Thursday, 7 July 2011
Tin foil and crumpled flag, after the performance
On Saturday April 23rd 2011 I did a performance with Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly as The Sun and Moon. We were invited to perform by Micalef, for the final event of his exhibition The Wine Presses of Luvah. The event, at the Freedom Bookshop gallery, Whitechapel, was the third during Micalef’s exhibition, where he read his new Blake poems, and hosted various performances, including The Hoova of Luvah. Micalef added new poems for each event, which were based on things that happened in the previous readings and performances.
Micalef’s request/instructions/suggestions for our performance were only that Marco would be the Moon and I would be the Sun ('wear something diaphanous'), and that we 'do something about Blake's Albion'. Marco suggested we buy lots of tin foil – we decided on two large, wide rolls – and use two balls of grey wool; he suggested I wear yellow. We found nothing suitable and yellow in the charity shop, so Marco brought a yellow T-shirt of his own, with a mythological print on the front and back, for me to wear over my green dress. I wore my hair – which is long and yellow-ish – down. Marco brought a silver suit, trimmed with gold, for himself, and wore gold trainers with it. We changed into our costumes in the tiny toilet underneath the Freedom Bookshop gallery.
It was unseasonably hot weather on the Easter weekend, weather for shorts and dresses. At the event both Calum and John had arrived in shorts and intense, bright yellow T-shirts. This was coincidental, and not part of the exhibition, but perhaps the same awareness of energy and heat had prompted their choice of clothing as informed ours in the performance.
Micalef read a set of three Blake poems, after which we began our performance. There was already a large and worn Union Jack lying on the gallery floor. In a previous performance Marco had lain under it as Albion, with a horn held erect like a giant penis, sleeping and then rousing. This was referred to in one of Micalef’s subsequent poems. I began our performance by taking the flag and carefully folding it into a neat pile, placing it back on the floor. As I did this, the small but noisy audience paid little or no attention, continuing to talk and to encourage a dog to scamper around noisily on the wooden floor-boards right beside me. Marco felt afterwards that he liked the way people kept talking at the beginning, but also found it sexist – they talked as I folded, but when he arrived in the performance they began to watch and be quiet. Perhaps it appeared I was just tidying up for Marco. I felt the tension and ambiguity of performing, unnoticed, wondering ‘when will people realize we’ve begun?’, and the gradual focussing of attention on our activities. There was a juncture between being there ‘just doing’, and ‘performing’. I thought, as I folded the flag, of the women in the launderette folding sheets, and of times with my mother, folding sheets, ‘me to you and you to me’. The lack of attention - or respect? – for this part of the performance seems consistent with the quiet invisibility of such tasks. The folding was a preparation, a preparatory meditation, a clearing away before a beginning, and an allusion to bed-making (itself entwined with the cycles of day and night, sun and moon).
When the flag was folded, Marco walked over to me, in his thick, wool, shiny silver suit, and I helped him to sit on the floor. He sat with his legs straight, outstretched, and his back vertical, forming a right angle, parallel to the wall. He sat extremely still. I took one of the rolls of tin foil, which I had been holding like a wand, and began to unwind it, wrapping it around Marco’s head. His head was recently shaved and so as I wrapped it in foil I could press the thin metal directly on to both his skull and face. As I did so I thought of the lampshades I make at home by wrapping my own head in foil to form a lampshade-like shape, and a residue of my facial features, which then hangs from the ceiling, shedding out light. I was careful to press gently but firmly onto the foil to capture Marco’s head without hurting him. I felt I was looking for his features, looking for and making the ‘Man in the Moon’. Marco said afterwards it felt very caring, as I pressed the foil to his face.
I began to wrap the foil further down, towards Marco’s neck. I wrapped by circling him, moving my whole body around him, orbiting. As I wound myself and the foil around him, concealing his neck, and shoulders, I followed my progress by unwinding a ball of soft, grey wool, binding and tying it over the foil, holding the shape in place. Marco said this part of the process felt precarious at times, that the foil ‘case’ might slip off, or burst apart. It would have spoiled the effect if bits of the moon had broken off. Breaking the illusion – however nursery rhyme-like or absurd the illusion was – would undermine the potency of the performance, the ritual. The precariousness of the ‘encasing’ demanded my focussed attention and careful application of pressure, a certain amount of balance and quick dexterity to get the 'moon’ wrapped up. It was important to entirely encase Marco, to make a solid and complete shape of him – to transform him into a shape, an object, but an abstract entity too. I felt as I wound and bound him that I was making something precious that could be broken – the ‘object moon’ and the ‘idea moon’.
It was such a hot evening that as I circled round Marco, bent over doing it, I began to feel light-headed and a little dizzy, over-heating slightly. Marco, I realized, inside a thick suit and an ever-growing tight foil casing, must be starting to sweat, heating up with the radiating, reflecting, intensification of the foil. His whole head was entombed, his mouth and nostrils covered. I hoped he could breathe ok.
I encased Marco’s torso, with his arms strapped to his sides, with swathes of foil. I tied him up with more wool. Then I put one hand on his back, and one under his legs, stretched out on the floor still, and guided him backwards to lie on his back. As he tipped back he retained the ‘L’ shape, his legs rising up into the air, to form the inverse ‘L’, or almost-crescent shape. The movement was comical, absurd – a ‘tipping up’, as Marco said afterwards. The cartoon-ish-ness of this movement suited the foil ‘moon’ we were making. I began to complete the crescent, this time winding the foil from the top of Marco’s gold toes downwards to his belly. Part way through this process I heard a muffled sound from his foil-head which made me aware that he was overheating and struggling to breathe. I poked a hole through the foil, where I guessed his mouth was, for him to breathe better and steam to escape.
Time was pressing, with the audience’s short attention span, the heat, and Marco starting to steam inside the foil and his legs becoming exhausted – ‘it was like being at the gym’, he commented about the legs-aloft posture afterwards. Marco was blind for the duration, his eyes enclosed in foil, his hearing similarly muffled, suffering a strange sensory deprivation combined with sensory-intensification, of the heat and posture. There was finite time to complete the moon wrapping. Timing was all important; duration was palpable, emphasized by the condition of heat and tiredness, energy manifested. I thought of the cycles of sun and moon, imagining the sun as having tasks, tasks to achieve before night, preparations to complete, routines that must be performed and punctual. The darkness dependant on the energy of the light. The formation of rituals by the intertwining of light and dark. Marco said afterwards that I was dancing round him like a maypole, as I wound him with foil. It had felt like an abstracted, dance-like ritual.
Marco, his back flat to the ground, his legs outstretched, was now entirely encased in foil. His body became an object – a crescent, a silver-moon-crescent. An absurd toy, improvised moon. Man in the moon. I took hold of his legs and guided them to the floor, stretching him out flat, almost feeling like I was breaking him in half. No longer the moon crescent, now a body, a 'mummy', a light and heat emitting presence. John said it felt as if Marco was emitting radioactivity, that the audience should be protected from the energy – that the foil was to protect the audience from radioactivity, like a special suit. I was conscious of Marco and my heat, from the activity, the circling, the wrapping, the reflectivity. I had the impression of a piece of salmon or meat wrapped for baking. Geraldine commented that ‘You trussed him up like a kipper’.
Once Marco was stretched out I took the folded flag and shook it out, like shaking a blanket or duvet. I laid it over him like a bed cover. I felt I was putting the moon to bed, completing a point in a cycle. The moon going in. I felt caring, patient, protective. I sat at his feet, crouched, like at the foot of a bed – watching, guarding, paused, waiting. Though the pause was brief – necessarily as Marco was too hot and the audience distractable – my moment crouched at the foot of the moon was a clear, weighted punctuation.
I rose from my post and pulled the flag-cover from the sleeping moon and cast it aside. Then, I held up Marco’s legs back into a crescent and began quickly to unwrap them. I roughly unwound the wool binding, tangled, and tore off shards of foil, ripping and scattering them like sun-moon-light across the floor. I held his legs, revealed now to the innard of silver and gold suit and gold trainers, and pushed the legs down as I guided his body up to sitting, into the ‘L’ shape, his torso still wrapped. I continued the reverse process, of unwrapping, tearing the foil from his body, feeling the heat beating out. When I pulled the last pieces from around Marco’s head, his face emerged, red and streaming with sweat, having endured the intense reflective heat, basted inside the foil shell and in the thick wool suit. He was the heat emitting core. I squeezed and gently shook his shoulder to ‘wake’ the moon, a gesture of ‘time to get up’. He opened his eyes, and I helped him to his feet, the silver core now animate, amidst the scattered foil shards.
More crumpled foil and flag, after the performance
The performance ‘proper’ came to an end here, but after a minute or so I returned and began to gather the foil shards and compress them into a ball, in a gesture of tidying. Marco joined me, scavenging on the floor for foil, to create a huge sphere of foil, a ‘full moon’, from the remnants of the performance. The foil-moon-ball was later placed, by Marco, on top of one of Micalef’s sculptures, to become a final element in the sculpture, a full moon hovering above a Loovah-lampshade.
The foil-moon on top of Micalef's Loovah-Lampshade sculpture
To read about other performances I've done, including more with Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly, please click here.