Arches Live!

Blog by Colin Chaloner | 22 Sep 2010
  • Away They Go


Sarah Hopfinger struggles to escape her past in Away Into the NightIt's an autobiographical piece about letting go of "twenty-two years of living" which Hopfinger tells us she spent somewhere down south in rural England. In terms of escapology, it isn't quite Houdini in a straight jacket: however, given that her last show was Small is Beautiful, the smaller-scale is perhaps appropriate. There's a clear attraction to simple, direct imagery. Unfortunately, little of what transpires is striking or memorable enough to impose a vision of what it is, small or otherwise, that is so hard to leave behind. The earnest Romanticism of it, of "seeing the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower" as Blake put it, just falls a bit short, and despite some nice moments and clever touches, there was something overly familiar about it all, from the ideas to the environments to the devices. 

Searching for a memorable image, I stumbled across Georgina Porteous's Inbox. At the centre of the installation is a woman pulling a never-ending stream of white tape from her throat, which is then strewn about the walls in haphazard tangles that form into disjointed phrases around you. It was a compelling and concise look at communication, as the figure seems to address you, open mouthed, but seems to do so out of irritation or desperation, like a person trying to pull a hair from their throat. Arranged into forms beyond the figure's control, the blank tape brings up questions about meaning and meaninglessness, disinterest and responsibility.


Perhaps it's something about disposability, over-abundance and consumer culture that meant this image of ceaselessness and indifference hit the mark for me while Hopfinger's earnest lament came across as overstated. Absent minded glee in consumption is the bedrock of western culture, and this idea was tackled in further depth in Harry Wilson's Helium. It turns out that while we're worrying about terrorism and the recession and so on, Helium has been quietly running out, and the show is a last chance to revel in its glory. Helium is a goldmine of inventive devices, and performers Laurie Brown and Sarah Bradley draw seemingly infinite potential from the humble helium balloon, linking episodes from La Ballon Rouge, the Hindenburg disaster, and Lena's 99 Red Balloons with unfailing charisma. However, by situating this loss within the context of the loss of life, the loss of species and variation, as well as the loss of more trivial cultural memorabilia, the show was able to ask broader questions about preservation and responsibility and about our ability to let go of things and improvise and substitute, and about where this might and might not work. Wilson's strength is this ability to convey the scope of his subject without obscuring the magic of the personal, and it was this that brought Helium closest to being the genuinely affecting elegy I'd been looking for all evening.