Aine O’Hara, El & Sonja Putman, Eleanor Lawlor, Francis Fay, Hillary Williams, Josh Joyce, Katherine Nolan, Liadain Speranza Herriott, Lynda Phelan, Mairead Delaney, Sandra Corrigan Breathnach
@ Henrietta House, Dublin
8 May 2015
This edition of Livestock saw John Conway curate 12 Live artists and writers. Addressing themes around ‘Influence’, it opened the doors to one of those houses on Dublin’s Henrietta Street, so credited with inspiring the Georgian architecture now familiar with the city. Henrietta Street begins and ends as a hill rolling down onto Bolton Street. Like any cul-de-sac, it is used mostly as a place to turn the car around. A map in 1700’s may even have referred to it as ‘Turn Again Lane’. Once the home to Earls and Barons, the street now has its own wikipedia entry recalling those same glory years. At the top of this hill appears the stonewall gated entrance to Kings Inns. A sort of clubhouse for barristers, the name still honours King Henry VIII. Although originally located on the site of what is now The Four Courts, this society chose the motto (We shall not be changed). Perhaps this long established group of powerful men, and more recently women, is responsible for the seemingly unchanged street. Certainly it stands as a curiosity. It is only from a side street that a block of flats peers out and gives us a greater overall context to the variety of public performances you might witness on any given day. Strangely untouched by the nearby commercial world, this natural slope on old-style cobblestones provides a quiet menace and good sense for the live performances to come.
In the stream of life it is sometimes good to step outside of yourself and the city around you. Indeed it is perhaps the day-to-day performance of public living which gives performance art its most unique form of power. At the best of times it can enter, leaving you with only slow breaths from which to draw upon the certain ridiculousness of a performer’s activity. On first encounter, the sorts of activities performers are likely to engage in may translate as a very alien spectacle. Something which is altogether beguiling and yet completely ordinary, somehow seems to upturn this same idea of ordinary, leaving it to reflect as a totality of the energies expressed. And in a sense, the viewer is themselves performing as aid to the named contributors. Without this shared understanding in place, the environment would collapse under the free exchange of an open public space. With this understanding, there is created merely a place for reflection on what is.
At its core, Livestock presents us with is an alternate public space, where you can experience a closer approximation of your fellow man, but in return you must adopt a heightened respect for their performed activity. In this space, activities which ordinarily function as a means to an end are given a value beyond any perceived outcome. The everyday mania of catching this or that comes to a flattening halt as you sit past patience and watch the activity of each performance. In the case of Livestock: Influence, these activities overlapped and combined to effect as a single event spread over two floors of a partly restored period home. In such a space, activity is metaphorically converted from form into a mode of content. This definition of the live scenario is exemplified by a host of performances on the night. Whether it is the encounter on the stairs of a barely dressed woman, her untamed bush framed on either side by a bulging pouch of liquid, each pouch linked by tube to a mouth overfilled and later to be squeezed and spewed into a large glass jar; or the man who sits at a table behind a cake and a bottle of red, before later being found on the landing making fart noises through a determined whistle, his face having been mummified and the sweet smell of cake leaking through the cloth; there is no place for sentiment and there is thankfully no need for it. Everything appears as precisely what it is.
This event started at seven and carried on into the early summer twilight. The contribution which marked this passage with the most eloquence did so by holding strong to the ground where it begun. When the man in the raised boat was finished his performance and the lights in the nearby flats and those lights in the middle distance and the far off lights from the city’s port had all independently switched on, he stepped up out of his boat and left it where it had stood for the duration.
Fixed in place, Joyce had been using two oars in alternation, changing from one to the next and actively miming the movements of an oarsman whose only energy is forward. His craft was a small deep bottomed wood frame construction and his oars appeared very much homemade and last minute, as though he had not quite planned for the journey ahead. When he had reached the end of this perceived journey, the boat remained as still as it had before he set off. Afterwards by the open fireplace, it was deemed by one audience member that his activity was interesting but that it might have been nice if he got somewhere. Of course this expression was quickly underscored as not one defined by any such physical end. But of what then? In the metaphor, he outlasted the light of the day, and although he may have started into it late, it was a triumph of some feat to physically exert energy toward no end and sustain the activity that it should undeniably pass into a new phase. In a figurative sense this boat went nowhere, and indeed literally it went nowhere. It is the metaphor which drives the craft forward into the realms of Solaris and Neptune, into the depths of some ocean or overgrown canal. And like many of the performers, it was his choice of dress and accessory which indicated intention more so than any final result.
At times the audience was rejoined by a host of haunting images in the form of figures doing this or that. In truth they were doing little much and the audience shared in their passive regard for the everyday activity which so defines our experiences of the ordinary. As though to prove this point, one woman walked the open rooms with a crown of thorns between her legs. This gesture did not come with any real explanation, but like many of her fellow performers, Delaney observed as sympathy the suffering of others. For her, it was those subjected to symphysiotomy. The outdated medical practice of cracking a woman’s pelvis open prior to delivery is perhaps sadly the cold result of the call for more efficient labour wards. To dispatch the high number of children born in pre-contraception Ireland, it may simply have taken too much time and resources to respect the dignity of every single mother and child. Compensation is currently being sought by those who survived their child’s birth but the implication of state, medical and religious interests suggest that much of the real agony remains solely with those same survivors. In a very natural way, many of the activities performed on the night did follow that of previous tenants all those centuries ago.
In the case of Fay who ate cake and made fart noises, we are understanding those early decades of lordly indulgence. Also occurring in the same small room that night, the almost ritualistic pastime of preparing food for the day’s dinner. What drove the wealthy away from the city and toward healthier living also produced the means for a middle class in the form of the provision of goods, as a means of both convenience and lifestyle.
The chewing and spitting and the balls of starch which O’Hara dutifully piled up on her plate at the kitchen table spoke more of the indulgence of our own times. Divided into parts of slop, mush and bits, it appeared that only the barest ingredients and the weakest of tastes could come of such a process. No mixers or blenders or whisks, just your own back teeth. As intrusions on the past, each performer highlighted the delay between the ages, reflecting in some way the idea of timelessness. However, from the top of the stairs one woman used a tablet device to share movie sex scenes from the 80’s, 90’s and noughties, all the while holding the hand of her individual viewer. One by one each of these viewers reentered the fluid stream below. This regular injection of explicit sexual content served also as a reminder of desire and the vulnerable exchanges that we all share. The politics were such that men could only watch this secret performance from below. While in the main room firelight appeared to swim inside Nolan’s now sloshing glass spittoon as she hugged to it as a child to a mother, in turn driving this injection of sexuality into a frenzied spin of self denial, as though the fire-glow reflecting in the glass bellow could ever be put out. This incongruous facility was likewise echoed by the woman who lopped about the two open rooms of this once lavish and now merely tasteful home. As she toddled and gurgled, so too did the child she held and tapped her feet in tune to, so mirroring the infants actions that the game was itself an alluring and hypnotic dance. Putman’s job was made all the while more difficult as her performing infant failed to fully appreciate the fourth wall. Naturally the service to contain and reinforce the boundaries of personal space and individual limitations is but babble for the watching eye as much that of a child. Even so, the beauty and lightness of heart which defined their share of unassuming activities was informed by other more staid or perverse sensations on the night. This is a fact best reflected in the sound which echoed from a big glass jar.
The liquid spilling of Nolan’s trickled stream surely rang out the sound of piss on a cold night. Certainly it evoked in an instant a time before the proper sanitation and plumbing that we know and love today. There was something about the activity on the staircase which suggested that the performers were not really present but merely forgotten. In particular one lady cleaned the stairs and scrubbed the windows. While another made the gift of wooden balls to passersby who were willing to slow to her almost deathly glide. Both were dressed head to toe in black and both women shone something of a light into the nooks and crannies. Where no one passed, these wooden balls would simply drop and roll down until they stopped.
Later, Williams would sweep these same corners clean, following Corrigan’s path after she had passed through. Throughout the night, the sound of something falling or someone quickening their pace broke the simplicity of boredom with a selection of heightened punctuations. Each one was a welcome distraction, bringing with it even more curious onlookers.
This sonic tic, whether the consequence of accident or intent, served to keep the whole thing from returning into itself. The next Livestock will likely be held elsewhere but this version appears to be taking its lead from the site in a way that looks for what the site itself has to say.