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you will live forever

timothy x atack: helen cole, manuel vason, duncan speakman & sarah anderson, back to back theatre, tim etchells

Timothy X Atack is a writer, composer and film-maker based in Bristol UK. He is a member of Sleepdogs and the band Angel Tech. He and Tanuja Amarasuriya, as Sleepdogs, presented The Dead Phone in the 2010 Inbetween Time program.

Helen Cole, Collecting Fireworks Helen Cole, Collecting Fireworks
photo Oliver Rudkin

Because it’s so easy to be everywhere. Everyone and their dog has a pocket-sized camera now. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a wireless hotspot. Most folks’ photo albums are visible to anyone who cares to do a half-arsed Google search. And maybe you don’t know it, but there you are: foreground or background, most often when you least expect it. A Flickr account of the back of your head at that gig you were at. School photographs on Friends Reunited. That really, really awful am-dram pantomime you were in? 3,647 views on YouTube, mate.

You’ll be online long after you’re dead. Cloned, copied, downloaded: it’s almost impossible to erase yourself from this ever-morphing tangle of digital connections. You can’t even make an unguarded comment at an Embassy dinner any longer without finding yourself on some sort of permanent bloody database. So there’s good and bad aspects to this whole thing. On the one hand: privacy is a myth. On the other: you will live forever. Swings and roundabouts.

Inbetween Time certainly isn’t helping you stay mortal. Because it seems this year, more than ever before, it’s focusing on YOU: your memories, instincts, personality, habitat. A plethora of works in the program contain no performance from the artist at all—instead they collect and compile. Photographer Manuel Vason is your co-conspirator in making a performance artist of yourself, creating your very own remarkable image. Blast Theory will phone you up at random, in the middle of dinner maybe, and ask you personal questions, recording your responses—which are then spliced with those of other volunteers and played back, in another city far away, to an audience of strangers. Helen Cole tends your performance memories with craftsman-like care, keeping them alive and thriving, as if each one was a rarely-blooming plant in a glasshouse.

Helen Cole, Collecting Fireworks Helen Cole, Collecting Fireworks
photo Oliver Rudkin
helen cole: collecting fireworks

Cole’s Collecting Fireworks is a long-term project that makes audio recordings of people recalling performances long gone. As an installation it’s had many different incarnations (Inbetween Time finds it at the Cube Microplex, a rickety little venue with moth-eaten curtains and creaky stage), but wherever sited it has always been a game of two halves. First of all you sit alone in a very comfy chair, the lights fade and from the dark come voices recounting tales of performances, one by one. Alongside each voice the glow of a different lightbulb breaks the gloom, some close-up, some distant, some faltering and candle-like. Once this little constellation of stories has faded you’re led to a microphone and asked if you’d like to contribute your own memory.

Collecting Fireworks isn’t an academic compilation, it’s not a taxonomy of performance—the artworks themselves are rarely named, the contributors never, and amongst the theatre and live art some of the stories concern everyday urban incidents or moments that became theatrical in retrospect. In fact, being ‘tucked in,' nestled alongside other peoples’ stories, means that the subsequent act of making your own contribution feels natural, unforced, community-minded. There’s a strong emotional undercurrent to the recollections you hear: themes of love and death predominate, and the contributors’ anonymity suggests the confessional or the support group. Faced with the microphone, I find myself speaking in the same quiet, clear, careful tones as those I’ve just finished listening to. In such unexpected ways Collecting Fireworks grows as an artwork as well as a document, its outcomes beautifully nebulous.

Manuel Vason, Still Moving Image Manuel Vason, Still Moving Image
photo Manuel Vason
manuel vason: still image moving

Two other projects at IBT seem to celebrate capture, and both prove joyously life-affirming records of time and place, free-for-alls in which the inhabitants of Bristol make flesh of their thoughts: freakish, anodyne, political, fleeting or otherwise. In Still Image Moving, photographer Manuel Vason’s studio is a shipping container full of equipment that travels around the city, a sort of deluxe photo booth open to all—but the results are far from passport photographs. From the urban landscape spring tiny intimate moments and big, silly tableaux: the silhouette of a proud pregnant woman demarcated in vivid blue lights, the city in deep focus beyond; the pall of smoke from a recently lit cigarette making a lace shroud around a man’s face; figures half-buried in building sites, faces and bodies dressed in flowers and dirt, temporary monuments. Given the outlandishness of the poses most of them appear imbued with a tangible honesty, refreshingly happy. Each seems like a little song of liberation (even if, in the case of one suited gentleman blinded by his own tie and surrounded by a halo of mobile phones, they might also be a cry for help…).

back to back theatre: the democratic set

The same qualities infuse The Democratic Set by Australia's Back To Back Theatre, a film in which anyone can appear, for 15 seconds at a time, as a camera passes from right to left in front of a room-sized wooden box. (See previous iterations of the show above and here.) The results are edited to resemble a single tracking shot along a series of different rooms inhabited by individual or group performances. Balls of wool trundle through doorways, people tumble from frame to frame, some sing at us, others gaze mournfully as we pass by. Occasionally it’s like a dream sequence in a David Lynch film, disturbing, unstoppable. Sometimes it reeks of loneliness, people going about their business in some seriously fucked-up economy hotel. But mostly it’s full of laughter and hope, a feeling very much helped by the wide demographic of its contributors. Watching it at Arnolfini with an audience principally made up of the film’s participants is particularly rewarding, hearing their whoops of recognition, because more than anything else this film isn’t a monument to the producer or director—it’s really about the lives of this strange hotel’s inhabitants and the unique document they’ve created together. It’s a living trace of them.

duncan speakman & sarah anderson: our broken voice (a subtlemob)

Another participatory artwork occurs on a chilly Saturday afternoon in Cabot Circus, Bristol’s newest shopping mall (so sparkling and clean that, for the UK, it feels vaguely dystopian). Over the last few years Duncan Speakman has been experimenting with a variation on flashmobbing, where random mass actions in public places are instigated online and by text message. Speakman’s far less self-aggrandising Subtlemob uses the same means of dissemination but adds elements of subterfuge, so that unless you’re taking part there’s a good chance you’ll be unaware of any performance—unless you notice 100 people suddenly walking in slow motion or staring up at the empty sky in unison. The downloadable MP3 of instructions is an artwork in itself: created with the musician Sarah Anderson it contains a narrative text entwined with subtle instructions to the participant, and a glacial accumulative music score that would, alone, change the entire way you look at the Brownian motion of shoppers around you.

‘You’ are an actor in these events, called Alex, or Claire (or some other name I didn’t hear and will never know). ‘You’ gear up to, and perform, a single significant action and then leave the shopping centre, left to guess at the implications. But it’s the moments of unexpected coincidence that really make an impact, the points at which everyday life and Our Broken Voice collide, apt images and happy accidents that you alone are witness to. Wisely, the artists have left plenty of time and space in which these never-to-be-repeated moments can flourish. It makes me think of the dictum used by Brian Eno to define interactive art: “The word should not be ‘interactive’. It should be ‘unfinished'.”

Tim Etchells, Neon Signs Tim Etchells, Neon Signs
photo Carl Newland
tim etchells: neon signs

Past sunset, the festival over: and the phrase “YOU WILL LIVE FOREVER” is emblazoned in neon lights, occupying a vacant window space at the bottom of the Christmas Steps, a quaint higgledy-piggledy stone stairway in central Bristol. Another similar sign on the lower curve of Park Street, in between newsagents and music shops, reads “PLEASE COME BACK I AM SORRY ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE”… and inside the harbourmaster’s lookout on Redcliffe Bridge, if you’re distracted by the blood-red flickering light within, you can peer through the mucky glass to see the legend “FADING GLORY” on the concrete floor, crackling and failing.

I cross the street, standing at a safe distance to catch people’s reactions. Each sign is on a busy pedestrian route out of the city and most people are in far too much of a hurry homeward to see the messages. But every now and then someone peels off from the flow, and at each site I see at least one camera being produced, at least one picture being taken, to end up…where? Explained how? Ever retrieved? Recalled when? Because there’s no explanatory card tacked to these artworks, nothing to declare that they’re from the Neon Signs series by Tim Etchells. Nothing, in fact, to suggest that they’re artworks at all. It’s the simplest of acts, left to human chance: if you see the sign, you decide whether to care. If you care, you decide if, and how, to remember it. Classification and demarcation aren’t allowed to get in the way of the exchange. You just take it home and deal with it. If you choose to capture "YOU WILL LIVE FOREVER and picture-message it to your loved one, subtitled “LOL” or “WTF?” or “Awwwww,” then guess what? You’re the hero. You’re the honeybee. You’re pollinating. Ubiquitous, that’s what you are.

Inbetween Time Festival of Live Art and Intrigue: Manuel Vason, Still Image Moving, various locations, Dec 2-15; Blast Theory, Soft Message, Cube Microplex, Dec 2; Helen Cole, Collecting Fireworks, Cube Microplex, Dec 3-4; Back to Back Theatre, The Democratic Set, Arnolfini, Dec 1-Feb 6; Duncan Speakman and Sarah Anderson, Our Broken Voice (a subtlemob), Cabot Circus, Dec 2; Tim Etchells, Neon Signs, various locations, Dec 2-5; Dec 1-5, Bristol UK

Our coverage of the 2010 Inbetween Time Festival is a joint venture between RealTime and Inbetween Time Productions

Timothy X Atack is a writer, composer and film-maker based in Bristol UK. He is a member of Sleepdogs and the band Angel Tech. He and Tanuja Amarasuriya, as Sleepdogs, presented The Dead Phone in the 2010 Inbetween Time program.

RealTime issue #0 pg. web

© Timothy X Atack; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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