New Works New Worlds at The Arches

Blog by Gareth Vile | 08 Jul 2009
  • New Works New Worlds

Now that the New Works New Worlds Festival has found a home within its caverns, The Arches is establishing itself as Glasgow’s home for performance art. As a veteran of these challenging, enriching and sometimes bewildering short festivals, neither absinthe hangover nor three months of teaching could prevent me from spending my evenings in the underground.

If there is overlap between Behaviour, National Review and the RSAMD’s Into The New, NWNW has a slight bias for scripted work- it used to be known as New Writing New Worlds. But the usual genres are all present - installations, one person rambles, multi-media extravaganzas, the odd work-in-progress and a contribution from a recent graduate of the RSAMD. If Richard Dedomenici marked one extreme- his Plane Food Café is more meal than performance- the presence of Tam Dean Burn was almost reassuringly traditional.

Not that Tam’s two works- the triumphant Year of the Horse, soon to storm the Fringe, and a work in progress that pitches American mercenary armies against the Gorbals’ musical magician Alex Harvey- could ever be called safe or lazy. Watching Tam in action feels increasingly like seeing a pagan ritual, his rage and political engagement becoming a standard for ferocity and imagination. It’s too early to say where Gorbals Turncoat is heading- and this is strictly not a review when I point out that even this rudimentary outing was a lesson in rock’n’roll fury, but Year of the Horse has an incandescent beauty, despite being driven by outrage.

Much of NWNW was dedicated to younger artists: Phil Spencer, part of For We Are Many and currently residing in the Southern hemisphere, sent over the script for Cardboard Castle; Helen Cuinn explored the world searching for her non-biological twin; Peter McMaster reminded us that We Share Air We Share Air.

McMaster is something of a rising star in the Glasgow Live Art scene. We Share Air establishes his charming stage presence and sincerity, without always escaping the generic touches of performance art. Steadily slipping between personal and broader concerns, he offered a meditation on the environment that captures the tender balance between global dangers and individual anxieties. We Share Air is too long, extended by his careful positioning of props and set, and doesn’t always explain the science of natural selection successfully, yet his intention and emotional bravery are stirring. There is no question that he will eventually develop his unique voice, but I’d really like to see him escape his debt to other performers.

Catching Kieran Hurley’s Hitch between the acts makes for a nice break. Hurley has hitched off to the Global summit; again, there’s the connection between the personal and political, the blurring of life and art: this time, the performer is absent, trailing his way across Europe and leaving traces of his wandering through text messages, postcards and short videos. The contrast between the art’s ambition and the artist’s vulnerability is telling, finding a new way to explore a public issue: like the performances, Hurley is exploring aesthetic boundaries as much as the issues.

NWNW challenged me - not too dramatically, and certainly not in the shocking way that some 'Live Art' insists is so important. That so many pieces were short and direct made the festival charming and engaging, allowing time for chat, drink and reflection. There was even a nice comfy chair in the bar.