Saturday, 23 November 2013

Now the Dust Has Settled

Experimentica 2013 Roundup
Chapter Arts
6th – 10th November 2013

Experimentica was established in 2000 in order to offer a new platform for experimental and interdisciplinary artists to share their work. Initially the focus was on Welsh work with strong links to various universities but as the festival has grown its appeal has become international and has helped to forge new artistic communities.

This is the second Experimentica I have attended and the festival keeps going from strength to strength. This year the focus was on the number 13 (as this is the 13th year of Experimentica) and the artists were encouraged to explore the themes of risk, failure and luck.

The programme was exciting and varied, even those completely new to the often intimidating world of performance art could find something to catch their eye during the five day programme. The huge range of disciplines and performance styles meant that this year’s offerings were incredibly accessible and inclusive.
Surprisingly there was nothing on the programme that I didn’t enjoy. There were works that I found difficult or  that I struggled to comprehend but I still saw a lot of value in every single work.

Perhaps the most challenging was Cian Donnelly’s Strawberry Necklace. I left the theatre completely confused about what I had seen.   But as the days went on the character from the piece just wouldn’t leave my head! Luckily Cian stayed for the whole festival and very generously spent a long time chatting to me about the work. 

We discussed his odd, clown-like character linking him to people on the fringes, he is an outcast yet I really felt I wanted to make a connection with him, “it’s about appealing to basic human kindness” says Cian. The word  “damaged” kept coming up, this character has been through enough grief and heartache and although the character had a definite darker edge Cian believes “so many bad things have been done to him, he couldn’t actually possibly hurt someone else.”

This character was born out of the drawings Cian does before any performance work. He turned up in a sketch of another character, yet he caught Cian’s eye and the artist felt that the river clown’s story was worth exploring. His performance work is all about the sensation in the moment and taking the audience with the character through a whole range of abstract thoughts and feelings. It’s about taking everyday moments – watering the garden, sitting by a river – and making them completely extraordinary.

This is the kind of work that can polarise opinion, its ‘meaning’ is elusive and the range of sensations and emotions it creates are hard to process during the performance. The odd and slightly sinister sexual comments contrast so heavily with the playful song and dance routines it really is hard to comprehend. As Cian puts it there is “laughter then a feeling of cold sadness – should I have laughed at that?”

I think this is the kind of work that you need to open your mind to, it’s easy to shut off if you ‘don’t get’ something. For me the work was initially confusing and somewhat intimidating but the more I think about it, it’s actually a really innovative way of looking at human emotions and everyday situations. By creating this not quite human character Cian offers a new perspective on the human experience.

This piece is definitely my Experimentica 2013 highlight! Art should be challenging and this character will definitely stay in my mind for a long time to come. Cian hopes to develop the character over time, possibly through the medium of webcasts or a sketch show. I really hope I get to see more of the river clown and I hope that one day he will find some happiness.

To see my original review of Cian’s work click here.

My other highlights included two of the day one pieces. Nicholas McArthur and Robert Molly-Vaughan’s The Dancing Plague of 1518 was so exciting and visceral it was impossible not to get swept up in the moment. This is proof that extensive research can really pay off, the performance was well informed and the historical facts just added to the sense of danger. Messy, physical and completely brilliant! 

Totally on the other end of the scale was Richard Bowers’ slow burning ‘film without images’ The Passion of Joan of Arc. The complete dedication and commitment to the nine-hour performance was incredible. The Stwdio became a hypnotic whirlpool slowly drawing you in until you became attuned with the pace and dynamic of the intriguing installation.

For a full review of day one click here.

There could be no better end to the festival than Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari’s Probing Elvis. Having attended the annual Porthcawl Elvis Festival with a group of artists the pair curated an evening of experimental performances paying homage to tribute artists. For me the event encapsulated everything that Experimentica is about – experimenting, laughter, serious artistic investigation and most importantly a welcoming platform in which to share work and get meaningful feedback.

Another brilliant Experimentica that will keep people talking for a long time to come. Next year I hope the standard keeps improving. I would also love to see a return to an idea of the 2011 festival which had on-going projects that you could re-visit throughout the week and watch grow into something spectacular. This on-going engagement offered an extra element that tied the separate events together and really created a community feeling.

It’s so exciting that a festival like Experimentica happens every year in Cardiff. Chapter are really working hard to make performance and interdisciplinary art accessible and available to all. Far from being a high-brow, exclusive event Experimentica is exciting, gutsy and really does offer something for everyone. When theatres worry that they aren’t getting enough people through the door they need to take a look at this kind of energetic, ground-breaking work that really engages people.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all at Chapter who make Experimentica possible year after year – without it Cardiff would be seriously lacking in interdisciplinary work and we certainly need it. 

For more info on Experimentica and Chapter Arts please visit:

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

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