Review : Actress (multi-media collaboration) at St John’s Hackney

Actress on central podium with dancers in foreground.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved
‘A Shared Cultural Memory’
(Actress, Eddie Peake and Nic Hamilton. St John Sessions at St John Hackney, 29 August 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The third of the St John Sessions, a multi-media collaboration entitled ‘A Shared Cultural Memory’, brought together sound artist, Actress, with artist of the moment, Eddie Peake, and Melbourne-based CG film/video artist, Nic Hamilton.

The venture rose out of a mutual respect for each other’s work, and the invitation from Actress (Darren Cunningham) arose when he saw this as an opportunity to extend his palette and cross-fertilise his increasingly raw, stripped-down sound with Peake’s live dance work and Hamilton’s advanced computer-generated visions.

Actress had been moved by Peake’s choreographed dance concept at Tate Modern, a venue where he has created sound pieces – notably for the Kusama exhibition last year, and Hamilton and Actress have worked together on sound/film projects for Actress’s Werkhaus imprint, after an initial approach by Hamilton.

Actress’s ‘R.I.P.’ album proved a huge hit with Wire readers last year. This was the draw for many to attend this one-off event, which lured in both his club following and the ultrahip of Hackney in healthy numbers.

The instant impression, on securing a vantage point alongside the video projection equipment by the church organ, which overlooked the dancers’ runway stage area leading from Actress’s mixing desks onstage, was one of a curiously twenty-first century experience – of being immersed yet sensing disconnection, of displacement with engagement.

The world-weary, dilapidated church from the 1790s, with its magnificent uninterrupted, tiered nave, put on a brave face for the new generation. The ephemera of worship remained behind the central stage, above which were projected Hamilton’s fast-moving, computer-generated landscapes. The distressed wall was perhaps not the ideal projection surface, given the sophistication of the disorientating, detailed imagery, mixing images of scaffolding, decay and desolation in the flux of an imaginary, virtual world, but these contradictions made their own contribution to the immersive experience.

Actress, cutting a shadowy, hooded figure, sent resounding earth-shaking pulses through the entire fabric of the building with the power of a potentially volcanic eruption, recalling Fennesz’s crashing chords at the St John Sessions opening concert [reviewed HERE ], while Peake’s troupe of seven black-clad female dancers, combined synchronised routines of fleeting movement with strained, writhing groupings in a ritualistic turmoil.

Hinted, looped sounds emerged from under the radar, abstract and pared down, uncannily repeating as Actress occasionally wandered to the edge of the stage to scrutinise the dancers. Techno tropes bounced off a Four Tops figure. Ethereal organ glimmerings gave way to layers of motorised reverberations which intensified, invaded and finally dissolved within the space.

The three different genres collided in unexpected ways – there had been no rehearsed agreements – and demonstrated the potential to develop, amplify and refine these dialogues on a grand scale. It will be interesting to see if this avowedly ‘one-off’ event leads to pastures new.

One complaint – most of the audience had pre-booked, but were kept waiting outside in a gigantic queue which took up to 40 minutes to enter the venue, by which time the performance was in full swing. The desk staff claimed it was the artists who caused the delay, but it seemed to be down to the rebarbative practice of checking names against ticket agents’ lists. Whatever the reason, that ain’t right.

Categories: miscellaneous

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