We are delighted to publish this article related to our annual Live Art Christmas Party – Tits and Tinsel by freelance writer Drew Cole.
More responses to work shown at Steakhouse Live can be found at Steakhouse Live: Writing
‘I don’t know what the fuck that was, but I loved it!
The best response I heard all night to one of the many performances at Tits and Tinsel 2016, the fourth annual Live Art Event and Christmas Party from Steakhouse Live which took place on Friday 16 December 2016 in Soho, London.
Tallulah Haddon. Pic by Holly Revell
2016 has been and gone and inevitably by now so has most people’s attempt at New Year’s resolutions, have no fear! I can’t help you get that pointless six pack you’ve always wanted but I can recommend something new to get into this 2017 which isn’t a fad or a marketing campaign, it is Live Art!
In 2016 I attended the SPILL Festival of Performance in Ipswich and afterwards when describing the festival performances to people whose interests lie outside the realm of Live Art, often their responses was that of shock and incomprehension, leading to the inevitable question how is this art? I began to feel that verbally recalling past performances in casual conversation is no longer substantial and that it is better for people to bare witness so I decided to invite three friends to experience Live Art and Performance directly at Tits and Tinsel 2016 organised by Steakhouse Live.
Steakhouse Live is a platform for radical performance practices, which thrives under a DIY ethos and an anti-bureaucratic approach to programming live work that genuinely takes risks and is not afraid of failure. Founded in 2013 Steakhouse Live is made up of Katy Baird, Aaron Wright and Mary Osborn.
Steakhouse Live primarily give artists a platform to perform, interrogate and explore ideas and present radical, provocative and poignant pieces of work. Their intentional embracement of unprofessionalism and clear commitment to produce new environments for art to be both created and received stands as a better opportunity than any to introduce new people to this field of practice.
This article is centred on Tits and Tinsel 2016 and on the response of three friends I invited to the event and who were experiencing Live Art for the very first time. Igor Kominek is a recent business graduate and Torie Williamson a recent sociology and criminology graduate, both are more acclimatised to traditional theatre settings Igor last seeing The Women in Black and Torie, The End Of Longing. Nick Fogarty is currently completing his third year at university studying Drama, Theatre and Performance. Although Nick is not entirely new to the field of Live Art, he has only read about and seen recordings of performances, Tits and Tinsel will be his first live engagement with the field.
Before Tits and Tinsel took place Baird and I were discussing the different kinds of established festive forms of entertainment around this time of year. Baird makes an interesting comparison of her Live Art event in its performance structure to that of an “old school variety show”. As much as Tits and Tinsel is of course more anarchic than any variety show you will see screened on BBC on boxing day or any variety show the queen would ever attend (thankfully) the comparison is one that definitely can be made. The performance bill combines artists and their work which may not usually be programmed at any same event throughout the year in turn making for a thoroughly diverse showcasing of artistic practices. The event also operates on a sliding scale for ticket prices where you can choose to pay between £13-£20 or pay what you can afford. All revenue from the tickets is re-invested into the organisation to cover artist fees, space hire, marketing, documentation and more; absolutely no profit is taken.
The setting is a basement gallery in the heart of Soho with scantily hung fairy lights and tinsel, it looks like the place Santa Claus would go after his night shift for a red stripe and a lap dance. Performances were all five minutes long with breaks in between, special guest DJ Thom Shaw kept the rooms energy flowing during the breaks and directly after the final performance creating an electrifying party atmosphere that continued till 3am with DJ Alex Lawless from London queer club night Knickerbocker. For writing purposes, the performances are not in chronological order; the first collection is the artists who chose to affiliate their performances with festivity.
Polly Amory (aka Mathew Poxon) arrives on stage to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a warm welcome to Tits and Tinsel, Polly Amory encourages the audience to sing along with her to a host of Christmas tunes before welcoming Baird and Wright onto the stage for a collaborative musical number. Both dressed for the event Wright in a gold vest, blazer and shades, Baird in a gold dress and brunette wig reveal what is in store for the crowd of Live Art enthusiasts, a night of trash, protest and festivity in turn setting the preverbal Live Art wheel in motion.
Katy, Aaron and Poly Amory. pic by Holly Revell
This fun and raucous tone is also complimented by Tom Marshman who injects a hilarious queer twist on traditional Christmas songs, weaving freely in and out of personal anecdotes, monologues and analogies, leaving everyone gasping for breath and in stitches at his acute humour.
Struggling to step onto stage due to the restrictions of his costume the artist Joshua Sofaer recalls a large amount negative news stories and events which have taken place over 2016, only then to soothe our worries and fears with a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas. His costume resembling that of a white block you would see in a contemporary art gallery makes for a clever and self-reflexive signifier reminding us of the potential of what art can be.
Lucy McCormick was the final artist to perform on the bill; in manipulating the stock conventions of the Christmas pantomime she delivers an anarchic commentary of popular culture, social issues, femininity and politics. In using the medium of dance McCormick humorously combats oppressive 21st century ideologies, at one point drawing on the ludicrous changes in pornography regulations by parliament in beckoning fellow performer Hester Chillingworth onto the stage and engaging in the act face-sitting causing the room to implode with cheering, standing applause and laughter. McCormick proved to be a cataclysmic performative finale which helped fuel the room’s transition from performance space to dance floor in a matter of minutes.
Lucy McCormick with backing dancers Lennie and Sam. Pic by Holly Revell
As noted above there were also the performances which thoroughly departed from the festive spirit and Christmas cheer, some creating theatrical images which could also be programmed at a Halloween event or some sort of satanic ritual involving politicians spirit cooking with Marina Abramovic.
Tallulah Haddon delivered a creepy and hysterical Jimmy Saville impersonation brandishing a shell suit in a haze of cigar smoke and the feeding of the ‘biggest trifle in the world’ to ‘Little Billy from Haddonfield’. The repetition ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’, on the archival pre recording of Saville at his peak is haunting yet no one can stop themselves from laughing at the awkward pauses heavy breathing and crazy piercing eyes of Haddon.
Shaun Caton. Pic by Holly Revell
Shaun Caton arrives with his usual table of haunting found, recycled and kept objects which make eerie connections to the darkest places of your psyche. Using a baby doll as his main performative instrument and keeping silent throughout the performance Caton permeates the spectators default reality in favour of surreal imagery, ritualism and terror.
Tim Sponner is accompanied by a soundtrack created from discordant and off key notes from a church organ as he gives life to a blanket. His solemn and cold persona gives credence to the idea that he may perhaps be transferring his life as a human being into an everyday object which concludes with a bloody finale.
Florence peake and Catherine Hoffmann take to the stage to give us Sex Music, a musical duo who deliver a punchy and witty performance wielding a dildo, a drum and a no nonsense approach to the woman’s menstrual cycle. The performance is a fun and proactive musical event of guttural wrenching, off key singing and the embracing of womanhood in still a very male dominated and led society.
Shorty. Pic by Holly Revell
Hester Chillingworth also attends the Christmas party as her school child alter ego Shorty. Before she appears on stage she could be seen drifting through the many moving bodies in the dance floor or by the bar on her hands and knees jotting things down in her school exercise book. On stage Shorty shows off her the contents of her lunch box offering members of the audience her carrot sticks before engaging in a class spelling bee with the audience and gives a striking insight into the space between that of a child’s mind and the real world. It was also during this performance the lucky audience witnessed a surprise and spontaneous performative event from Steakhouse Live producer Aaron Wright featuring a bottle of wine and a fallen speaker, honestly Steakhouse Live are a collective that just keep on giving!
“I expected some crazy shit to be going down as the only knowledge of performance art I had I picked up from others around me which were fully interested in that area.”
“Such a variety of people who were there for different reasons, everyone was great to talk to.”
“I always thought it was something I could get into/on board with but after the performances I watched that evening and how pleasant everyone was I definitely would be interested in seeing more and knowing more of what it’s about.”
“I felt 100% welcome, everyone was there to have a good time”
“I don’t have that much knowledge however I enjoy watching and interpreting myself how people use their own creativity and ‘weirdness’ to portray their message”
“Performances were not what I expected as it was my first time. I expected it to be a little bit weird however it’s weirdness made it even more powerful.”
“Seeing alternative ways of presenting certain life aspects convinced me to get into Live Art performances and I can’t wait to see more.”
“I felt extremely welcome, everyone was very open.”
“I can’t believe there is no money or profit involved, they are just doing it because they love it.”
“Having learnt about Live Art but never actually seen it live it confirmed the importance your physical presence has on the enjoyment or understanding of a piece.”
“It fulfilled my expectations as I already had some knowledge of performance art, which was definitely good as I already was interested in it.”
“I don’t know what the fuck that was but I loved it.”
“The atmosphere was non-judgemental, and everyone was there just to enjoy themselves.”
So What Does All This Mean?
Points in these conversations are raised which have echoed throughout Live Art discourse for the past half a century, Nick raises the significance of being at an event and experiencing it live for the artistic intrinsic value to coexist between performer and spectator. Igor emphasis that the ‘weirdness’ of the performances for him added a whole new dimension of spectatorship that he had not witnessed before, which for me is a comment on the plurality of interdisciplinary approaches to subject matter and the level of unconformity they all exhibit. Whilst Torie highlights the enjoyment she felt from forming her own interpretation of the works, rather than a performance which encourages one tidy and objective audience response.
Torie, Igor and Nick make excellent points, how they explain their experiences are directly linked to the building blocks to which Live Art is formed, drawing on ephemerality of performance, refusal of commodification, subjective experience, experimentation of forms and so forth. I somewhat feel however that these are the pedgological go tos when describing the slippery term that is Live Art, what really excites me is the prevailing consensus that arose from all three conversations and that is the significance and embedding of community ethos held by Tits and Tinsel.
A large proportion of the events which have taken place over 2016 have exacerbated the erosion of community ethos in a time when community should be stronger than ever. Although it can be argued that the introduction of virtual relationships that social media outlets offer have established community bonds which extend globally, the physical act of gathering for affirmative action is excluded and thus the efficacy of co presence is diminished.
When talking to Baird about Tits and Tinsel and Live Art in 2016 she makes it clear from the outset that she doesn’t view “Live Art as a scene but as a community” and this is true in the sense of Tits and Tinsel, a gathering of people from various walks of life who all share the love of Live Art which allows these practices to flourish and grow throughout the year. “The driving force behind Tits and Tinsel is a celebration and end of year party for the community as we don’t have an office party… together we are much stronger”. These final words from Baird reaffirms the values that Steakhouse predicates itself on, togetherness, community and accessibility, Tits and Tinsel creates a liminal and social moment of action which brings people together for the celebration of not just Live Art but the people who create the community.
Conclusively Tits and Tinsel 2016 has successfully recruited Igor, Torie and Nick into the Live Art community, all three of the guys enjoyed the evening immensely and are eager to see more work. So now as March begins, and you begin cancelling your gym membership or already missing shifts at the soup kitchen, grab your buddies and come and experience some Live Art in 2017, see you there!
by Drew Cole
Drew Cole is a London based freelance writer originally from Cheltenham. He graduated from the University of Roehampton in 2016 after obtaining a First Class degree in Drama, Theatre and Performance. Drew is interested in writing about Live Art, Experimental Performance and contemporary society and culture.