Reactor Halls E08: The Family Show
The Family Show, hosted by Kathy Noble, marked the eighth episode in a series of live events staged at Reactor Halls, PRIMARY. The evening was billed as a talk show and included a special conversation with artists Julia Crabtree & William Evans and performances by Jennifer Bailey and Sophiel Aurora.
The gentle strum of an electric guitar, a soundtrack provided by Eliot Crabtree, signalled the talk show had begun. The set was an installation titled Death Valley (2013) by collaborative artists Julia Crabtree & William Evans. Long strips of fabric, printed with red and green akin to a 3D effect, hung from the ceiling and gathered in folds on the floor. Dotted throughout stood plastic cacti creating a neo-Western landscape, imagined by Evans and Crabtree, who later confessed they'd never been to the United States. As part of their special conversation the artists presented a slideshow of photographs of their studio. This private space usually hidden from the public, here provided a glimpse of the artists' strange attractions - fake food deemed not fake enough for commercial use; a collection of one postcard; potentially fatal spray-paint with seductive branding.
The next guest Rebecca Ounstead performed a work by absent artist Jennifer Bailey, a reading titled Descriptions from the Next Directory. Flaccid this, and putrid that, surely not the language of the multinational clothing, footwear and home product retailer.
Following Ounstead host Kathy Noble presented the Music Video Section, a deconstruction of what she astutely described as life performed in public and comprised music videos and YouTube clips. Taking Miley Cyrus's irreverent tongue and her insatiable appetite for twerking as a point of departure, questions were posed surrounding children's sexuality, the natural process in its discovery and the inherent difficulties faced when this is made public. Is this a spectacle we simply must deal with? The publicising of the private sphere is made possible, in part, through the almost problematic democracy of YouTube. Broadcast yourself, the tagline demands, and my, how they do. A ten year old girl caresses the wall in her bedroom and gyrates to Rhianna's Only Girl in the World, a young man seductively 'gunges' himself in the seclusion of his perfectly average sitting room. YouTube grows exponentially as everyday thousands perform to the black mirror that is their laptop's webcam. The barriers which have kept hidden the sexual preference, maturation and deviance of many have steadily been dissolving.
Noble punctuated her observations with recollections from her own childhood, emphasising the coming of age process: "my sister would often perform incredibly sexualised movements whilst naked both to me and to the mirror in our shared bedroom". This unexpected honesty lent an air of authenticity to the evening and the spectacle of performance momentarily dissipated.
The music video section ended with a video remix of Carolee Schneeman's film Fuses (1965) and rapper Khia's My Neck, My back (Lick It)(2002). In Fuses Schneeman filmed herself and her then partner having sex. She claims it rejected the objectification of women and it marked Schneeman's retaliation against the general consensus that any filmed sexual act constituted pornography. Khia presented herself as pure sexual power demanding - lick my neck, my back, my pussy and my crack, over and over staring down the lens of the camera. The remix was a bizarre marriage of work, which resonated with both women's attempts to transcend the expectation of the audience.
Sophiel Aurora (aka Sophie Lisa Beresford), the final performer, is perhaps best known for videos depicting her dance routines to thumping Makina. Her work now incorporates DIY self-help and the promotion of new-age beliefs. When asked how long she has been an artist, she punched the air exclaiming "I've been an artist for many lifetimes". Interview over, Aurora's performance began. Makina Geordie reverberated around the room, shaking the cacti. Clad in a lace thong and matching bra, she presented an image of ambiguous sexuality. Aurora's energy was palpable as she whipped her head around, kicked wildly and repeatedly dropped to the floor. She met the gaze of her audience with such conviction that for a moment, I found myself slightly frightened. The music faded, she bowed and slumped back into her chair. The talk show had ended.
While attempting to reconcile ideas of performance, perception and sex, I recalled John Berger's incredible treatment of women in his seminal text Ways of Seeing (1972). He generously explained that whilst a woman is walking across a room or weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. Upon first reading I was horrified. Now, years later, I wonder if Berger was right. Instead of casting obsessive self-imagining as the preoccupation of only women, we as an entire generation must accept our continual watching, surveying and envisaging of ourselves. We are all Berger's women, constantly supplanting our own sense of being by a sense of being watched. Artist James Bridle has drawn our attention to the drones that inhabit the unchartered territory of the sky above, constantly watching over us, contributing to the violence of ubiquitous surveillance.
We are being watched. We know we are being watched. The interesting moment is when we respond and perform to that surveillance. Whilst The Family Show may have been a slow burner, as I left Reactor Halls I felt self-conscious, nervous of accidentally performing to an unwitting audience.
talk show(n)1. (Broadcasting) a television or radio show in which guests discuss controversial topics or personal issues.
Emma Moore is Assistant Curator of Public Programmes at Nottingham Contemporary.