Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Nicola Singh Artist talk at Newcastle University

Woah, I feel I have just emerged from a really unique environment in which an established artist whose work I admire has shared with an audience her doubt about a performance she has then gone on to perform to us.

Initially Nicola Singh explained what she was about to perform and her reasoning behind her choice of artist presentation. She intended for there to be a discussion at the end of the performance.

This was a performance in itself that was about the performance at IMT Gallery, London as part of a group exhibition.

She had been unsure about the performance in the gallery (ethics, was it making her too vulnerable? was it the right time and place for it), and was unsure about the performance in the Lecture Theatre (what would the audience gain? was she in the right mental state? was the context right? would it be useful?) She did not apologise for her doubt.

The manner in which she delivered the text echoed, in some ways, the content of the text. It had been written as though it was being spoken, with the comments, pauses, distractions and tangential thoughts that would usually be edited out, included. Her voice was soft, and the pace was fairly slow; her manner was thoughtful and composed. At times she moved the weight of her body from one hip to the other, and would tilt her neck to one side as though she was releasing some tension that was making her uncomfortable. She listened to each word as she said them. 

I fully understand the reasons behind reading the text from a script as opposed to memorising it or speaking 'off the cuff'. It revealed that there had been a process of construction and editing prior to the delivery; it was practical; Firstly it included parts of writing that she had made during her time in London, and, secondly, she did not have enough time to learn it off by heart. Reading it also enabled her to focus on where the text came from within her - i.e. her performance came from the heart as opposed to the head, which is where it would have come from if she had memorised it. 

As she stood at the front of the Lecture Theatre, without any images on the screen behind her, my attention was drawn to her body language and my mind created its own imagery based on what I was hearing. 

She outlined what happened over the course of the 4 days prior to the private view of the exhibition;

She had 3 tinder dates in which each of her dates made a clay monkey from air dried clay

She gave a lack of specifics about the dates and the clay monkeys, but detailed her paths of thought, the context and the conversations that she had outside of the dates themselves.

The audience were then invited to pose questions and start a discussion.

I felt that, given that the content of the performance was so rich with a wide range of relevant issues and problems, it was a shame that she would not perform it in a gallery. 

When asked why, she highlighted that her previous experience has lead her to believe that an audience in a gallery would not be likely to enter into a discussion about a performance that they had just witnessed. She also spoke about her need to take care of herself as a performer, and the fact that doing the same performance in a gallery would expose her in a way that she avoided when doing it in the Lecture Theatre in an institution where she was in company with people that she knew and a city that she called home. This has left me thinking about my current experience as a host at Bobby Baker's Great and Tiny War installation. In my experience with this installation, despite the difficult issues within the work, in the kitchen at the end of the tour, visitors are most often happy to enter into deep discussions with strangers over a cup of tea and a biscuit. 

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