For those who aren’t familiar with this artists’ collective, it was set up by Kim Fielding and Simon Mitchell 9 years ago in an old Victorian laundry. It’s held together with Polyfilla, string and enough milk of human kindness to churn up an EU butter mountain, with regular support from the Probation Service. Between exhibitions, which take over most of the building, it’s a warren of studios and offers recent graduates artist-in-residence slots, to kick-start their professional practice.
It’s the second year that tB has hosted an off-site arm of Experimentica, the annual celebration of what’s new and at the sharp end of performance practice at Chapter Arts Centre .
This is not a white cube space by any stretch of the imagination. It’s more a proving ground for new ideas and offers artists the opportunity to try out work in a critically supportive atmosphere. Some of what you see is still sizzling from the synaptic thought processes of the artists – oven to table without too much curatorial intervention. While this can make for unevenness in quality it certainly ups the ante in terms of excitement.
As I arrived the lights in one area blew, the fuses overwhelmed by the heating and lighting demands. Rain dripped into buckets but the enthusiasm of the large crowd wasn’t dampened, as they huddled around a brazier between performance slots.
This is one arts venue where the art students come in droves, many building up relationships with tB that run on past graduation. Kim has been teaching at the University of Glamorgan and his enthusiasm is infectious, spurring budding artists to try new things.
Last night‘s programme, shoehorned into the current three-part Auxesis exhibition series, included some 15 performances. To name check them all would be tedious so I’ll focus on a few:
Good cop bad cop were in Business as Usual mode behind closed doors (see pic above). The audience spied on them through little peep holes, which were sometimes obscured by a plastic prism. The duo, (although sometimes there’s more of them) Richard Huw Morgan and John Rowley, have been working together since the late 80s and can riff off each other seamlessly. The snatches I glimpsed were like peep-show vignettes: building something out of cardboard; eating sandwiches or bleeding and moving in a way that suggested far more choreography than I know they had time for.
Tim Bromage and Karl Price, with sound by Jon Ruddick were tucked away at the back for Vendati 3. Tim was plastering a wall while Karl balanced on bottle-dangling pogo-stick with a sheet over his head. I know – you really had to be there (but here’s a picture).
Up on the mezzanine Kathryn Ashill gave us part 2 of her very personal work La Mala Madre/The Wicked Mother: X marks the spot. The audience was invited to stitch red thread across her white-nightgowned belly. I have seen Tracey Emin’s response to abortion and this was much better, connecting with the audience rather than going for the shock-tactic approach.
Writing about performance art rather defeats the object of the exercise. While it can set up narratives, they are often internal ones or used as a backdrop to the ritual or the physical manifestation of a theme. This is probably why it gets so little press attention or is overly mystified by an equally mystified art press. You can’t really sell it, so it rarely features in art fairs, unless it’s to drive up the values of an artist’s more commodified work. Performance artists rarely make a living form their practice and yet they still do it and Wales has an established reputation as being at the forefront of performance art.
There’s more to come in this programme and, of course, plenty more at Chapter until Sunday.