performed for “Nuts In May”, Frog Morris night at The Constitution, London, 8th May 2012
January to April I was working crazy hours in my dayjob, and I was finding that whenever I got a day off, the only thing I wanted to do was to go and look at sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings. I frequented the National Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Courtauld Institute, the Wallace Collection, or went to bookshops looking for volumes of the same. With the extra money I was earning I bought big beautiful books: on Carel Fabritius; on Lorenzo Lotto; on Nicolas Poussin; on Joos van Cleve; on Jan Brueghel’s and Rubens’ collaborative pictures; on the Denis Mahon Collection; and a book called “The Artist Grows Old” on the aging of art and artists in Italy 1500-1800 (I myself, also, was feeling much older during this period – I’m compiling this report six months on, having just turned 35, and with that birthday am finally I think starting to feel young again). I threw myself into my studies with great joy, and had all in all a great few months. When things eased off at work and I found myself with a bit more freedom and time on my hands, I felt quite disoriented, as though coming out of a pleasant hibernation.
I approached this performance as a coming out of hibernation performance and tried to present publicly something of what I had learned in my studies. I abandoned any thoughts as to iconographic meanings, and concentrated exclusively on trying to make within my action idiom something as close as I could to the Old Master paintings I had been poring over through my hibernation period, in terms of richness, texture, colour harmony, composition. I did a lot of playing around with different materials in my studio beforehand, trying them out together, piling them up on my bed and seeing what combinations looked good together, and I only finally decided exactly what to do on the morning of the day of the performance.
The venue, which I only saw when I turned up on the evening, was perfect – the ancient looking basement of a Camden pub, very small, with a little boxlike stone stage, low lighting, walls painted red. What the stage immediately reminded me of was the little box in which Poussin used to arrange wax figures in order to work out his compositions (as you can imagine he certainly might have, looking at some of his paintings); so of course that was perfect for me. The theme of the evening, which was billed as a meeting of great English eccentric thinkers, was something which, in times past, I certainly would have rejected as being inappropriate to me, but even that now I just thought, well fine, maybe that is fine too, I feel more English than I used to, and as for eccentricity, though I would deny that label, so I suppose would most eccentrics, so we’ll see, I’ll just get on with it and we’ll see what it is. And in the end I felt wonderfully at home within the line-up as a whole. The entertainments included a rendition of “Sumer Is Icumen In” which fit splendidly with my designation of the evening as my post-hibernation re-emergence, and even when they reached to a documentary film on ley lines, I just thought well yes, why not, I’m perfectly happy amongst all of this. Also the audience was very small in number which suited me very well, I was in the mood for something intimate and low-key.
I flapped a dust sheet about, letting it billow in the air and the light catch it, before laying it down, and lay a sheet of red silk on top. I placed various small items around it in reachable positions. I sprinkled bath salts onto the silk, and then shook out clouds of talcum powder (Penhaligon’s English Fern). I opened a bottle of cava, and drank some from a bowl. I stuck two or three fringe squawkers to my face, hanging down over one eye. I poured some cava into a Fortum & Mason bag, made a little incision, and drank as from a wineskin catching what I could. I poured more cava into the bowl, turned it black using the same trick repeated from previous two performances. I cut an animal horn from the string by which it had been dangling from a belt-hoop of my trousers, and drank cava from the horn. I threaded ribbons through incised holes in the F&M bag, and tied on a sponge at one ribbon-end. I lay down, using for a pillow a pile of copies of the Burlington Magazine, with one featuring a Poussin painting on the cover placed on top in acknowledgement of the look of the stage. I placed a circular mirror on my belly, poured sand taken from a small paper package onto the mirror, poured the blackened cava into the F&M bag and squeezed the juice out over chest and belly. I took big breaths, and took out the mirror. I squeezed out liquid soap (Roger et Gallet Bamboo) from a canister onto the sand-and-black-cava mess on my belly, and scrubbed with the sponge. Then I put my jumper on, took the squawkers off my face, and left the stage swigging cava from the bottle.
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