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“Perplexing, dynamic, compelling”. What happens when 1916 drama meets 21st century art?

Melissa Gordon’s new work Fallible Space is a two-part project which invites the viewer to reflect on the exhibition process as ‘a theatre in the round’. Alongside seven paintings on display within Bluecoat’s Vide gallery, Gordon launched additional works through a staging of Mina Loy’s 1916 play Collision at the exhibition’s opening on Friday 22nd January. The text offered a starting point for the physical arrangement of Gordon’s canvases, which were hung in front of a live audience in response to the directions given in the play.

Writer Orla Foster was there on the night.  

Collision is an experimental piece which looks at the aesthetic transformation of an interior space. A writer and artist linked with both the Futurist and Modernist movements, Loy viewed creativity as a conscious performance.

One reason that Collision is such an unusual choice for a production is that, despite being published a century ago, it has never been staged until now. On the evening of the launch, as audience members are handed a copy of the script on arrival at the space, they start to grasp why. Though short enough to be read while stood in the queue, it doesn’t give much away about what’s in store this evening. For a start, the script contains hardly any speech — it’s composed of little more than a set of stage directions.

Our first glimpse at the stage is similarly perplexing. At the back wall, ten large scrolls have been lined up and connected to a pulley system overhead. Brightly-painted wooden frames dangle to the left and right hand of the space, while small white sacks flop at various stretches of the floor. In the midst of this, the protagonist (performed by mime artist Rita Pulga) waits, stock-still, a large mirror balanced delicately in her palms. Her challenge will be to oversee the room’s transformation: to take this seemingly disparate group of artefacts and arrange them to achieve one unifying artistic vision.

With a cry of “Back! Bang door! . . .” she leaps to action, her movements agile and urgent as a dense thicket of noise swells through the space. At this point, the script calls for “vari-coloured shafts of lightning [to] crash through fifty-nine windows at irregular heights” — a tall order for a performance space this size. Instead, the “windows” are represented by Gordon’s own silkscreen canvases, which are gradually revealed when the protagonist uses the pulley to unfurl each scroll and raise it to its full height. Rather than lightning, the paintings feature bold geometric forms which converge into a larger composition as the panels become aligned.

In Loy’s text, this sequence appears as follows: “The disymetric receding and incursive planes and angles of walls and ceilings interchange kaleidoscopically to successive intricacies”. Scrutinising Loy’s script, however, will only get you so far. In its written form, the play’s syntax is highly cerebral and somewhat opaque, making it difficult to visualise the action taking place. Gordon’s interpretation, meanwhile, allows the audience to experience the play’s core energy, cutting through the complex vocabulary to mirror the protagonist’s journey towards artistic realisation. Rather than duplicating Loy’s vision for the play, Gordon instead follows its rhythms and vibrations; her dynamic authorial voice converted to physical movement.

We witness the protagonist’s self-doubt, as she examines the objects around her and deliberates over how they should be hung, her struggle, as she staggers across the stage to rearrange those improbably heavy white sacks, and at last, her giddy elation as the room slowly begins to match her vision — the “attained unison” of Loy’s script.

Once the last canvas is fixed into place, the protagonist surveys the space with deep, unblinking concentration. The soundscape throbs to a halt and she becomes motionless once more. The incidental noises in the performance space become suddenly, unsettlingly loud — there’s the pop of a plastic cup, the whirr of a shutter, the uncertain creak of bleachers as the crowd waits to applaud. And with that, the staging of Gordon’s exhibition is complete — at least until Sunday when it will be taken down in front of visitors.

There’s no doubt that this is an extremely challenging work, both to stage and to understand, but it offers an interesting take on the concept of creativity. Gordon has rejected the notion of painting as a static and finished offering, and instead invites the viewer to reconsider it as a dynamic, shifting process, constantly in flux. In adopting Loy’s script, she has found a narrative which serves as a compelling metaphor for the artistic process, while also adding a welcome slick of drama to the time-honoured conventions of opening night.”

Melissa Gordon’s Fallible Space will be on display in the Performance Space until it is deinstalled in front of visitors to the gallery on Sunday 31 January in Finale (“the curtain falls, the curtain falls”). For full details on the events surrounding Fallible Space visit our web page.

Image: Brian Roberts. 

Tags:Exhibitions

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