Monday, 12 October 2009

“Be my Guest, Be my Host, Be my Ghost.” Duchamp
“Be my”

“What are they building in there?” I thought as I looked across Belfast’s Donegal St from the Safehouse Gallery at the PS2 art space with those modified words from the Tom waits song repeating in my head. For a few days now there had been much coming and going as there would often be there with people setting up for presentations or performances. This however was different because I was totally mystified as to what the aim of this performance/event/piece would be even after watching the artists set up, locating them via a Google search and exhausting every conceivable avenue of art my mind could think of I still had no idea what was going on. I went across and introduced myself and met Sister0 and Jesse Darling two oddly intriguing individuals who baffled me with strange talk about proxy servers and such advanced technical jargon that my poetic little mind literally boggled, in a good way. Still none the wiser I decided I would have to come for the performance on Thursday the 29th August in order to understand the technicalities of this new fangled modern art. Performance art to me was based around all I knew and had seen mainly poetry readings and staged plays I had never heard of ISEA but over the next few weeks I would be enlightened as to the boundless possibilities of performance art in it’s many beautiful guises.

The show they put on was based in part around a strange electronic device named “Bag-Lady-2.0” which was basically a computer in an innocent looking handbag with a big brother style camera which could capture both video and still pictures and render them with added text to be blown up and played on half the wall of the arts space while Sister0 and Jesse acted out a very original performance which carried connotations of a dystopian society. While the space and the artists looked fairly modern the feel of the whole performance was other worldly like Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. One corner of the room was packed with rubbish, empty cans, a busted cistern, broken wood and strangely new an untouched looking books. The scenes being played out on the wall via projector where still images from around the Belfast streets and the artists them selves setting the space up with unrelated and yet at times seemingly related random captions from headlines in the “Newstatesman”. Again I was to revisit my Tom Waits thoughts of the previous days as the strange music akin to metal being torn apart by robots played and Jesse Darling playing the part of some kind of slave toiled away frantically printing Christian crosses onto the wall by hand with a rubber stamp. Her Nemesis Sister0 looked like a modern version of an SS prison guard although her uniform was more colourful and 21 st Century looking in appearance her actions were anything but.

She was menacing with her bleached blonde hair and Guinness filled water pistol with which she sprayed the hapless Jesse as she tried to carry out tasks which were utterly impossible. The Jailer like character of Sister0 would read aloud through a megaphone in a distorted electronic voice the captions that were flashing up on the large screen very quickly and without respite Jesse Darling was then supposed to copy them onto the wall which she reached further up using a step ladder having abandoned the earlier task of printing the wall full of crucifixes. Sister0 patrolled the space behind a red and white stripped police style tape which separated the audience form the performance but was still lose enough to touch.

Every time Jesse was unable to complete the quotation she was at that moment working on she would be sprayed with Guinness from the gun which had oddly been dyed completely black so even it’s signature white foam was indeed black. Periodically Sister0 would check the computer in the corner for details before barking out her latest orders the result was always the same though Jesse would not be able to complete it and she would get shot at. Suddenly the computer Sister0 was receiving her information from and the main screen both crashed at which point she went into the corner of the space and sat perfectly still facing the wall while Jesses character just stood where she was also silent and still until the performance just ended like that pretty abruptly just as it had started.
The “Baglady 2.0” device was turned off before the slaver like character went and sat in the corner of the room kind of echoing that the perceived “government” in the piece no longer had control over their subjects as there had been what I would liken to a “wall Street Crash” style event.

After the artists had left and the space was abandoned the projection of the images continued and I thought it was like some world that had lost all its human elements. Until about one week after the performance the space again came to life with Sister0 doing a presentation which fully explained the concept and meaning behind “Bag-Lady 2.0” the night went well with many elements aspiring to the Black foam party theme borrowing local delicacies such as Black Pudding presented strangely on coal shovels as well as more helpings of Guinness and Dark Chocolate. ISEA all in all was a huge success and I learned much from the experience.

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