Thu 01 Jan 1970

There is a serious pleasure to be had from responding to art works through the identification of a theme, concept, or image around which a broader, more-or-less cohesive idea can be developed. There is another pleasure to be had from collecting half-formed thoughts, partially related narratives and happy associations. I have an idea that this second pleasure might helpfully summarise or at least refer to everything else that was happening during the festival week. Here, then, are things that registered in the back of my mind and out of the corner of my eye, listed and offered as a response to the 2011 SPILL Festival.
The weather.
The words.

Ryoji Ikeda made words into data, signifying statistically, not semantically. Harminder Judge surrounded a silent body with recorded voices. Oreet Ashery made circles of conversation out of questions and clip-on microphones. Her assistants wrote stream-of-consciousness response novels on cling film. The Kings of England said they would pause for twenty minutes and they kept their promise. Sylvia Rimat tried to put an owl in dialogue with an owl-man, but the owl had its own ideas. Performing non-performers read letters and Rajni Shah sang. Romeo Castellucci made English translations of the brief dialogue in Italian available to audience members. Diamanda Galás opened her throat more widely than language. The SPILL Feast framed casual talk around a formal table and a backstage setting – performance shop-talk. The National Platform set the stage for the next conversation. As for me, I chatted, gossiped, argued and agreed politely.
The axis.  The personal.

Ikeda made a symphony out of co-ordinate axes and intersections. Castellucci spoke of axes as well, and a particular metaphorical if/then logic. If the father and son are onstage without the mother, then the story is religion. I am interested in this expanded use of the axis, as a tool for association and metaphor. I like that this symbol of the history of rationality might be put to a multiplicity of uses. I don’t think too much about the way the axis is also a cross.

I think: x his day is ruined when the washing machine won’t behave properly.

I think: y my day is ruined by an encounter with someone whose attitude is not positive.
The sacred and the sublime.

While the theme of ‘infection’ proved a valuable organising concept for the commissioned work and the discussion-based projects that shaped that festival, another perhaps inadvertent theme was very present. Nearly all of the live events staged at the Barbican dealt in some way with the sacred or the sublime.  Ikeda and Shah built sacred infrastructures from the mundane: Ikeda out of the abundance of records now instantly available, and Shah out of the ‘glorious’ potential of everyday interactions. Judge drew on pop representations of the anti-sacred, apparently prompting some criticism from those who take his source material more to heart. Galás evoked the anti-sublime of torture – the unthinkable or unspeakable dimension of violence, expressed through her famous vocal technique. Castellucci was steeped in the imagery and narratives of Catholicism. Both Rimat and the Kings of England dealt with the sacred of the secular – the language of science and the figure of the hero scientist.

Is there is an intentional link between the sacred and the infectious? The idea that takes hold at a level that feels supernatural or super-rational? The biological material that reproduces itself in the body?
The weather. Oh, the weather.
The building. And the building.

The Barbican Centre is made primarily out of stairs. Public castle floating on entranceways. Fortress Barbican, surrounded by a stair-moat. The Barbican’s complex history and sometimes-fraught relationship to London can be summarised as a question of stairs.  Access or barrier?

The National Theatre Studio building doesn’t have a primary material. It is designed tactfully to disappear so that an ever-changing series of theatrical experiments might be staged. It is designed to be used.

I took the train to both buildings. I read a mystery novel on the train. I thought about clues and red herrings. I thought about secrets and revelations. I thought about solutions.
The temporary nature of it all.

Festivals have a dramatic structure, and good festivals pay attention to this, and can play around with it. SPILL was programmed so that the ‘main events’ were embedded in a rich context, and placed in placed in conversation with a variety of other artists and ideas. As noted elsewhere on this blog, the National Platform at the end of the festival is no afterthought, but an integral part of the festival’s ongoing health. So while SPILL had a terrific internal dramaturgy – where beginning, middle and end cohered without contrivance – there was also evidence of looking back and looking forward.  The festival began before it started and will, with any luck, end far after it closed.

At the opening party for SPILL, Gill Graham, a trustee of Pacitti Company, gratefully announced a renewal of funding from Arts Council England. She also gracefully acknowledged the numbers of projects and organisations that did not receive funding. In considering the temporary dimension of this particular festival, it seems important also to note the increasingly precarious situation of cultural production in this country. While no one doubts that artists will find a way, and that culture will be produced somehow and somewhere, the questions remain: how, where and for whom?
No, but seriously: the weather was amazing. The force is strong with Robert Pacitti and the SPILL team, and we are all grateful to them for so thoughtfully arranging a real springtime this year.
Johanna Linsley