Talking Performance at Tate Modern - July 18th 2015
A wonderful experience to be able to showcase a performance at Tate Modern, to be commissioned by them to explore the theme of public speaking, digression and derivation. Held in the East Room, on level 6 of Tate Modern, overlooking the Thames, it was a chance to present an original, extended piece of performance which explored speech, biography, truthfulness, sound and rhythm.
Speaking rather relentlessly for half an hour, and swarming a supposed poetry reading with improvised speech, I attempted to explore the notion of biography, of audience and performer hierarchy, and the human relationships possible between them, the nature of poetry readings, their bracketing of attention and the limits of that, the nature of the introduction as a form, the experience of language in excess and speed, the notion of collectivity in performance and in intimate physical proximity, the 'poetic' and what people understand by poetic and therefore non-discursive language, and finally truthfulness, salesmanship, the rhythm of comedy, and, I suppose, at the very end, disappointment.
The performance was followed by an extended discussion with curator Marianne Mulvey and Patrick Coyle, with whom I had the privilege of sharing the bill. Contextualising the choices I had made performatively so soon after performing was fascinating, when my piece had been about blurring the lines between genuine feeling and sentiment, verity and falsehood, I couldn't help but feel what was essentially a meta performance then became a meta discussion, where no one could really believe what I was saying. This perhaps solidified the purpose of what I was trying to do, constantly acknowledging context and the limits of communication.
The piece was a product of a generous developmental process, and to have Joseph Kendra help me from the off, then to be joined by Marianne Mulvey as the performance neared, was really pivotal - to have the attention of professional curatorial expertise, it is akin to having a good editor for a manuscript. And to share the event with Patrick Coyle, a close friend and someone I've admired and collaborated with for a such a long time, made the experience all the more resonant.
From the Tate Modern: The London based poets, writers and artists Patrick Coyle and SJ Fowler perform new works that push the boundaries of what we understand by performance, text and poetry. Following their performances is an opportunity talk with them about their practice, the slippage between these disciplines and other notions of the avant-garde.
SJ Fowler’s performance explores derivation, digression and the often overlooked contexts and implications of public speaking, reading and performing. Ebbing between accuracy and forgetfulness, his work investigates how language comes to us, and is given to us, when we read and listen. A performance about constraint, introduction, pre-amble and the tropes of speech, Fowler presents a series of language experiments sewn together into a new whole, covering poetry, art performance, sound, repetition and re-enactment.