I’ve been in Sydney, Australia a few weeks now working with Gaele Sobott of Outlandish Arts on Fools’ Gold – a pilot series of poetry workshops, performances and critical dialogues on art, mental health and well-being. The climax of the program was a performance in Art Gallery New South Wales – in the midst of a gallery of minimalist structural forms.
Making time for all the artists to gather and meet for interview and workshop was a key factor in the success of the Fools’ Gold program. The poetry writing and letter to the future workshops in the build up to the performances gave all of us an opportunity to get to know each other and to talk about artistic and social concerns within the work we wanted to present. It meant we had an understanding of our various contrasting pieces of performance beforehand and so when the time came for ideas to work out how we’d pull all the various elements together, Gaele had a strong overview of everyone’s contribution.
A huge plus was the generous offer from Big Fag Press to use their premises as an incubation space where we could talk through how to choreograph the various range of work each artist had prepared for Fools’ Gold.
Pony set the tone for the group performance moving through the space whilst singing a classical piece which lead beautifully into Sandy Jeffs reading ‘The Madwoman in This Poem’. Sandy projects with a confidence and vitality to her words mixing humour and profundity to express something of the discrimination and stigma that keeps madness in a closet. Her skill and experience at reading shone through with her ability to connect with her audience through a relaxed engagement. She was able to put the overall framing of Fools’ Gold into a context, which lead into my own combination of song and poetry. Singing Dreaming the Absurd in the gallery space with it’s echoing resonance to an audience of 50 or so was great fun.
Louise Kate Anderson has been developing an installation piece ‘If We Knew Each Others Secrets, What Comforts We Should Find’ – from a quote by 19th century poetry critic John Churton Collins. Louise showcased a version of the piece for PACT where she installed pieces from her home / art life – a rail of brightly coloured clothes, a rug and cushion, various pieces of artwork and the title graphic board. She works a lot in textiles and paper and sat making beautiful origami paper cranes to add to the colour and contrast of Fools’ Gold adding a further performative element with various moving poems on suicide and mental distress.
Georgia Cranko read a piece on love and human interaction asserting her lesbian identity. Being non-verbal and using the male voice on the audio/ text communication device added another tone to the texture of the overall performance.
Pony Horseman presented an arrangement using a vocal part from a composition by Rachel Bruerville and the text from a poem ‘A Bird Sings’. The artists’ intention was to engage the audience with ‘shame’ as a visceral embodied emotion. The idea focussed around contrasting their classically trained voice with elements of discord introduced through the use of a snare drum laid with a vibrating device that randomly produced a drone as it rolled across the surface, interspersing quieter and louder rhythms. Pony asked the audience to interact by thinking of personal words of shame to be whispered repeatedly throughout a section of the sung poem, reaching a climax with the words “end it, end it, now.”
There was a strange and powerful sense of release from following Pony’s instruction. I intoned a childhood mantra that summed up the conflicting sense of having a brain that doesn’t work ‘properly’. The seriousness of what Pony was asking of the audience contrasted with the use of toy glockenspiels handed out with an instruction to hammer random sounds while the artist sang over the cacophony.
I think we surprised ourselves by how well the contrasting pieces complemented each other to create something that was varied, unusual and impossible to pigeon-hole as spoken word or poetry. It left me with lots of ideas about developing a fuller piece engaging with experimental interactive performance, breaking down the hierarchical nature of using a traditional theatre space.