Artists Lucy Stein and Mark Harwood have fomented a technique of combative curation that militates against against the normal pleasantries of social events. Introducing two evenings of performance and anti-performance on themes of depression and hysteria, they fuck with us to force a reaction, with mock confessionals “We’ve recently been spending a lot of time in bed masturbating”, passive-aggressive barbs “I like the fact that you all stopped talking,” ironised tenderness “We want it to feel like Christmas,” and self-defeating defences “We hope none of you enjoy any of it.”
It’s a gut-punching programme of free-form interruptions and disarming moments of beauty and catharsis punctuated by DJ DEPRESSED’s depraved and demented exit music at earsplitting volume. Irony is a shield, but it’s also a weapon. “Coming as I did from a long line of suicides this is close to my heart we’d like to welcome you into our peaceful space,” says Lucy Stein. Electronic music duo ZKSNARKS run recordings from NHS training videos of nurses asking patients about suicidal ideation. “Did you wonder if the best thing might be to take the children with you?” has a truly shocking impact, hammered home by bracing synth noise and a visual from Twin Peaks of a mushroom cloud slowly expanding.
In their film “Regression” Lucy Stein and Simon Bayliss undergo past life regression therapy in an underground chamber from the Iron Age. Laughing hysterically and crying at the same time, it’s funny that “cracking up” means both laughing and going mad. Shana Moulton’s “Whispering Pines” finds her freaking out in a supermarket, clutching a can of kidney beans and begging us “Is this OK?”
“Liberate yourself from the chains of your cravings and give them an empowering force,” quotes Lia Mazzari, live-translating unpublished texts by the painter and film-maker Ursula Reuter Christiansen. At a table lit by a bare red bulb she dwells on the seamy poetry of “Too much wine. Piles of raw meat swallowed fervently with warm fat souls and disgusting onion rings”: Krapp’s Last Crap.
In another enigmatic Beckettian tableau, Alice Kemp covers her head in a black bag evoking the burka or the victims of Abu Ghraib. Motionless, she sits, a black candle burning, one arm outstretched in a long black glove, one hand cupped. She sits. We sit. Noises and glitch accumulate, swamping the music and her static figure. To some it’s meditative, to others it thrums with violence.
Beth Collar brays into a grey gourd and stomps about enacting the course of adolescence from the child pitifully imploring “mummy i dont want to go to school ive got a tummy ache mummy” through to sub-operatic roaring like the girl in the Exorcist. It’s a scream. Nell Peto isn’t even a teenager yet. It’s her twelfth birthday, or so Mark Harwood claims. The pair have an effortless sardonic rapport, interrupting each other and apologizing with mixed desolation and threat. She reads haltingly from psychologist Martin Bergmann’s book on child sacrifice and he abuses the piano with his feet, skittering about with bottle of whisky. “Birthdays are always really fun. Are they not fun? Christmas, birthdays, Bastille Day…”
Syrian refugee Anas Assaf in conversation with Lucy Stein tells a moving story of hardship and resilience, of dreams and the fight against despair on the Balkan route from Aleppo to Sheffield. He travelled for fifteen days in the back of a lorry to Finland, arriving at Christmas. He says he is a Christmas gift. It feels like Christmas. He sings movingly in Greek and Arabic. “When you don’t cry you sing. I was singing because sometimes you need to scream, but when you scream people will think you are mentally insane, so I was singing to make my spirit lighter.”
Performance duo New Noveta don’t sing but they’re pure rock n roll. Screaming recitative into mikes on opposite sides they crash through the walls of people, trailing red string soaked in liquid from two ugly metal bowls with an overpowering odor of vinegar and sweat. They brawl and writhe and disappear. It’s noisy and unsettling and violent and cathartic: no distance, no fourth wall; you’re in the way, vicarious and implicated in a two-woman bondage fantasia. It’s even more unsettling when Vindicatrix continues making his clattering industrial soundtrack long after they’ve disappeared outside. Have they gone? That night, we leave in a state of advanced agitation.
“FUCK YOU WHERES MY SUGER?” is perfectly named from one of the ‘Night Letters’ of Roger Hilton (1911-75) that the painter made when he was dying: hundreds of brutal, tortured, hilarious, dipsomaniac illustrated messages to his wife Rose. She’s there both nights, and it’s only much later I realize I never asked her if Roger ever got his fucking suger.