Reactor blog

Kathy Noble reviews Reactor Halls E04

May 23, 2013

Reactor Halls E04: Terry’s Back Passage (Reboot) Compèred by Eǝrth Rod
Kathy Noble

As an artist, why would you want to make or do something whereby you create a structure that relinquishes complete control over the content presented? For me, as a curator, this makes me squirm, uncomfortable in the idea that an audience would see something that I had not at least had some hand in selecting, making, creating – or whatever today’s perception of curating is. So, attending the Reactor Halls event ‘Terry’s Back Passage’, an ‘open-mic’ event compèred by Eǝrth Rod (where Reactor played no hand in the selection) made me extremely squirmy. Indeed in the course of the evening there were things I found annoying, embarrassing, cringe-worthy, and downright odd. Alongside others I enjoyed a lot.

The title, ‘Terry’s Back Passage’ bugged me too. It seemed like bad schoolboy humour, until I found out the story behind it. ‘Terry’ was the man who ran a shop below Reactor’s old studio. To get to the studio, you had to go down the back passage behind the shop. The shop sold all sorts of things, changing over time. From key rings and badges to football memorabilia. Down the alleyway he had fridges and mopeds as it started off as a second hand junk shop – all in all, Terry sounds like a bit of a wheeler-dealer and did whatever he could to make quick money. Reactor used to stage events in their studio there, and Terry popped up once or twice, as did his son. Or, on occasions, if they needed an item for a project Terry often had it squirreled away somewhere. Or if not, could go off and get it in his van. Terry was a very present figure in Reactor’s life for a time.

Open-mic nights are a funny thing. Beautiful in their democracy, they normally comprise a strange mishmash of things that the performers feel the urge to express to the world. In order of performance and what I can remember (which gets progressively worse due to wine intake): Sian Robinson Davies performed a sweetly funny phone call with Ivor Cutler, bringing him back from the dead; Roger Caney did a weird cover version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting for My Man’; Ruth Williamson, Lucy Hodgkiss & Emma Lloyd did various performances such as ‘Rehearsing Escaping from a Cardboard Box’, where they each escaped from the box; Gabriel Stipes & Lizzy Day had masks and odd costumes on, but I missed the point as was at the bar; Daniel Oliver’s piece involved audience participation and a pretext that a massacre of children had previously occurred in the old Primary school in which Reactor’s studio is situated; Emma Lloyd thrust multiple cream pies into her face, finishing off with two on her breasts; Yvonne Lake did something that I missed, or have blanked out; Simon Raven confused the hell out of me, I have no idea what he was doing, but it involved a guitar and a home-made skeleton mask;  Luke Ferris was wearing a fighter pilot hat whilst giving a lecture, the content of which I cannot recall; Wayne Burrows read a poem; Andy Barrett, having spent the evening sitting naked in the audience with a sculpture on his head, spoke of being bullied as a child; Bruce Asbestos played a bucket (or something bucket like) and, lastly, Helen Henderson spoke of her recent experience on a Psychiatric ward. In between the acts, Eǝrth Rod made a series of peeing jokes, which drove me crazy to the point where I heckled him (again the teenage boy humour thing) – but that finally made sense when it was explained to me that he was performing as Terry. Terry did not have a toilet so had to pee in the back passage. Lovely.

The idea of creating a structure and then allowing other things to occur within it seems fundamental to Reactor’s general approach to life, art, or whatever they do. On one level the authorship is strict, in that the framework has to be adhered to for it to work. But then within the structure individuals with all their own ideas and peccadilloes are allowed to exist. However, I would have liked to see Terry up on stage.

Kathy Noble is a writer and curator based in London.