the scrawled words THE BAD ARRANGEMENTS OF JOAN PERKINS (A LADY READING A LETTER NEXT TO AN OPEN WINDOW) appeared on a wall. Joan Perkins is the alter ego of presenting artist Maddy Pethick, the ‘BAD (as in saucy and malevolent) ARRANGEMENTS’ may have easily stood for the show unfolding beyond that wall. The overlapping event-zones displayed video pieces, sculpture and drawings, all generating an interiority that unravelled as the evening expanded. Meanderers had to squeeze through a narrow corridor hosting Clelia Rinaldi’s disquieting durational performance. Viewers were required to crawl inside a dark cubby-hole to see Katy Connor’s video adulteration of Disney’s Cinderella, its picture-reel sound frequently bursting out from the cupboard and arresting the space. Just outside a projection of Sofia Greff’s facial expressions challenged the viewer to reflect her grimace or shrink away.

The programmed performances started with Mark Leahy’s text piece, an authoritative communiqué between writer, written and their exposition. Any meditative concentration gained from this was tersely cut short by Nathan Walker’s flight to a bloody arm and a soiled wall. The performic outburst, though the most rapid of the night, was to leave the artist in long lasting pain. The outside continued to creep inside with Bram Arnold’s park-bench sited reading, impassively narrated in the foreground of Rowena Davis’s hyper-pencil drawings of an elderly nude [her grandmother] . Holly Bodmer followed in minimalist theatre style with a performance that featured a memorable facial expression-banana sequence, and a duet of time keeping with British songbirds. Voice and body were harshly replaced by Stephen Cornford’s sound piece, a lengthy violin noiser, accompanied by the exposed innards of his assembled recording
device. There was little time to reflect on the mechanics as focus moved to Lucy Cran and Emma Bennett’s text piece. Through dialogic language the artists exchanged speech-items mediated by the switching on and off of two lamps, offering unexpected interpretations of darkness.

In many ways the next instalment evented a gateway to live incident. When Bill Leslie’s primate alter-ego assumed position in the corner of the room spectators were treated to slap-stick, abstract expressionism and even a bit of violence. Blinded by his monkey mask the man-beast struggled to open pots of blue gloss in a heroic/hilarious performance of the evolution of man and art. From here on one could sense the dissolution of boundaries between work and spectator, with one maverick intruder and an overspill of Dulux™ setting the pace for the next hours. The blue spillages mixed with a rift of gold
glitter brought by the next act, a group dance-piece choreographed by Christina Jensen. The ensemble bravely coerced the audience into facilitating the action while, wrapped like wakeful Egyptian Mummies, the group illustrated a history of dance genres through staccato moves and articulated stumbling.
The room’s now unsettled atmosphere dictated a nervous tension with Alice Kemp’s rock guitar and violin box score. The lights were turned off for the duration of the aural transgression that failed to affect even those who had presumed an incongruous DJ set had started early. The final performance was by Mark Greenwood, who had up until that point been master of ceremonies. As his recorded voice calmly discussed the qualities of “cock”, Greenwood defiled his face with paint and invited spectators to stroke his uncooked chicken. The spectacle ascended in intensity until the chicken, stuffed with fake giblets, suffered a horrific mutilation by hammer. The gruesome insides were unleashed all over the already soiled floor - an untidy metaphor for the unfurling events and the night’s dichotomy between contained text-piece and pervasive performance. The divergence suited the claustrophobic room overlooking Hackney’s bleak industrial tract and soon-to-be Olympic village. As did the cheering antics of an excited crowd. If only Whippit were an Olympic sport.

Holly Pester is a writer of critical and poetics texts. Daniel Rourke is an experimental writer working with the technology of text. They are both based in London.