Unfix Festival 2019 @ CCA, Glasgow

UNFIX festival's focus on ecological issues unearths a whole host of subject matter, from middle age magic to modern hate

Live Review by Eliza Gearty and Roisin O'Brien | 10 Apr 2019
  • Shrimp Dance

Hell is Empty by Ruaridh Law (★★★★) 

Alchemy: in the simplest terms, it's the process used in the Middle Ages to try to transform ordinary materials into gold. It was associated with magic because the scientific process seemed so mysterious at the time – how could such dull, base materials be transmuted into something so beautiful?

It’s an excellent process to apply to the modern-day internet, which is what Paisley-based artist Ruaridh Law does in this audiovisual installation and performance piece. We're presented with the feeds of two websites: Brietbart and Westmonster. At first, they resemble the familiar format of any webpage, with headlines, images, tags and captions. But, by converting code into audio and breaking down the visual imagery of the sites, Law gradually reduces them to swirling masses of pixels, blocks and scratchy, jarring noise – data in its rawest form. 

Law’s aim is to take the "content, code and graphics of the lowest-common, cultural denominator" – the alt-right news sites – and to "break them down" into something beautiful, or at least more palatable. There's something uncannily fascinating about watching Law chip away at all that hate in live time, and then build musical and visual patterns that are somewhat strange and beautiful. It's an uncomfortable experience, but not completely devoid of hope – the piece suggests that anything we as humans create, including a culture of division and fear, can be destroyed and rebuilt, too. [Eliza Gearty]

Seidrkona: Electro-Acoustic Shamanic Death Ritual by Verónica Mota (★★) 

In this performance piece, Berlin-based sound artist Verónica Mota enacts her version of a Shamanic Death Ritual, a ceremony that's usually associated with cleansing and rebirth and is used here as a desperate cry for change in a dying world. The musical element of the show is brilliant – the soundtrack is full of piercing electronica, and Mota’s a powerful drummer, locking eyes with audience members intensely as she bangs her shamanic drum. But the performance itself leaves much to be desired. 

Mota relies on clothing and props to create atmosphere, wearing a black latex mask (rather than the traditional Shamanic model) and dark clothing to create a spooky aura. However, the piece lacks the interesting creative choices and interpretations of ritual that are needed to really captivate an audience. An interesting concept, but ultimately a piece with potential that seems only partially realised. [EG]

SHRIMP DANCE by Paul Michael Henry (★★★★)

This performance is that often rare instance of a multi-disciplinary production that feels organically fused together with a unifying aesthetic. Painted in the white body paint of a Butoh performer, Paul Michael Henry moves compulsively, his hands grasping or almost typing, while at other points he rises up on to his toes before collapsing. The body cannot lie, and Henry attacks the challenge of moving with uncompromising intention with rigour.

Henry is accompanied by musician Jer Reid on droning electric guitar and live visuals from Jamie Wardrop. Projections move between organic and inorganic, between waterfalls and the tile-lined pool Henry is seen submerging himself in. A piece about depression, medication and our effect on the environment, it’s a loud yet nonetheless meditative piece of theatre. [Roisin O'Brien]

The Dark Mountain Project Double Bill by Dougie Strang and Charlotte Du Cann (★★★)

Opening with a complex narrative of Cretan myths, Du Cann’s oration is sometimes uncertain in its delivery and what it wants from its audience – are we to be entranced spectators or responsive contributors? In the second half, Strang invites the audience to creatively respond to climate change using the first four stages of grief. While there is initial hesitation in the switch to participation, Strang (and Du Cann) prove exceptionally receptive and encouraging. How this would fare in, say, a more corporate setting is tantalisingly intriguing for possible future performances. [RO'B]

A Recipe for Planters Punch by Alberta Whittle (★★★★)

A stand-out on the programme, Alberta Whittle's show features a set covered in dollar bills, with video projections of the sea and the Royal Family. Whittle instructs us without a please or smile to get up and make Planters Punch with her.

She invades the audience’s space, plunging her face in the drink and singing Rihanna (‘Pay me what you owe me’, she intones). A taut work that cleverly excavates the issue of colonial debt. UNFIX Festival is urgent in its call, and diverse in its responses; it would do well to be seen further afield. [RO'B]

UNFIX Festival @ CCA, Glasgow, run ended