Event: first thoughts

11 May 2010

“I am a vertiginous woman”, exclaims artist Marcia Farquhar from the back of what is possibly the world’s largest rocking horse on the lawns in front of the Tatton Park Mansion. And these are vertiginous times, a fact to which Farquhar’s risky performance debut atop this wobbly beast and the mood of the masses visiting the opening of the biennial is testament. Same-day news of a hung parliament has left a hole where the circus of spin used to be and now that the media machine has slowed one can almost hear the gritty sift of sandy realities sinking into it.

The spirit of both, however, prevails for Parabola has successfully pulled off their second biennial at Tatton – a truly ambitious endeavour. And the irrepressible Farquhar, self-styled as the resplendently bouffant (if today bare-legged and golden slip-on shod) Leonora Carrington as depicted in her self portrait ‘The Inn of Dawn Horse’, is not to be put off by acrophobia, a light but chilly wind or the annoying chatter of latecomers as she regales the public with odd equine-related facts and autobiographical anecdotes. ‘The horse is a noble animal’, the title of this work/performance, is apparently something her grandmother would say to bring dinner-table talk back into proprietary line. Mine used the Dickensian moniker ‘Brooks of Sheffield’ to refer to her children during teatime conversation with her husband, without their knowledge.

I’ve had the proposed works in my mind for such a while now that walking through the grounds I half expect to be running into them at every turn of the arboretum. But the balance between art and site alters during my tour like the linear peaks and troughs of an ECG printout. There are moments when the experience feels like treasure hunt -- one finds oneself alone in the landscape left to figure it out -- others when the kids’ party piñata appears to have split, spilling its sometimes sticky, often colourful bounty amongst the flora. It’s hard not to take in the curiosities and delights of this rich pastoral playground and not recognise how good cultural things have been. And, not worry about how hard they are going to get.

The other main performance event of the day, which just about finishes before the staff start rounding us up and out of the trees, is by Jamie Shovlin. Belches of dry ice clear to reveal a dirty and film-set freaky woodshed in and around which a crew of men in blue boiler suits tinker (in slight Kraftwerk fashion) with drills, spades and audio equipment --altering and abstracting the spoken script of a cheesy American teen horror flick. It’s too light and the weather conditions not perfect enough for the film to take gaseous projected form but this actually contributes to the tension. One is always in front of never really amongst the action, yet the operational nature of the work gives a false sense of between the smoke and the mirrors; riding the peaks and troughs of pre-performance-build-up into narrative submission.

On the whole, I am pleasantly surprised by the gaps that emerge between (my) knowledge and experience of the project, particularly in the house. The more virtually sure I had become of any individual work, the more remarkable the actual encounter. There is an unnervingly solid and mutantly animal quality to Kate MccGwire’s kitchen installation, for example, that floaty talk of feathers and the floppy mental images of dead game birds cannot prepare one for. Fat, duck-neck sleek, cable-like structures appear to flow through the space as if some moving Manga invention, undermining what one deems reality to be.

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 11:27 AM