Critical Categories Under Glass


Clod Ensemble performance of ‘Under Glass’, photo Manuel Vason

What are the boundaries between art forms? The question came up at the Hackney Showroom, where I caught the fascinating Clod Ensemble production ‘Under Glass’. The staging has the audience moving around in darkness to look at characters (it could be theatre) move (or, more probably dance) inside glass containers (rather like a museum display, but also suggesting scientific specimens) to a composed soundtrack (a concert of sorts) with intermittent readings from Alice Oswald’s intensely conceived ‘Village’ (poetry). Any of the above then, plus the whole effect might be classified as an art performance or physical theatre. So, when galleries – Tate Tanks for example – increasingly programme what could have been shown in a theatre, does it matter what it’s called? For marketing purposes, perhaps, as it can be tricky for venues to know how best to categorise such genre-busting works to best develop their audiences. I also suspect that classification can affect critical appraisal. What may seem new as, for example, performance art may be old hat in the world of dance, and – given that no-one (apart, of course, from Hans Ulrich Obrist) can keep up fully with every art form, critical assessments are bound to be partial and influenced by which genre of critic is involved. From my own blinkered point of view – knowing art and poetry more than theatre and dance – ‘Under Glass’ tackles issues of environmental concern and social isolation in an innovative way which is both serious and entertaining. But I guess I’d need Hans Ulrich to report to get a fully balanced view…


Clod Ensemble performance of ‘Under Glass’, photo Manuel Vason

Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

About Paul Carey-Kent

Art critic and curator, based near Southampton. I write most regularly for Art Monthly, Frieze, Elephant, State, Photomonitor... and, of course, FAD.