Sunday, 6 March 2016

Musical chairs and shivered timbers: Stuart Brisley's DRAW at the David Roberts Art Foundation

I'm in a health and safety inspector's nightmare. Trip hazards, exposed nails, splinters, cheap pine dining chairs smashed into kindling. A banana skin.

Stuart Brisley has turned the performance space at DRAF into a Beckettian hamster cage bottom lined with cellulose wreckage.  

The Sound of Music's 'brown paper packages tied up with strings' are being ritually slaughtered.

He paces up and down, ripping, slashing, smashing, the audience moving their heads like tennis spectators in slow motion.

The performance is called DRAW and we are all draught animals, lugging our baggage through random obstacles. Spectators are not allowed to draw but lines are made by Brisley's passage to and fro and by the gaze of his wife, pointing her camera at him and us, bathing her husband in the Nancy Reagan full beam, subtly signing to audience members how they should come and go. Brisley milks a bolt of clingfilm, squeezing it into a giant strand of spider's silk, stretches it across the space to draw a low diagonal, hitches it to a fallen metal stepladder, crashes the stepladder into broken props.

The Death of Samson, Gustave Doré
The audience is as silent and reverential as at the Wigmore Hall. There is a harsh echo as he destroys chairs with a rhythmic, petulant aggression: the 82-year-old body has a bull-like drive tempered with a sense of stiffness and ache. An old brown leather jacket suspended from a beam reveals the guts of its its lining and resolves into the uncured animal smell as Brisley cuts apart flaps of skin. A man wearing a newer version of the jacket walks in and sits down.

Brisley wipes the face of a heavy six-foot mirror to blur it, then slowly carries it before us, the cross he bears which reflects us all. Just as I'm finding this de trop - there's plenty of human condition stuff here already - he rests the mirror in the most annoying place possible so that I may now admire, if I wish, my cosy faux fox collar from Helen Moore.

Three dining chairs, in a sofa-less room, were enough to sleep or have sex on (see eighteenth century journals) but Brisley orchestrates three chairs by resting a door-sized panel of thick white MDF on two and grinding the third chair on top of the resonant panel to make sounds like whales, double-bass harmonics, trombone triple-tonguing. Someone in a neighbouring building obliges with an electric drill. There are sirens in Camden High Street and the Northern Line rumbles below.

Plath with her parents
Brisley carries on with methodical determination, occasionally gargling like a distressed waste-disposal unit. A touching counterpoint comes from a little girl intoning 'Daddy?... Daddy?... Daddy?' with a note of urgent query, a Sylvia Plath in the making, but sadly her parents, earnest and tight-lipped, remove her and themselves.

As the chairs meet their violent end I'm reminded of My End-Of-Pier Shame. I fell through a tip-up seat at a variety show. I was quite small. The magician seized on this moment and kept returning to it. I wished him or myself away.

DRAW at DRAF took place on 2-5 March 2016. No pictures allowed.

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