Torturing the Artists

Blog by Gareth K Vile | 16 Jul 2010
  • Oct 09_Torture Garden

One of the hottest topics in contemporary performance criticism- that is to say, the subject that most often is inflicted on my decreasing circle of friends after a glass of wine- is the division between "performance" and "art".  The National Theatre of Scotland's recent Wall of Death provoked a discussion about the definition of the "play", while cabaret frequently blurs the line between dance and tottering around on high heels a few sizes too large. While the deliberate switch to a performance rather than theatre section in The Skinny managed to escape the general discussion and announce another victory for my intellectual laziness, certain events still arrive that test my boundaries.

Dr Sketchy is a fine example. Inspired by the burlesque revival some years ago, it combines cabaret performances and life-drawing. Another is Torture Garden, an elegantly curated event that mixes clubbing, the fetish scene and cabaret. Club Noir and Confusion is Sex are other liminal events: night-club or burlesque extravanganza? I can't begin to say how delighted I am that Club Noir has muddied the waters by teaming up with Scottish Opera, while Sketchy and Torture Garden are united in this Sunday's Arches afternoon of fetish art and artistry.

Torture Garden's arrival in Edinburgh- a collaboration between Dee Itsy and the London core TG team- heralded a new alliance. The Autumn Ball was dominated by familiar faces of Scottish cabaret, and for the July special, a confident step has been made towards a harder, Live Art edge. Dominic Johnson, who is as comfortable in a three hour durational endurance test as he is in a night-club, and the indomitable Empress Stah- the last time I saw her perform, my companion dropped his ambition to become a ballet dancer and ran away to join the circus- are joining Daiquiri Dusk, The Frayed Knot and host Joe Black before crossing the M8 to pose for the assembled artists at Glasgow's Dr Sketchy.

Sketchy Glasgow is curated by the theatre and cabaret company Rhymes with Purple, and already confuses at least three boundaries: community art (the audience are mostly artists, with the odd theatre critic loitering uncomfortably), cabaret (the models perform their routines before being drawn) and visual art (aside from the loitering critic, who appears to be writing poetry in his big black book, the audience are all hard at work with charcoal, water-colours and pencils). Throwing a few of the most famous artists associated with the fetish scene leaves me floundering for a description, although cross-platform or multi-media might work as a quick fix.

By linking up with Torture Garden, RWP are pushing the limits of the Sketchy format- this special edition has a cornucopia of exotic delights, as well as the traditional banter of Rufus and Ben. It offers a safe place to explore the pleasures of the TG aesthetic, and will have the added humour of watching a certain critic nurse his post-night clubbing hangover.