Part performance, part conversation, part installation. Walking into ‘Table of Contents’ at the ICA felt like arriving at a workshop that had already started. A large wooden table takes up a corner of the space. Chairs are scattered around.
“Feel fee to take a chair and move around the space” Matthias Sperling says. It’s a performance installation involving 6 artists. Somehow Matthias appears to have it all in control, offering suggestions and explanations as a mostly silent group of viewers look on. Matthias explains that their aim was to create a dance installation that could be sustained for the length of the gallery opening hours. The work has a pleasing structure. Every twenty minutes or so we gather around the table and the artists explain what they are going to do for the coming twenty minutes. They use chalk to mark out the room on the surface of the table itself, drawing and labelling the sections, stating what space they will perform the section in, inviting the viewers’ questions. Then they proceed to ‘perform’ the snippets of material in the spaces they have agreed on.
“Feel free to take a chair and move around the space” Matthias tells us. Some times the ‘performance material’ is performed by just one artist, sometimes two, sometimes they all get involved. Matthias starts his solo with “I wonder if the best thing to do right now is a section from Siobhan Davies Archive, Wyoming, Lauren Potter’s material” and then he proceeds to perform the short snippet followed by “I wonder if the best thing to do right now is a section from White Man Sleeps from the Siobhan Davies Archive, Gill Clarke’s material.” Followed by another snippet. The material continues to unfold, with Sperling’s description of the name of the work, the performer who originated the material, and the date (which I omitted because I don’t have his memory!) creating a reassuringly comforting refrain to the performance. Charlie Morrissey and Andrea Buckley then perform a contact duet in which Charlie describes how Andrea is performing a public dissection of his heart, “anyone who’s squeamish should look away now” he says as they move into a lift and roll away from each other. “I trust that Andrea knows what she’s doing, although she tells me that she learnt how to do it from internet videos”. The audience laughs.
Another break, the table is shifted to a different corner of the space and “Feel free to take a chair and move around the space” Matthias tells us. A duet between Matthias Sperling and Helka Kaski, ‘Install’ takes up a small corner at the far end of the space. Step 1: Install – The performers carry out a circular movement going from standing to the floor. In further steps 2 and 3 (I think but may have added one here) they discuss the movement material which came from footage on the Siobhan Davies Archive, of Henry Montes performing this small section. “He only performed it once in the whole piece” says Sperling. But the two performers repeat the movement over and over, conversing all the while on details of the movement, what they are thinking whilst doing it over and over again, “Preferably” says Kaski “something interesting”. Final Step: Uninstall – The performers stop “thank you” they say.
The work has the feel of a relaxed sharing, or lecture demonstration, an exposition of the thoughts and ideas that inform a performer’s process. The performers move around the space and talk to each other or greet friends and associates in the audience. They refer to each other by first names although, endearingly, Siobhan Davies is “Siobhan Davies”. The Siobhan Davies Archive is heavily referenced, but is not the only material. Each performance snippet has a reassuringly clean structure. It’s as though you’re watching a performance with the programme notes running along-side it, revealing the underlying thinking and rationale for the work, the internal chatter worn on the outside. I remember one theatre producer telling me that he never reads programme notes because a piece of dance work really should speak for itself. I think that what this work achieves in revealing the thought processes within the material itself, is how much more depth there is in material when we acknowledge the presence of thought in performance.
‘Manual’: each performer asks a member of the audience to give them movement instructions that will bring them from lying on the floor to standing. “Move your right elbow towards your left ear and swing your head to your left…now bring your left knee up to your stomach…” it takes a good 10-15 minutes and still some find that their mover is no further from the ground than they were to begin with. The audience is less silent now, people move around, converse, speak to the performers. “Let’s gather round the table again. Feel free to move the chairs around” Matthias tells us. I leave.
‘Table of Contents’ is on at the ICA, London till the 19th January. Entrance is free. Go and see!