Weekend reflection dispatches from the Barbican

22 August 2015, Saturday

After several days of workshops and surveying the area, it was finally performance day both in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and the Barbican Arts Centre.

As soon as I arrived on site to meet Richard DeDomenici and the rest of the Something Human team, the sun decided to make lovely stiflingly appearance to help support the Death of Social Housing. We all wore the black attire that befits the occasion, and the artist was fortunate to lead the funeral procession in a full black three-piece suit provided by The Cooperative Funeralcare.

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From Mare Street in Hackney, we set off with four black horses, a hearse carriage carrying the coffin printed with an image of social housing flats, a black limousine and a minibus following. The mourners walked through the streets, quite a sight for passersby before joining the minibus to heads to Finsbury Park.

After gaining more mourners, we then set off on the streets on route to the Barbican. Whilst walking, it was very interesting to see the people’s reactions as we travelled, not least because of the ‘extravagant nature’ of a more traditional service, with the horses which garnered much attention. At the Barbican, pallbearers carried the coffin into the central foyer and after funeral eulogies were delivered by the artist and various visitors, the audience were encouraged to send off the card tower blocks placed on black origami boats to be sent off down the Barbican lake like that of a Norse/Viking tradition.

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I then rushed to the Brady Arts Centre to help oversee Boedi Widjaja’s piece on route to the Barbican Centre, stopping at Allen Gardens, Broadgate Estate and Paternoster Square. On arrival, one could not miss the large floating white balloon, and this instantly excited me. Again, I became very thankful for wearing flat shoes, but more amazed by Boedi’s work which became more powerful when he carried a canvas bag filled with 25 kilograms of lump white chalk around the city. Due to the work’s recognisable and unmistakable floating bubble, there were many people curious about the piece. I enjoyed informing and seeing people’s reactions as I quickly rushed by, where the simple phrase ‘He’s a performance artist from Singapore’ meant I received a lot of agreement nods,  a lot of ‘mmm…cool’ and many follow-ups of ‘so what does it mean/what is he doing?’

Whilst we had managed to dodge many signs and trees after travelling through the streets, the balloon finally popped as we moved back a makeshift construction wall. We gathered an audience of curious spectators and one confused security guard when we had to revive the balloon with a new helium tank replacement near St. Paul’s Cathedral for the next section of Boedi’s performance.

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It was early evening when we arrived at the Barbican centre to have the final performance by Boedi outside on the lakeside terrace, whereby the balloon was placed on the ground, with the introduction of water and black ink being marked onto the balloon as the wind moved it through the air. The performance was not only aesthetically very interesting but a fitting finale for Boedi’s piece and the first day of the event.

It has been a long day but it has given me an overall perspective of actually being on set and moving to and fro from each location, as well as an insight into being there for the artist and travelling as part of the artist’s entourage’. Although, tomorrow will be the last day of working for the team, the experiences, insight and diverse opportunities during the week have definitely opened my eyes, causing me to seek out new ideas and experiences for the future, with definite excitement for the Sunday.

23 August 2015 Sunday

Today marked the final day of performances as part of the Interfaces project at the Barbican arts centre.  Upon arrival, I was fortunate to meet with artist Teow Yue Han and the dancers from the London Contemporary Dance School, as well as the Raw Moves dance company based in Singapore for a technical rehearsal by the free stage and foyer area of the Barbican.

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The artist’s work combines use of video, digital and performance art. By incorporating and making a smart phone fundamental to the piece, he emphasises the increase in use of technology not only in the arts, but in everyday life to such an extent that it itself creates a new world and form of art.

The artist displayed two screens each in response to one another, where both showed pre-recorded footage, one from Singaporean performers and one from London based performers. From a third-party perspective, it was visually interesting seeing how the parties would respond and how the use of mobile technology was used to create a form of communication that has flourished in the recent years. Since the main part of the performance was reliant on the viewer’s participation, I also joined in and to have my debut as a contemporary performer at the Barbican Arts Centre is definitely one that I will remember. However, it was more the responsive nature of the project that was fascinating to me, whereby it made me consider the importance of technology in not only communicating with someone situated half-way across the globe, but also how therapeutic the piece made one feel, as a way for the body to react and engage in a wordless conversation. It also made me become more aware of their surroundings especially as the space was not perfect, but rather the small screen becomes a framing device, replacing and making one consider more the angles and their own actions.

To have experienced the work personally was very exciting, since those not performing would only be able to view the screen of them projected at the front, and not the performer in Singapore on the phone’s screen. Also, due to the fact that only the person involved could see and respond to them, it created a special connection where because it was not recorded, the performance seen would be exclusive only to the participant. This idea I felt echoed our current times, where because of the requirement and urgency of the fast-paced in today’s society, one becomes lost in technology, where a conversation is abandoned for a series of emojis and acronyms, rather than having a face-to-face one-on-one. Taking into consideration all the other art pieces dotted around the Barbican, including the very enticing Oculus Rift promising a virtual reality, it was definitely very interesting to take into account Yue Han’s work, where visually his appeared the most engaging with the audience both in London and internationally.

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After having photographed and documented both Yue Han’s work and the artist Ines’ projections across various walls across the Barbican throughout the day, I was next an assistant to the artist Lynn Lu’s work, ‘Ultima Thule: Here Be Dragons (Variation)’ where I definitely feel I honed my skills as a secretary, doing more administrative work. The artist’s work which focused on the visual and audio nature garnered much interest, and the artist personally escorted gently the viewer to the seating area, where they would lie down and watch a monochrome video from the artist’s Smartphone through a card projector, like that of the Gear VR, whilst listening to different audio clips from each ear. Many of the participants enjoyed the personal and exclusive experience guided by the artist herself, which was in this sense very different in comparison to the other virtual reality/screen artists at the centre. Whilst it would have been lovely to see for myself the work, unfortunately due to the very long waiting list, I was only able to record the viewer’s response and reaction.

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The final artist of the day was Yoko Ishiguro where similarly to Lu, created a personal and almost exclusive space in the piece: ‘It Doesn’t Really Matter If It’s Actually Raining of Not – What Matters is Where the Rain is Coming From’. Overcoming my original superstitions of bad luck, viewers were encouraged to walk with the artist and others around the Barbican under an open umbrella, wearing headphones with sounds of rain. Regardless of the invisible physical raindrops, there was something quite calming and almost ethereal of sharing an umbrella with a stranger, and the unspoken, wordless communication that one experiences. After a nervous approach, I found the silence to be almost hauntingly beautiful where one’s other senses are tested in creating a close connection of sharing an umbrella. At the end of the performance, after being presented with a shell as a parting gift, I thought again about the silent conversation one can have, in which the participant and the artist are in their own bubble, slightly oblivious to the sights and stares around them.

Whilst packing up everything from the coffin to the helium tanks, there was a slight sadness at saying goodbye, where despite having only been an intern for one week, I felt that the opportunity with its diverse tasks and locations provided me with a one-of-a-kind insight into not only the workings of an arts organisation and the real working world, but on live performance and interactive art. To meet and assist with different artists and learn of their work and background was also very rewarding in itself, but to later document and see the event come together having been very exciting, satisfying and charming. Also, having been fairly new to live and performance works to experience it personally on different subjects and collaborations, completely opened me up to the contemporary arts, whereby working with Something Human saw me appreciate the work and effort that goes into producing and organising an event such as the one held at the Barbican Arts Centre. As an intern, to work on a project such as ‘From East to the Barbican’ with the small team at Something Human was an unusual but memorable experience for an arts student preparing to venture to the ‘real world’.

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