I had a marvellous afternoon. The word marvellous was one of the group’s description of the show. We had a much smaller audience than at HMP Styal, three young men and three staff and the room contained a large conference table that we sat round one end of.
Everyone had a reading at the insistence of the young men and you can read my further reflection on my mini-tour of Not a Séance here. Highlights were: one potato bullying another potato and the encroaching of the evil potato which is pictured below.
Interestingly two out of the three young men regularly attended spiritualist churches.
Some of my favourite pieces of feedback are below:
it was testing the audience, will they take the mick, or take it seriously?
thoughts become things
its like a meditation, you get to shut your mind off for a bit.
a bit weird and interesting.
And now the encroaching evil potato. One of the young men thought that the potato with bad energy might be trying to get back into the room, so he thought he would document this in a series of photographs from a worm’s eye perspective.
Welcome to HMP Styal, a women’s prison near Manchester. This was the site of the world premiere of Not a Séance and the first of three performances in my mini-tour.
As HMP Styal is a prison, we were not allowed to take any photos inside, although security did clear us to bring in ten baking potatoes, ten marker pens and a packet of crisps. Organising anything in a prison is notoriously difficult and Rachel from TiPP (pictured above with a potato) had feared that we might end up with an audience of foreign nationals, none of whom spoke english. In a workshop situation this would have been ok as I could have adapted to provide an non-language based expereince . However Not a Séance requires a definite grasp of the english language!
Fortunately we gathered an audience of about thirty women in the prison library. Some were from education and some were from Fox, The Recovery House at Styal. At around ten they gathered and we seated them cabaret style at a variety of tables.
initially I was struck, as usual, by how vocal a prison audience are. One of the most vocal women really helped me out. As prisons have locked doors I couldn’t throw a potato with negative energy out of the door so I got her to hold the potato and balance its energy with her healing hands!
I had a great time performing for and with them, received a good hit for one of my readings. I connected with a woman and said that the vegetable that had most to teach her at the present moment was the mushroom and spoke about darkness and coming into the light. Her and her friends were very vocal about the fact she had just been talking before the performance about having to wear a hoody as she had bad headaches! Some women played, some women really believed, by the end I had everyone’s attention and people were really willing to write on potatos. One of the biggest questions at the end was would I really bury the potatoes like I said I would.
What I enjoyed most was speaking with the women after the performance and getting feedback from them. Here are some of my personal highlights.
the weirdest most bizzarrest thing I’ve seen in my life
don’t think you should do it on a mental health ward
On Monday we had a seminar with Conall Gleeson that was inspirational on many levels as it asked us to link theory and practice in exciting and challenging ways. I would like to tell you about the seminar and then reflect on how some of the ideas are beginning to feed into developing my performance piece, Not a Séance particularly by using crisps.
Conall played us The Overture from Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. The Ballet had prompted riots when it was premiered in Paris in 1913 and the central theme is of the sacrifice of a young woman to benefit the community. He then asked us to consider an event from the same year in England when Emily Wilding Davison through herself in front of the King’s horse at The Epsom Derby. This was her final act as a suffragette having previously been imprisoned and force fed, she sacrificed her life. We discussed these two very different examples of sacrifice of the female body and then went on to do a close reading of The Vanishing Bodies of Fundamentalism,a chapter from Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Commonwealth.
This chapter describes how fundamentalism with its focus on restricting what the body can do and what can be seen ,simultaneously negates the body and gives it transcendental value. They say “fundamentalisms make bodies vanish insofar as they are revealed to be not really the objects of obsessive attention but merely signs of transcendant forms or essences that stand above them”
We then discussed bio-politics and the idea that perhaps performance art is one of the only places where the body can just be a body. This reminds me of George Bataille’s “The End of Metaphor”. Connall asked us to link the ideas we had been discussing to our own work and we were encouraged to create a piece of performance.
My thoughts immediately lept to potatoes and what they might represent and stand for in my piece as well as the idea of fundamentalism being an extreme set of beliefs. There were no potatoes in the cafeteria so I bought two packets of crisps. How does a crisp relate to the body of the potato?