Thursday, 7 November 2013

So the madness begins...

Experimentica Day One

Chapter Arts Centre

Wednesday 6th Nov

2013’s Experimentica festival is off to a flying start. Here are some thoughts about the work I was able to see yesterday.

Richard Bowers and the Sound of Aircraft Attacking Britain : Tricolour : The Passion of Joan of Arc

Richard Bowers has regularly featured in Experimentica over the years and this year’s installation is a continuation of his ‘The Velvet Lantern’ project which explores the conventions of classical cinema.  Over nine hours Richard took up residency in the Stwidio, “Born under a bad sign? 3 is the lucky number. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Water, bread, wine. Three colours. 3x3 hours” he says on Twitter. Despite his seemingly optimistic attitude nine hours is a long time to maintain concentration in such an intense piece.

Using a combination of projection, clever lighting, silhouette work and ominous music Richard presented his ‘film without images’. As you can see in the photo the set was just a large screen onto which two bands of colour were projected, these colours slowly morphed over time as the menacing soundscape rolled on.

Periodically a silhouette would appear, a man at a desk copying something from a book. As the figure wrote, his words appeared on the floor in front of the audience. The text – taken from Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc- was sinister and dramatic. As the figure faded away it left you desperately wanting to know the next part of the narrative.

Sitting in the dark space it was easy to enter a kind of trance, time slipping away unnoticed, soon the music didn’t seem so gloomy but rather it fell in comforting waves. My imagination was running wild and I was creating little stories that took place on the screen which as the colours changed became – for me at least – a desert, a beach, a fire. 

This interesting installation definitely got me thinking and put me in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day – everything at Experimentica is innovative and challenging and things aren’t usually as they seem. 

For more on Richard’s work and to find out about his exciting up and coming projects please visit:

And now for something completely different.....

Nicholas McArthur and Robert Molly Vaughn : The Dancing Plague of 1518

As the visitors at Chapter quietly had a cuppa between acts, suddenly in bursts a dishevelled man in peasant garb shouting:

“In July 1518 a woman named Frau Troffea, began to dance obsessively in a street in Strasbourg. Her relentless dance lasted for six days. Within that time 34 others had joined her and within a month, there were around 400 dancers. Many of these people eventually died from heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. It is not known why these people danced to their deaths, nor is it clear that they were dancing wilfully.”

Another one of the infected joined him and continued the tale, ending with “we invite all of you to get infected. Join us...”At this the pair led a large and slightly wary group outside the building where they began to pump a blend of electronic dance music and Gregorian plainchant. 

Soon the music had consumed them, they were twisting and writhing around the circle of spectators, not looking where they were going often bumping into members of the crowd who didn’t move away fast enough. Sometimes they would reach out to the onlookers, hug them even, other times they were so focussed on the music they saw nothing else. 

The audience reaction was fascinating. Some laughed nervously, others genuinely, some bobbed along to the music whilst others almost visibly prayed that they would not be called upon to join the dance.  I got caught in the splash zone as one of the infected picked up a bag full of flour (I hope) and threw it into the air. I got caught a second time by a disgusting grey liquid that spewed forth from one of their mouths. Now that I looked like one of them I wanted to join in! I wanted to get caught up in the joy of movement and just dance. 

Although this unusual and exhilarating piece took inspiration from real historical events it seemed more poignant as a commentary on the consumer society of today. It is not known why Frau Troffea danced and it certainly is unclear why so many joined her – some say they were poisoned by an organic form of LSD, others that they were religious fanatics and some simply argue that the dance was a hysteric reaction to the stress and poverty of the time.  The parallels with today’s club culture and consuming obsession with material goods were clear to see – maybe a dancing plague of 2013 is what we need to release the frustration of an unsettled nation (provided nobody dies).  

The pair have created a completely chaotic and hilarious piece of performance art that will stay in the minds of all who saw it. Although I got caught up in the physical moment, after the performance the social and political elements of the piece came to the front of my mind.

Extraordinarily bonkers, fantastically messy and subtly intelligent. This is what Experimentica is all about!

I would really recommend checking out the material at :

Off The Page: Experiments and Short Works

Off The Page meet frequently at Chapter to share new work, for Experimentica they decided to speed up their usual format giving each performer only five minutes to show what they had to offer. The group focus on the ‘stranger margins’ of the visual arts and provide a platform to try new things out, experiment and take artistic risks.

The event was curated by the wonderfully eccentric Samuel Hassler and covered a wide range of styles, including a reading from his own surreal and poetic book that ended on such a funny note I want a copy of the full book now.

Most of the pieces were completely original and somewhat bizarre, especially the cut-out poet who bravely shared her fragmented poem, whilst a tape recording of her making really odd noises played in the background. She encouraged the audience to laugh saying “it isn’t meant to be serious, y’know.”

Other pieces although enjoyable lacked the innovative and sometimes dangerous edge that makes Experimentica so exciting. I’m fed up of hearing monologues about why women are better off without men!

The atmosphere, being a safe place to share these zany works, was what made the sharing successful. It’s great to see new faces trying out something new. Hopefully they will be in a position to stage a full performance or sharing of their work at next year’s festival.

I can’t wait for Thursday’s offerings, hopefully see you there!

For a full line up, more info and tickets visit:

To keep up with my commentary of the festival follow me on Twitter : @Chelsey_Gillard

Or visit my Pinterest board to see a collection of reviews, images and links:

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