Day 1 on Day 4 of the E17 Art Trail.
What would you make of this?
Imagine you are visiting Vestry House Museum garden for an evening of site specific performance. It is a balmy late summer evening, the sun lowering to the horizon creating an ambrosial light. You come across a woman walking between two golden bowls situated at opposite sides of the empty pond like feature made of grey granite like stone. From one of the bowls she gently scoops a milky liquid with her cupped hands and proceeds to carry the liquid, walking slowly to the other bowl into which she pours that which has not leaked between her fingers and dribbled down her front and to the ground.
She is dressed sombrely – dark purple black garments, a smart tunic top, a heavy ankle length skirt and very plain black shoes. Is she in mourning? Some of the dribbles of ‘milk’ seem to stick to her like drips of wax on the side of a candle. Her repeated traversals have a meditative rhythm. While returning to the fuller bowl she holds her hands together close to her chest, her head dipped towards them, as if she is absorbed in prayer. Other visitors or audience members pause to watch the modest spectacle. She continues oblivious to the gathering onlookers, serenely engaged in her task despite some occasional audible vocal dismissals of what is (a) happening.
Would it make you think about mythical characters who are condemned to repeat tasks for an eternity, only able to stop if something impossible and unthinkable happens; e.g. the eternal torment of Prometheus whose liver is pecked away by an eagle by day only for the liver to grow back at night and have it pecked away again, ad infinitum. But the scene at VHM involved a woman and what was probably a finite supply of ‘milk’. Whose ‘milk’?
‘Floraphilia’ consisted of several timed and durational performances between 5pm – 7pm. The ‘milk lady’ was I think, Liz Kumin performing ‘Kenophobia’. Most of the audience kept a conditioned distance from what might otherwise be considered futile, disturbed and manic behaviour. If this was real, at some point the apparently spellbound woman would probably have been discovered by museum staff and consequently led discretely away by people who used to be referred to as ‘men in white coats’. But the sun’s descent seemed to slow if not halt and the drips of artful milk thickened as if to hang from the fingers and there was a moment of pleasantly dreamy suspended disbelief.
How would you interpret that encounter along with several others similarly odd happening around the garden? From what state of consciousness and/or sub consciousness had the acts and images come and how would the encounter with them act on or in your subconscious? When you or I go to an art event how immediately do we have to ‘get it’ and ‘get into it’?
‘Dreamy suspended disbelief?’ Well all most, because some bloke with a big camera, seemingly ignorant of the audience, invaded the dream space. Those potentially hypnotic sounds of ‘self contained’ trickling milk were drowned out by the intensely irritating noise of his shutter and motor drive, aided and abetted by the drone of police helicopters flying nearby over Forest Road. His hurried pacing to and fro in the space between the performer and audience was completely at odds with the subtlety of the performer’s movement. Was his incongruous presence a scripted or choreographed part of the act? I wanted him to go away and become a permanent personal photographer to that mythical eagle. I assumed the photographer was invited by the artists to photograph their performances and doubtless his interventions will have produced some lovely images, but to the detriment of any sensitivity towards the performance. If he was, I think it was a crass approach to the documentation of the event.
The contemporary phenomenon of anything and everything (it seems) being photographed and videoed as they are happening, often by the people of the happening, is perplexing. Narcissism seems to have created a sense of a lack of authenticity about experience; if there isn’t e.g. a photograph of an experience that experience very nearly ceases to exist. The experience has not been validated. Later in the proceedings the narcissist and voyeur within me got the better of me and got my camera out and snapped away in a vain attempt to capture moments of release of paper planes thrown by a mysterious woman wearing a flowery mask. lili Spain, in ‘Garden of the Hesperides’ attempted ‘to ward off insanity, using the power of the psychoanalytic word’. I remained seated and used the camera zoom to get closer and I’d turned the digital camera’s faux sound effects off. He was there again and some interaction ensued between him, other photographers and the paper dart throwing lady of the raised bed. She appeared to aim the planes at the cameras and this was cause for some amusement in the audience, perhaps recognising his obtrusive presence.
When a couple of the paper planes floated and glided down close to me I picked them up and unfolded them to discover they were pages torn from, ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ – Sigmund Freud’s classic treatise. Perhaps other eminent psychoanalyses flew about that evening – Lacan, Jung, Freud, Anzieu and others, each riding the breeze that also gently rocked golden apples hanging as if suspended in mid fall from a nearby tree. I think the planes and pages were most likely all a scattering of Freud’s interpretations. One of my pages explored ‘the space between (my?) sanity and madness, truth and myth’ via some words about wish fulfilment, infanticide and coitus interruptus – the latter considered by Freud as ‘one of the factors responsible for the development of neurotic fear’.
Later, a woman walked round and round the golden apple tree plucking, eating and dropping the petals of a bunch of white roses. She left a ring of blossom on the decking around the base of the tree while a macabre masked figure with bizarre facial appendages; mechanically flapped insects (perhaps dragonflies), walked by. When she and it had departed, a gentle breeze carried the petals away and Floraphilia, in situ, ended for me.
The garden was a sort of sanctuary or retreat particularly in the context of the charged atmosphere around town with the marches, demonstrations and traffic congestion. Gardens can be used therapeutically, as healing places where people can maintain, restore and develop personal and communal equilibrium. VHM’s community garden has, I imagine, enabled some people to deal with various problems or neuroses, consciously or otherwise. The Floraphilia performances as a psycho-garden party did not suggest to my superficial knowledge of psychoanalysis, and perhaps insensitivity, any disturbing psychosis and/or neurosis*. Right now, back in the garden in my mind, the helicopters are droning overhead monitoring the movements of various extremists, and causing me to think about the recent trial of Anders Bering Breivik, and the task of deciding if he is sane, having committed the atrocities he did, and what the verdict means and what can be done about that sanity.
Part of the E17 Art Trail 2012, Saturday 1st September, 5-7pm.
Two hours of surreal and absurd live art & performances at Vestry House Museum, on the opening night of the E17 Art Trail.