The pandemic has affected all of us, that’s stating the obvious. But the repercussions it has had on live arts has created an interesting debate: this new world of online art spaces is definitely more accessible, but will it stand the test once things open back up? I’d say the SPILL YER TEA event proved to me it certainly will, as a free event with donations encouraged – all proceeds going to the Radical Therapist Network. The DIY ethos is what organisers Performance N’ Tha are all about, with online being the new haven for DIY and radical and inclusive creativity – be it art, music, anything really. So it’s a no-brainer to use that as a platform, I think. I also want to commend them for creating such a safe accessible space for all artists and art lovers – the chat feature as well made me feel a lot less anxious in a setting that would normally make me feel a tad intimidated – art can be daunting and sometimes feel like an exclusive club to get into, but SPILL YER TEA was full of love and support, and full of all varieties of representation and experiences.
The first artist on the roster was Hollie Miller, with her piece ‘Career Woman’. In the description of what I was about to watch, it mentions Hollie uses her body as a ‘politicised site’. I concur, but I’d also describe the use of her body as a canvas too. Ties upon ties with mysterious stains, looks like blood. The beat booms louder, the blood appears fresher on some ties. The ticking clock adds a certain anxiety to what you’re watching, and the ties covered in blood (as well as the name of the piece) remind me of my own experiences – being on my period at work and rushing around whilst you bleed, thinking nothing of it. It’s part of your routine, but it also could be applied to a human experience as opposed to a feminine experience. Some of us fight through chronic pain, bleeding, life long injuries but still work full time hours. ‘Career Woman’ to me was a graphic depiction of the internal battle externalised.
Next up is Paul Regan with the piece ‘Step 2’. Getting some context behind the piece helps you draw some conclusions from it better than going in ‘blind’. A visual artist hailing from Belfast, Paul Regan’s ongoing projects use live performances to tackle themes such as ‘compulsion and restraint, cultural misappropriations, invocations and profane devotions.’ Paul appears in an undisclosed location in a green suit, pours a can of Guinness and then blows into it with a toy instrument. It feels like a playful jab at all the Irish stereotypes, but with droning distorted sounds and the piece moving at a slow pace, you also feel uneasy and unsure what will happen next.
Alasdair Ambrose’s ‘Effacement 19082021’ feels truly raw and live, with technological glitches adding to the realism. The simple act of erasing someone from a photograph is an act filled with connotations. Closure? Disownment? Hate? All is left to your own interpretation. The fact that Alasdair keeps the hair and clothes, leaving the material elements of an identity. Makes me wonder if a new face will be added? Mysterious and intriguing.
A highlight of the show for me was Pierce Starre’s ‘Scrutiny’. The description of this piece notes the piece ‘explores personal experiences of deprivation, oppression and survival, from the perspective of a queer child of deaf adults, growing up in Thatcher’s Britain’. Going into it with this in mind, the distorted hum/soundtrack throughout this piece placed me into the perspective of a Deaf adult, struggling to hear and the lack of sound distorting your general surroundings. Pierce can be seen in a red tulle shirt with a ruff, the luxury of the shirt contrasting with the dilapidated setting. Going beyond the sheer contrast, I felt like this represented the queer working class identity of the subject, but the subject stays mostly silent. They’re not shouting aloud their queer identity, it’s just there, a part of them without needing to be mentioned. Then the never ending plate of gravy comes, and then the regurgitation. It appears that the subject is forced to eat it, which is never really explained why. I personally thought it was due to the background of Thatcher’s Britain, even though you’re struggling to eat anymore it might be your last meal. However, someone in the chat said it was the ‘best depiction of an ED (eating disorder)’ they’d ever seen, which made me view it from a different angle completely. Eating something as ‘small’ as gravy, gorging oneself on something as ‘small’ as gravy and throwing up into it, partially eating your own sick because you mentally can’t pull yourself away. A very vivid, thought provoking piece.
‘I belong to the Earth’ is the message of Dimple B Shah’s ‘Decolonising Ritual – Scent of the Earth’. It really did feel like a ritual of claiming back the land that was conquered – in Shah’s case, the British colonisation of India. The act of eating black peppercorns (which originate from India) onto a map of the country, all of this piece feels like a visual representation of claiming back the land you came from, claiming it back from the colonisers. The paper boat carrying jewels represented the colonists , sailing across from country to country and stealing their goods and produce for their own profit. The silent laying on the floor at the end of this piece felt meditative, Dimple embracing her motherland with the leaves. A beautiful ending, I’d say.
Kelvin Atmadibrata’s ‘I’ll be a Good Boy’ is the depiction of a prayer, but also a battle against faith and sexual submission. All we see are hands spotlighted, casting shadows onto the wall. The hands look like they’re embracing each other and then pushing each other away, dramtising the erotic battle within. Throughout this piece as well, an ever changing chant – changing in distortion and language – “My God I will bow to you, I am your dog”. Again, this meshes religion and eroticism, turning into a minimalist performance and how hands can portray more than just touching. For example, the twisting of the chain in the subject’s hand reminds me of auto-erotic asphysixation, as the fingers go pink from lack of strangulation. A powerfully erotic piece, a very powerful representation of an internal sexual battle.
Nathan Walker’s ‘Dressing’ uses the body also, but with a completely different perspective. It uses the body as a site for sound, particularly the back. The back feels like the mouthpiece of the subject, as it stumbles over words and chants. I was half expecting a mouth on the subject’s back, but I’m kind of glad it didn’t – the fact you could hear the back speaking without a mouth, making it even surreal. Surreal indeed, but this whole piece brought up in my head the discussion that our bodies are important to us. I know that’s an obvious statement, we live within them, but each facet of our body has an internal and/or external task constantly. I feel like able-bodied people, myself included, can neglect certain parts of my body, leading to pain. The message of your body being more than just a vehicle is the message I got, which has stayed with me long after watching the piece.
Nina Claire’s ‘Porridge’ is probably the piece that has stuck with me the most. Porridge is a symbolic food, it’s ‘the food of the poor’ and the food of prisons, but also a food to stay healthy in the eyes of the rich. Nina Claire tackles the battle of temptation and obesity in a slightly comical and domestic manner: stripping down and lathering oneself in porridge. By stripping down, it feels as if porridge is a life force, something to be worshipped. Could be worshipped because porridge is an easily accessible source of energy, could be worshipped for the sheer sake of being food. ‘Porridge’ made me think about our relationships with food, how we shouldn’t be ashamed to love food, it also made me really want a bowl of porridge.
The penultimate act, Rob Hesp’s ‘I Only Exist Between Your Teeth, Milk Flowing’, is a visually intense piece. It’s a ‘queer performance action, rooted in images of wilderness, rage and need for community healing’. A nude person is laid down amongst nature, covered in what appears to be blood – but we only see the top half of them. The sound is extremely distorted, the beginning feeling like a torture scene. Images of gore juxtapose the beauty of nature, and the screams and winces could represent the rage. Then comes the milk, things appear calmer, less terror in the air, the artist appears to be embracing the milk. I saw this piece as an allegory for death and rebirth, in the physical and mental sense, which could be linked with the fear and relief of being openly queer/coming out. Graphic yet open to interpretation, certainly a piece that will stay with me.
Finally, we end on the serene ‘Sustancia Alkimiya’, a collaboration between Marina Barsy Janer and Isil Sol Vil. This whole piece feels like a meditation, the two from two different continents connected as one. Both are masked and cloaked, removing any identity from the subjects. Just mirrors and feathers are the only distinguishing features. The mirrored bodies reflected onto the sun and the sea, creating a shimmer around the stillness. Everything seems calm, until the waves start crashing. The fluid movements, the location: everything feels like an ancient ritual of sorts. The mirrors, the dancing and the sea, all very beautiful and a beautiful way to end this show.
As a novice to the performance art world, I felt welcomed into SPILL YER TEA #5 with open arms. It didn’t matter that I felt bewildered at times, it was part of the fun of it and everyone was supportive of each other. I’d definitely attend another SPILL YER TEA show, be it online or on the stage again! Brava to all.