There are usually two guaranteed opportunities to experience Performance Art in Limerick each year. The breadth of the International art exhibition that is ev+a tends to feature work of this nature and then there is the annual Art College performance night. This year the city will not host an ev+a so at present the Art College flies the flag.
This year’s LSAD performance night was a culmination of a workshop held by artist and writer Oscar McLennan. The participating sculpture students, under the stewardship of staff Amanda Dunsmore and Sean Taylor, used the theatre over the Locke Bar in George’s Quay to present a series of short individual performances collectively titled DRY.
Any presentation of performance art outside a college or gallery tends to invite derisory comment, often calling up the stereotype of the wild/ difficult/ concept-heavy Artist as an outsider. Since the 60s, popular types of drama and comedy and even protest actions have claimed the expressive tropes of performance as their own and by doing so have neutralised the impact of what originated – and is still taught as- a vital discipline in the Arts.
That’s why we need events like Dry, a showcase that dispels stereotypes and shows where artistic practice is now, as well as offering an introduction to the discipline over the course of a night. Straight monologues, chaotic noise and flickering projections as conceptual vehicles were all in evidence in the Locke.
McLennan is an artist who has worked as a stand up comedian and teacher of performance art since the mid 80s and he opened the show with a tone-setting twisted monologue of childhood. This was important because, irrespective of the nature of the work on display, it is still courageous to stand up in front of an audience, even if they are on your side. The students who followed him in 15-minute slots delivered on themes of identity, the role and experience of a performer, and the necessity for emotion.
After tonight some of these students will immerse themselves in the discipline and practice and become performers while others will have the experience to look back at as a one-off. This is no reflection on the variety of work as everybody acquitted themselves well and collectively ran the night professionally.
The questioning of Self identity is the fundamental theme for a performance piece and it was inevitable that the audience would experience examples of this from the workshop. Because all the acts were on and off quickly, their performances represented not only small performed stories about themselves but examples of the kind of performance art you would see in other (classic) exhibitions.
The blindfolded knife-wielding woman, the man in conversation with himself through a mirror, the burlesque quoting performer Candy Warhol were all respectful manifestations of previous performances that quoted the discipline’s history. Once you were aware that Amy Riordan’s reading of DRY involved her spending the showcase away from the audience in an adjacent room and writing on why it was impossible for her to perform work, it was safe to say most boxes were ticked.
Some pieces were noticeable for their precise conceptual brief, effective stage design and timing. Teresa Dyer hammered 6-inch nails from a wooden bowl into a full-length crucifix, the methodical silence of the act briefly interrupted by a low voice hinting that the event was really an ominous domestic narrative visualized on stage. Eilish Tuite, in judicial robes and wig, delivered a vigorous, well written, anti-establishment speech decrying the ‘vertigo of power’ which she angrily punctuated by swinging a wooden mallet instead of a gavel. (The effective weariness of her performance no doubt a result of her work managing the stage all night).
Carla Burns’s deceptively simple demonstration of a yoga workout complete with mat, rubber plant and motivational voiceover initially blindsided the audience who may have presumed by her deadpan seriousness she was channeling a parodic comedy sketch. The performance however was based on Burns’s careful détournement of herself and the props in the space to reflect on personal and public empowerment. Rewriting and re-recording the yoga tapes as a confrontational manifesto to perform both with and against was an indication of the professional level the students projected.
One downside to this progressive night was the unfortunate lack of publicity. The absence of the public was a loss for the students and those who certainly would have been entertained and exposed to professional-standard performance. Performance’s reliance on diverse audience interaction is an essential factor in how this work is considered and this is why the previous LSAD showcase nights are part of Limerick folklore. If possible the work could be performed again in to rectify this. It certainly would be worth it.
As the students dismantled their props and went outside, the lights of the Trinity Rooms flickered and crowds gathered for one of Ireland’s best known conceptual performance acts. The ironic and surreal Cork family unit Crystal Swing were booked for a Rag week gig. Both occasions on either side of the river graphically illustrated the current breadth of the discipline as hosted by Limerick City centre in February 2011.