Sunday, June 29, 2008
The Darkside 03: Tom Marshman and Clare Thornton. Sunday 2nd December, 4 – 9pm, Arnolfini Theatre, FREE.
‘The Performance Re-enactment Society’
Tom Marshman and Clare Thornton have a mission - to breathe new life into performance archives through an evening of re-enactment and ‘tableau vivant’. Marshman and Thornton want to hear from ticket rippers, ushers, back-stage crew, box office staff - all those who help to create the magic on stage (and that includes the audience)! We salute the unsung heroes. We ask you to step out from the darkness and join in the fun of recreating a memorable performance moment - a moment that you have witnessed on stage, at Arnolfini or any other performance and music venue. We invite participants to remember or invent a favourite moment and to recreate it for a photograph. These images will be collated at the end of the event and added to the Arnolfini Archive.
We are dedicated to rendering your performance memories live once more. All welcome, come with your memories and we will provide the rest.
Things To Do With Books: A Do-It-Yourself Exhibition
Done any good books lately? As part of the show The Cover of a Book is the Beginning of a Journey, the Performance Re-enactment Society (PRS) invites you to take part in a series of enactments in response to the book works in the exhibition. Over five occasions they will carry out a selection of instruction-based works with you, realising other people’s art and creating original versions. Drop in or sign-up for this series of free events.
The Performance Re-enactment Society is an occasional collective of artists, archivists and researchers, who use documents and memories to revive past art experiences and create them anew. Their collaborative performance re-enactments are acts of conservation and transform past works into new events.
In its current constellation the PRS are Paul Clarke, Clare Thornton, Tom Marshman (all Arnolfini We Live Here Associate Artists), with participants and guests.
The Performance Re-enactment Society invites you to donate your performance memories - a specific moment from a live artwork that moved or inspired you as a spectator, made a deep impact on your practice, your thinking, your view of the world. The Society will draw on your memories to create a photographic installation and performance.
For The Pigs of Today are the Hams of Tomorrow we are initiating a work that necessitates the participation and physical contribution of delegates and the public. This symposium will gather together a regional, national and international body of practitioners, researchers, producers, curators, funders and audiences of performance art. Every delegate carries within them memories of performances experienced in days, months, years gone by. We want to make this embodied “archive” of performance memories publicly accessible. We will attempt to “capture and conserve” your memories and explore new ways in which to revive, document and collect personal recollections of live art events.
We would like you to focus in on a particular moment or image from a memorable performance. We’d like you to think about a physical object, article of clothing or prop that might help in the recreation of that moment, and where possible bring that element with you to the symposium.
Please email us in advance and tell us the name of the performance work, the artist, and the key physical element(s) that you will bring with you to the symposium. On your arrival at the symposium you will be invited to deposit this physical element with us and book in your performance memory appointment.
During the symposium we will attempt to re-stage with you tableaux of the high points from performance art history, held in our collective memory, and produce a series of new works to camera, original performance photographs. Your performance memory will be accessioned and donated to the Performance Re-enactment Society collection, from which the photographic exhibition Untitled Performance Stills and a responsive Exhibition Tour of Remembered Performances will be curated. We invite you to take the place of the performer, perhaps the performer you have admired or always wanted to be.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Places are limited and booking is essential. We look forward to hearing from you.
Clare Thornton, Tom Marshman, Paul Clarke
Performance Re-enactment Society
Here is our facebook group you can join
OPA 0.2 (on performance art) Re-Think/ Re-use/ Re-make: Propositions and Possibilities on contemporary performance art
Art-Athina, Athens, Thurs 21 May 2009
PRS will perform a score, a collage of pre-existing, pre-selected instructional actions. Drawing on seminal fluxus and fluxus inspired texts and scores we are interested in playful disruption, activation and participation through performance re-enactment.
“Books are not for repeated reading but should be used to do other things” Gilles Deleuze
On 7 March 2009 Juliet and Romeo will be performed by Tom Marshman and Clare Thornton, co-founders of the Performance Reenactment Society at the South London Gallery.
"The right to land: the ordinary landless man or woman's right to rent about an eighth of an acre of their own country for the purpose of growing some food..." Irene Evans Allotment Provision for the People
On Bristol's Golden Hill allotments, Tom Marshman explores the allotment plot as a performance space, putting a personal stamp on a shared community of skill and tradition. Keeping His Feet on the Ground continues Marshman's obsession with making the ordinary extraordinary and drawing magic from the everyday. Shows will take place for a limited audience of 20 over July, August and September, the performance changing as the seasons evolve.
"Tom's performance captivates - an understated charismatic soul he manages to propel between pathos and comedy - desolation and laughter resonate throughout" Live Art Magazine
A fairy tale amongst the lines of lettuces, pumpkin plants, September roses, cabbages and kings. Underneath the blanket of the earth steers a hidden land. The warm summer evenings disappear, the evenings draw in nightfall covers her coat over the land together with the autumn chill. The prisoners held captive by our queen for crimes against her thrown study what has grown well and what has struggled. They know the soil.
I remember sowing that very first magical bean, the backbreaking labour, the sweat the passing of time here. Summer closes down flowers dry up frost will soon come to leave only their traces and memories of me and the vegetables. I was placed in charge of this land in March; together we have learnt about growing, forever seasonally rethinking my allotment heart.
I know now if I ever go looking for my hearts desire again. I wont look any further than my own back yard because if isn’t there I never really lost it anyway.
Discussion subject: Mentoring process between Tom and Robert which was part of the process of tom making three pieces of work across six months
Tom – background
I’ve been making work for around the last eight years, often the work has been site specific and I’ve done work in allotments, disused offices, for example. The main idea I’ve been working with is transforming the mundane to the magical or making the ordinary extraordinary – ideas around that, highlighting spaces that are often taken for granted.
Robert - background
I am the artistic director of Pacitti Company. I trained as an artist and have been making performance work for about 15 years roughly, the work in the main happens in the main in theatres or performance spaces but I have worked site specifically and made work for galleries, screen and the Internet. This practise is worldwide and I’m also the artist director of Spill, a festival of performance for London.
Robert: the original idea for the body of work – can you outline, tom, where the original idea for the three pieces came from and what their relationship is?
Tom: partly it was I guess having too many ideas but the ideas all had something that linked them; I was interested in making work that used smell and memory and taste. And I was interested in getting the audience to have close proximity with these things. I started seeing them as a companion of work and I was interested in presenting them in a similar format, in a black box space with audience sat around the outside so that audiences could see them in relation to each other but also as separate works.
Robert – can you explain the titles of the three pieces? And its content?
Tom – first was called Her Bungalow heart and it was about my Nan’s bungalow where she lived for 35 years and last year she died and we went through the process of taking away all the stuff in the bungalow; it was stuff that no one really wanted but it still had an emotional connection for me. The second show was the seat of memory, which follows my experiences of working in department stores when I’m not involved in artistic endeavours I do promotional work in department stores and promote perfume. I guess it looked at my experience of that world. The third piece was kind of more an offering to other people around ideas of food and the emotional connection people have with food – that was called everybody’s kitchen. The whole body of work was entillted Everyones comapion to Life and Love.
Robert – what was the process of getting the work to this stage? You spend two years getting these pieces of work to the stage so what was the first process of that?
Tom – One of the first things that I did was submit an abstract proposal to new work network, a peer-led organisation for artists to exchange information they run a scheme called networked bodies where some money is made available through the organisation for pieces of work to be made and those pieces of work are selected through a voting system online, of members of the organisation.
Tom – there were around 60 abstract proposals – it was just 300 words – and through the website, members voted for ten pieces to be short listed and then the short listed ones, three of them got the money to realise the project. I was lucky enough to get the money for that.
Robert – was there anything else apart from the money that was useful to you in that process?
Tom – sure, yeah. It was really the discussion that I had with the members of the site and how people were perceiving those ideas. I talked about the work in terms or archiving the belongings of my Nan’s bungalow and there was much discussion about the work being some kind of cathartic experience for me. I thought I quite clearly wasn’t doing it for that but I guess there must have been an element of that which people picked up on.
Robert – I think something that came up a lot in Her Bungalow Heart was the tension around mourning the passing of someone that you have a strong relationship to and the role of sentimentality.
Tom – and I was playing with that and playing with a distance that I had from the material itself.
Robert – so you got the money from the new work network, what other making mechanisms kicked into place? What else facilitated the process?
Tom – well I guess one of the major ones were my discussions with Picture This and together we formulated the arts council proposal together. (Picture This are a moving image agency that work with artists who make film, Bristol-based.
Robert – and part of the project was to generate film materials as well as performance materials, right? Also there’s something political there that I picked up from you, form the earliest stage, around this tension between making ephemeral performance and putting every moment of your life into making that happen when you’re an artist and how quickly that is over, and for there to be some other way of catching those experiences and so this filmmaking, as much as it was another artistic generation of the ideas was also another strategy for documentation and archiving.
Robert – we’d known each other for some years before that, hadn’t we, through my work visiting Bristol and being at the Arnolfini in the main, and you being a local maker. We started that dialogue very informally, didn’t we? It was in one of those conversations with Helen Cole at Arnolfini you started to think about a potential relationship with me as a mentor, is that right? It feels important to me that we acknowledged that came about because you’d had access to my work in the city, through Arnolfini. There was also a relationship with art matrix that came about, specifically for the mentoring…
Tom – yeah, that’s right. When I saw the advert for the mentoring initiative it just fitted into place, really, because it was an initiative that seemed to have some longevity. I think that it was a very open initiative in the sense that I wasn’t being asked to make a piece of work; it was just about having a mentor to discuss ideas. Because I was working on this really structured piece of work – and a complicated project – it fitted in really nicely.
Robert – then Anna Lucas, the person you’ve collaborated on with the filmmaking, was she suggested through picture this?
Tom – she was, yes, and I knew her already socially and I’d seen a lot of her work and thought there was a sensibility within her work that was simmailiar to my approach.
Robert – so essentially there’s a very healthy support structure for people in Bristol, emerging new practice for work which is not traditional or narrative which is pushing on the edge of things, and which can be highly personal and politicised and is really exploring issues of form and content and that within the city you were able to put together through really hard graft a group of venue partners, producing partners, people who were going to support the film aspects and people who where going to help you broker a relationship with someone like me.
Tom – I feel quite privileged in the sense that I do work with Spaghetti Club and we do these events called three minute warning which are an opportunity to show three minute pieces, and we’ve done those all around the country and with that I really get the sense of the communities in different cities and how they operate and that makes me feel really privileged to be in Bristol and that means I can call on lots of favours from people and just have a continuing dialogue.
Robert – and that’s much harder in London…
Tom – I think in making and conceiving this project I was pretty much on my own, creatively, and despite Bristol being supportive place, the projects were still solo projects and I’ve worked with mentors before and I realised how great it is to have a sounding board and have someone to introduce you to new research tools and allowing you to have a time and space to remove yourself slightly from the piece.
Robert – I think its relevant as well that there’s some crossover between our practices; I work in a way which invests objects and situations between people with political and emotional readings, and that doesn’t always default to a narrative textual or explained route through work but rather is saying things about the way in which images being to accumulate – I think we share that.
Tom – I guess I’ve always seen life as elastic or as confusing, I guess, and I’ve seen that in your work. As an audience that’s not something that bothers me because the ambiguity is what interests and excites me.
Robert – As a mentor I too had had a mentor previously, Raymond Hoag, who has an extraordinary solo and now group practice, a German artist. And he had been Pina Bauches dramatist for 12 years so he knows a lot about how to put work together and the structure, and the construction and architecture of work. In terms of content what I really got from him was support of my structural methodology. I felt I could help you with some of that as well. So there were two other really key aspects as to why I felt I could assist. One was that some images from your work that I’d seen only video had stayed with me and I felt that that sense of resonance only remains effective on one if there is something really strong there so I always believed in that. That we could communicate on that level. And I also felt that from the way you present yourself, not within the work but the conditions around the work, that I could help you with some aspects of professional development and they were as much to do with confidence as practical stuff, like if you lay it out this way on the page, maybe you can achieve your goals more easily. So that’s why I came into the mix.
Tom – and that’s what you did!
Robert – We worked on three very ambitious, quite different pieces of work and those happened at my studio in London and also in Bristol and we spent some time in the Old Vic rehearsal room and I think that what happened is that we did the following:
You would always introduce ideas and that then we would have discussion around how you were researching those, and I would respond to that with suggested materials to consider, and also how you could unpack other areas of research. So from that very embryonic point with the works, - and they were different in each instance (in her Bungalow heart you literally turned up with a suitcase of your gram’s stuff and a whole load of ideas and bits of music that you wanted to use. For Ever bodies kitchen there were some ideas and some text. So we worked very differently in each instance but we would then spend time really dissecting all of the texts and then in part we even re-wrote some of them and I would ask you what the aims and objectives of those texts were and we would look at how they might hang in a larger piece and where text could be subsided because perhaps there was an image or another performing way to communicate that information.
Tom – I think a really good example of that one was when I came to show you some of the work I’d been making on the seat of memory and my complicated relationships with department stores and through those discussions I think you were really pushing me to voice my opinions on that, and all the stuff with the guilt, the sex and the money came from a sense of anger. That wasn’t there when I first turned up to see you.
Robert – I would say it was there when you turned up but without needing me to give you permission in any way for it, I think what I did was to help you have agency over it. And it’s hard when you’ve got a head full of images, and a deadline and some stuff, which you’ve put down on the page to be brave and take the next risk. I think we did some of that work together – I think I helped you take risks.
We also developed those images, once we’d discussed them and turned them upside down. And that was about the professional developing of them as ways to communicate with an audience. So an example of this is the cup and saucer that you worked with in her bungalow heart – we pushed and pushed that image and worked very hard on it and it became very resonant moment for you, in ways that you don’t ever have to tell people about that unless you want to. We talked about how you could take responsibility for the image and communicating it with the audience.
Tom – I think that was the point where I began to have much more confidence about expressing something that didn’t have to have a really clear narrative. I guess I felt it didn’t bother me that the audience might have been confused by that image directly, that there was a sense of ‘something’.
Robert – I think that’s really key, that we were able to work with difficult personal material, and that this relationship was a place were you could share that, and I could help you process that into images that became very loaded without necessary ‘describing’ themselves. This is why some of the images, which you make, have this extraordinary resonance about them because they’re very very layered.
We also talked about structures and dramaturgies. Once we’d got the texts and images and understood then we started to think about how they might fit together, and one of the things we talked about quite a bit was cycles of images and the way that an audience might encounter something and then they get more information, and then they encounter that thing again, and it’s shifted, albeit it in a repeat, it’s shifted in meaning. One of things I was delighted about in this process was your relationship to materials. So you started to use pearls from your nan and then in the second show they became polystyrene balls, and then in the third show they were back to pearls.
So this palate started to build up through the three pieces of work.
Tom – it was great to have those same tools that I was using, and to transform them into something else.
Robert – we also did some practical stuff together. I helped you shape texts for publicity and the programmes and just work out how you make the interface between the works and how you get people there, as strong as you could. That was when the professional development stuff started to kick in for me as well. Has that been useful?
Tom – specifically the programme notes I’ve always felt they are really important to the work and provide a context that is outside of it but vital at the same time.
Robert – one of the thing’s we’ve spoken about is the body within the frame and how images become framed or the text becomes framed. One of the things I’m aware you have developed over the past six months is an awareness of that frame before the work even starts, and how you have that dialogue with members of the public before they’re even sat in their chair. I think the three pieces have been consistent on that level. Do you think that’s going to be a useful way for you to take that forward in the future, to draw on those materials as well as the actual works themselves?
Tom – yes effeminately. Those are really clear things that I’ve learnt.
Robert – And another thing we did was we spoke about other people’s work, didn’t we? We spent time just chewing over the conditions of making work and other people’s work. I’ve been making work a bit longer than you and I have a company and that’s core funded so there’s just some ‘stuff’ there from being around a bit loner but that’s practical stuff. It’s been very shared and recriprocal to talk about work we’ve seen and how that adds to our own practices – that’s definitely something I’ve gotten back in this process. Also, your way of working and to roll my sleeves up and get stuck into these works without having the responsibility of performing in them has allowed me to reflect on areas where I might have done it differently, and why I might have done it differently, and maybe my way wasn’t the right way. I think that’s been really interesting as well, to have that space to reflect and observe and be passionate about supporting you but not be so passionate about the materials and the works themselves that I lost sight of the bigger picture, which quite often happens in my own practice. I become absorbed in it.
Tom – and I think you’ve been very generous in the way you’ve presented areas of research to me or books or stuff because you could have just used them for yourself!
Robert – well, I feel I’m in a particular place with regard to the business aspects of my company as much as I am in the art making aspect of my company and that is now, if you go off and do it better, then that deserves to be seen. If we work from the same text and you make something better it should be seen. I feel I have the confidence and momentum of my own practice and that allows me to feel very relaxed about the sharing of resources and materials and exchange. Even if you did exactly the same as I would do it, it would still be different.
And now the films have been made, what’s happening with them?
Tom – I have showed them at the Arnolfini in the dark studio in September and also in a show in Cardiff and the show is called Paradise. We’re just currently looking at spaces to show them, really, along with Picture This who are helping me.
Robert – and now you’ve made the three live works and they’ve all been performed twice, and they were all full, do you have plans to show them again? Would you show them as three individual pieces? Is there one piece that will emerge? Do you see them as research or are they work that you see as done and you’re now going to move onto something else?
Tom – I still see them as three pieces and I’m interested to know what would happen if I made them into one piece but I want to keep them as separate ones.
Robert – are they a three-act show?
Tom – Could be. I think I’m still processing that, really. But I am very keen to show them again.
Robert – for the process of wrapping up the mentoring process, what have you learnt?
Tom – I’ve learnt some of the practical things that we’ve talked about. I think I’ve just gained confidence, really. Gained confidence in the sense of presenting images that are confusing or ambiguous and I’ve learned to say ‘yeah, that’s what I’m doing’, make of it what you will. There’s definitely been that sense of putting some kind of political voice within my work, which in previous works I guess I haven’t explored so much. I feel all work is political but I’ve just moved it a bit further.
Robert – yes, I think that’s really evident.
Robert – You had various written responses from people who had seen the works. In one of these responses, Helen Cole from the Arnolfini wrote to you ‘as Tom enters this new phase in his professional life I would like to make a further plea that he keeps the chaotic liveness in his work. Learn the text by all means but remember the life in the words you’ve written the reality in the words you conjure up and that we are really here with you, watching you falter and triumph.
One of things we worked on a lot was this issue of performing texts confidently, and I have to say that I really agree with Helen on this. There really is something edgy about the way you deliver texts. How do you feel about that now, having gone through this mentoring process, and us talking about trying to find technical ways to make the text right and then perhaps choosing to ignore it and then just delivering them in any way, on how you feel in the moment but knowing you can draw on that technique if you want to. Where are you with that?
Tom – I feel that when I deliver text I want to get it right. I think that’s all I need to think, really. Because I know I will falter and people find that interesting – that’s just me. I have that strange quality when I deliver text.
I think it’s also useful to say that it’s been valuable to come to London to discuss the works because it’s just given me a sense of distance as well as something to work towards.
Robert – one final thing I’d like to say for the record: I think you’ve behaved and presented your work and been available to show you work to me much more professionally than many salaried people within the arts. We’ve had an instance with someone else where you weren’t’ treated particularly brilliantly and I was able to intervene in that moment. What I would like you to take away from that moment is that they didn’t act in a particularly professional way and you quite naturally do. I think that’s something you should put in your pocket. I would like to end with one last question: did you get enough money for this project and is your ideal situation for how you work next in Bristol and nationally – are you able to carry on working with the resources that you had?
Tom: No, I guess not, really. In terms of past work I have been giving much more funding for this project and that’s allowed me more time to develop the work but it’s a real struggle and my time is now so chaotic, about how much stuff to fit into the day and that’s because I’m having to do temping stuff again.
Robert – for me we’ve made a lot of headway together and you have made an extraordinary amount of headway within your practice, in terms of content, form and professional development and it would be a terrible pity if you weren’t now assisted in applying it.
Her life followed a pretty steady pattern: work, marriage, children and housekeeping.
This predictability, its very ordinariness, appeals to and fascinates me. Nan lived in her bungalow for thirty-five years, and so it became her personality displayed.
Yet in later life when illness befell her, this domestic environment became skewed, reflecting a shift in her state of mind.
The bungalow was sold just over a year ago. I often think of sitting on top of Ram Hill, attempting to make contact with it: wondering could I do this through semaphore? Could this be my way to say Goodbye and Goodnight to the past?
Her Bungalow Heart is about how space can become intricately entwined with personality - assembled with much care and attention over many years, only to become dissolved and disseminated later. But whilst the physical stuff may get taken, the stories and memories remain.
Here are some responses from
• Helen cole, Producer at Arnolfini.
• Kira 0’Reilly Artist
• Simon Jones Artistic Director of Bodies in Flight and Lecture at Bristol University Dept of Drama.
Tom Marshman’s Her Bungalow Heart, Before and On and On
There is no doubt that Tom Marshman is a sensitive soul. The world through Tom’s eyes is mostly a safe and playful place. From his very early work he has taken joy in simple, domestic details. When I think of him, I think of the mantra of the Good Housekeeping Manual, the planting of cabbages, a shared plate of biscuits and a well pressed suit, all backed by a well-chosen Barbara Streisand track and a faltering, funny dance. It also has to be said that Tom, the performer, is always impeccably turned out.
Yet beyond this reassuring niceness and familiarity, I have always sensed a strangeness, an otherness that ensures we leave Tom’s work just a little unsettled despite the good vibe. A fascination with snails reproductive processes, the force feeding of a raspberry pavlova or a hilarious, but inexplicable, obsession with a lonely postbox called Patty who can’t find love. In Tom’s new work, Her Bungalow Heart, darkness and anxiety are beginning to emerge further, creeping from beneath the flock wallpaper and lace curtains. Derek The Head has an incurable brain disease conjured by a tightly tied bandage around Tom’s head. Like the old ladies who gather to gossip in his Gran’s front room, Tom does not dwell on this darkness but even so, the suburban tragedy of Derek sears its way through his new work.
Her Bungalow Heart tells the story of an old lady’s passing. On the surface it is both comforting and familiar, this is, after all, exactly how things should be. An old lady dies of a ripe age, her life fully lived. Her family, in particular her grandson, all mourn her passing but things inevitably must move on. It is in Tom’s text, his film and in his selection of carefully placed objects that darkness once more emerges, hinting at the old lady’s fragility as her house starts to fade alongside her whilst her friends slowly die off. In the film he wanders through his grannies house, drinking from her teacup and sitting in the seat where she once sat. The most effective moment in the film is when Tom is captured through the window wandering the small, neat garden outside. He looks into the house but does not enter, as if the bricks and mortar have already closed up and moved on without him. Tom must leave bringing with him a collection of the old lady’s possessions and clothing, all objects her fingers once touched.
Since his early attempts at performance, a survey carried out on the fields of Ashton Court Festival asking people what they have lost, Tom’s work has told of ordinary people, of repetitive days and comforting familiarity and in Her Bungalow Heart also, he remains the magpie conjuror collecting mundane objects and stories of loss. However, in this new show these objects are lent an extra poignancy commemorating a life that is now all done. A souvenir from a seaside holiday, a dried flower picture and three empty moneyboxes, all hint at the memories they have briefly captured, now rendered meaningless by the owners passing.
Tom’s work has frequently been peppered with beautiful and at times breathtaking images. He has sat atop a garden shed as the sun sets behind him, planted a dancer in a red velvet dress up to her waist in soil amongst the runner beans of his allotment and serenaded us with a choir of whistlers. However, in her Bungalow Heart he shows he has also learned a subtle approach to image making where text may falter or hammer the idea home.
This lighter touch can be seen in the image of the old lady’s abandoned blue carpet slipper filled with brass tacks and in the ghost of her brightly coloured polyester clothing hanging empty from the rafters above our heads. These moments and others resonate with anxiety. What happens if you don’t fit in this comfortable suburban world? What happens if you are left alone with no family to care for you in old age? What does your life mean if there is no one to remember or mourn you when you are gone? What did happen to Derek The Head?
Despite this new sophistication there are also disappointments in this new work. As we enter, Tom is repetitively skipping, creating a metaphor for endurance and a strong, healthy, beating heart. Later he lies under a table covered in an embroidered cloth. A lamb’s heart sits in a china cup on the table. As he pulls the cloth towards him, I hope he will keep going, just keep pulling it towards him until it falls from the table, breaking the cup as the heart hits his own in an image of death and life. Unfortunately he does not do this, but inexplicably stops before the cup falls from the table thus retreating from one of the pivotal images in the show.
As Tom’s confidence in his own performance grows, so does his ambition and ability to challenge himself. Her Bungalow Heart is in many ways more technically and theatrically accomplished than his previous works. His past performance style has to date been characterised by a contradictory combination of eloquently poetic stories delivered hesitantly as he stumbles with his words. The result has proved both chaotic and charismatic as he weaves stories of the real lives of himself and others. I would like to make a personal plea here. Tom, your world is not made up of certainty but a mixture of stability and anxiety and your best performances perfectly represent this too. It is in your rawness as you trip on your lines and miss the odd cue that our hearts go out to you as we share your universal stories that remain so deeply real and personal and hence difficult to hear or tell.
Tom’s performances are full of humour and determination. He has a performance body he is struggling to keep under control: words to memorise, timings to keep to, dance moves to make. In Tom’s work there is always the possibility that things might go wrong. It is in the development of this very particular performance style that I believe Tom has begun to uncover an authentic and original voice. As he falters and questions, it feels to the audience that he is really putting himself on the line. When I say this I have in mind Adrian Heathfield’s text about Tommy Cooper and the unbearable, at times unwatchable failure of his tricks. As Tommy’s body sweats, leaks and giggles, we don’t care that he is a bad magician. We revel in the virtuosity of his perfect comic timing and his hopeless good cheer. Her Bungalow Heart has been described by others as ‘actorly’ and I know that this will have concerned Tom a lot. Is actorly a bad thing or good when the story you are telling is a personal one of death and loss? Here I do think the distance created by self-conciously learned lines mean we have lost a bit of you.
As Tom enters this new phase in his professional life I would like to make a further plea that he keeps the chaotic liveness in his work. Learn the text by all means but remember the life in the words you have written, the reality in the memories you conjure and that we really are here with you, watching you falter and triumph. This you deserve.
I wore a big turquoise ring when I came to see your show.
It was given to me by my uncle Rex following the memorial mass of its wearer
Jojo or as I knew her, granny Jojo – my paternal grand mother. Its a great
big smashing ring that I have worn for many a year, its frequently been
admired. Jojo could wear a full compliment of such like knuckle dusters, I
wore just the one.
Following Her Bungalow Heart the lights came up and the stone form the ring
fell out of it’s fitting and broke in two.
The jovial announcement to tea and biscuits was in a voice that was relaxed
and perhaps relived, full of a kind of mischief that I sensed was in the
performance that we had just seen but maybe couldn’t necessarily emerge.
The scratchiness of the patterned dresses the distance of social niceties.
The cupped heart and brick on chest sprang like a nightmare. Since then in
my minds eye I have played with the image swapping the brick for the
bungalow on your chest. The heart beating. In the bungalow. The cup of heart
being mildly squeezed thought the e sleeve of the dresses and their
The texts worked cahrms and like a charm were not only charming but
No wonder my ring broke.
The breaking pearls triggered me through a trap door and down a rabbit hole
to another image of pearls glistening and breaking, Ron Athey’s Solar Anus
and the moment when he takes a cane with a canny hook on its end to pull a
string of lady pearls from his anus, and the pearls string breaking leaving
who knows how many stuck inside him.
Lady pearls and lady likeness, and fighting patterns.
I couldn’t see the monitor very well, I was sitting in the wrong place to
see it right, so I had a sense of another space that was being played out
but only as an inference. The memory spaces being excavated on the stage
held a stronger kaleidoscopic presence. Scale was a delight as you played
with the toys.
What was around your chest?
I held distracted discussions with myself as to what it was before becoming
too involved with the rhythmic beat of the skip. Such a compelling action.
The person assisting you was in shadow and became another presence for me. I
couldn’t figure a way to not mind that there was this other person, not
seen, not acknowledged who facilitated changes, exchanges and transitions.
I loved the smoking chimney. I wondered if incense with its smells strong
associations of eastern culture and so on was the most useful as it made me
think of sari shops and stuff. Perhaps that was ok but for me small is so,
so specific that I wondered if there was something that could do the trick
but conjure a more accurate olfactory trigger.
Nelly Morris lived in a caravan behind our house when we were kids. Her
place was a nicotine palace. Yellow. The caravan rumour had it, was Robert
Mitcham’s dressing room when he was in Ireland filming David Lean’s Ryan’s
Daughter. She wouldn’t live in the house. She would cut the rinds of rashers
to chase us with a old woman dirty, dirty cackle and played scabble with a
fag in mouth and an eye for a rude word that would horrify my granny, not
Jojo but the maternal one – Dot.
I can still smell the caravan; it was nicotine and boil in the bag fish. Old
I think you were quite nervous that first night but performed well and with
tenderness. I suspect that you could allow yourself to inhabit your material
more, very much including your texts, the writing is strong and wonderful
and you can kind of relish it, allow it to vibrate as the images need to, to
not be in too much of a hurry, to allow its innate timing and rhythmical
structures to give you pause, to be confident in your confiding.
Because there was a sense of the confiding, of a layer being prised away and
some interior being revealed before tea and biscuits.
What I particularly liked was the attitude you were taking to the spoken
text. there was a sort of problematic engagement with it, a kind of looking
askance, that meant that you seemed to be questioning every statement even
as you said it. this is particularly powerful in a piece about biography,
since there's always a tendency in such works to reference the past or
memory or people's actual experience as final and inconvertible. you
didn't do this: and maybe this is something that could be enhanced, so that
the text always comes at the audience with some kind of framing. for
example, you could make more of the contrast between that uncertain
attitude and the presentational style with the mic that you adopt later. we
automatically read that as having a kind of fakeness, a showmanship - and
that framing would work nicely against the other kind, since you are
juxtaposing personal reminiscence with iconic film-texts.
against this textual uncertainty and fakeness, the moment with the brick on
the heart, as a physical and "incarnated" gesture, works very well, is
powerful and conveys a connection with the past, however difficult to
describe, is direct and somehow unquestioning. in this way, i think you're
able to both question and access your material "evidence" from the past -
and that's a very dynamic and rich combination.
as regards the texts, you maybe might want to look at other kinds of
histories. for instance, more local history, photographs etc, might enrich
the piece, though i can see that you might not want to get too
as regards staging, i would have accentuated the connection to the table.
maybe had a bare stage, and you setting up the table, and had the images on
tv somehow spatially focused on table, eg on it/ underneath it. so there's
a stronger focus on "materializing" the past in the present performative
Tom Marshman’s work celebrates the domestic, frequently utilising everyday objects to explore what is often taken for granted. Interested in how memory affects consciousness, Tom’s practice is research based and process lead. His new trilogy Everyone’s companion to life and Love offers three new works which magnify parochial experience, in order for the artist to reflect larger universal themes. Everybody’s Kitchen [the third part] investigates the emotional investment we place in the things we eat. What feelings are evoked? Where do they take you? Tom Marshman offers you a lick the spoon.
A land flowing with milk and honey – Exodus
Tom Marshman serves himself up on a bed of cutlery. This is the beginning of a generous ritual of sharing in which Marshman oscillates between dinner party host and priest of the table.
There is a fulsome ambiguity to Marshman’s presence: educator in the finer points of the digestive system; immersed sensual consumer; and our representative as he swallows ‘the prawn that poisons you’, an act which is the gateway of the performance, the gear change to something modestly mythic. In the row in front of me, younger members of the audience were shivering with the giggles, testimony that they had been lured into uncertain sweet and sour space.
Tit bits are paraded; poignancy, regret and allergy are cooked up. The opportunity for the knickerbocker glory is gone now. We are nibbling in the ’salad bar of broken dreams’ Crushed Nice biscuits are transformed into a desert of disappointment. Marshman waits, the lonely shaman, for his microwave to ping, and then ends with a glorious conjuring of the twin pillars of wisdom as, with whisk and kettle, he makes two columns of flour rise to the theatre’s roof - a fabulous climax to an accessible and hospitable ritual.
For the past four years - when not engaged in artistic pursuits - I have worked in department stores, launching new fragrances and working to promote particular perfumes. This industry inspired The Seat of Memory.
When I walk through a department a store I see all the things I can’t have.
I am swept away by the romance of the surroundings, and imagine sharing my life with the desirable objects on proud display. In truth, my head knows my life would still be the same, but still heart says something different.
The Seat of Memory explores the department store as a site for regret, disappointment and love lost.
The Invitation by Tom Marshman
12 / 04 / 08
Tom Marshman’s onstage presence, alone behind the microphone, has a remarkable duality: at once the man is striking, commanding without being actorly, deft without seeming choreographed; but at the same time, his tall, willowy frame is not completely the centre of events. In The Invitation he is the vessel for memories, stories from an older generation. He is in the service of tales from the war, anecdotes of parents long gone, a giddy night at the Savoy, a leisurely country walk. As he delivers these recollections Marshman somehow defocuses himself, his outline blurring and his voice becoming more distant, a voice neither his own nor of the original source, but instead somewhere in between. Somewhere new.
But first, very first, he holds an hourglass with its sands quickening, and facing us steps back through five pools of fading light, reciting the words to a sentimental song we all know. I remember the artist Franko B at a talk in this very auditorium several months back, and to paraphrase, he said: “People don’t have an issue with anyone putting their depression on stage. But if you put your sentimentality on stage, it’s strange, people have much more of a problem.” So I search for the part of me that has a problem with Windmills Of Your Mind, I find the switch, I flick it to ‘off’, and suddenly everything is fine. Cheesy? Certainly. Inappropriate? Hell, no.
It’s a few days later, and it’s Tom and I, and it’s a coffee in a café. Tom tells of how he introduced groups of senior citizens to his practice, of the workshops where they tuned in – remarkably quickly – to the artistic methods he’s cultivated over the years: of the contemplation of a given object leading to a narrative, leading to an action. Take the simplest and most unremarkable of stories about the laying out of neckties on a bed. Onstage, it becomes a slow crawl back from the audience with a wake of silk and multicoloured cotton spreading from Marshman’s fists like a giant fan. “When I performed it, the woman who gave me that memory, she was sat right next to the ties. It was funny. It was just co-incidence, but the fabric was right next to her feet. She couldn’t have been closer.” He is very concerned to do these memories justice. And it makes me wonder: what will I remember? What must it be like, to see the slightest of reminiscences made flesh, a flashing of the synapses crystallized on stage? How did Tom decide what form they would take? “There’s already a musicality to them,” he says, “The stories have been told so many times. They’re like routines.”
Marshman sketches five or six stories onto tracing paper, using wax crayons. He fills in the cord on a telephone, a railway line, a clutch of champagne flutes. Laid on top of each other, the filigree papers form an impressionist cross-section of slowly receding images; enlarged and projected onto the wall behind the performer, they flicker – part faulty television, part cataract. Crystalline, but far from crystal clear.
“I suppose people must have kept filling my glass, and I just kept drinking and drinking.” The flurry and bustle of a party at a posh London hotel; bottled inside someone’s head, kept over decades and decanted by Marshman in the form of one simple action: the spinning of a flapper’s party frock on an otherwise empty clothes rail, which the performer twirls around himself with increasing velocity, its castor wheels rising light-headedly from the floor now and then. Marshman has made shows about perfume in the past. This moment has a base note of quiet recollection, a middle note of guilty regret, and the molecules of the top notes are those of immense joy and fun, fizzing quickly and dissipating faster than the rest. Yep, that’s right – it smells like champagne.
When Marshman delivers Edward VIII’s resignation speech, he does it in his usual modulations, almost monotone, kicking against a couple of notes either side of where his voice most comfortably rests; but all the same, I still hear Edward Fox. The speech is just too familiar. “It was a recurring theme amongst that generation, everyone remembers it,” Tom says over coffee. “Funnily enough, when I start that speech, people sometimes think it’s me, addressing the audience. ‘At long last I am able to say a few words of my own’…!”
“I don’t know if it was his strongest show”, I say to my girlfriend on the way home from The Invitation. But moments later I realise that’s not what I mean. In the past we’ve seen Marshman strolling off into the sunset at the end of his allotment triptych – suitcase in hand, trilby perched on head. We’ve seen his exposed behind embossed by cutlery, we’ve watched him disembowelling a feather pillow in order to pull a pristine purple plum from its innards. We’ve seen him grin like a loon on top of a slow-mo bucking bronco. But what did we see him do in The Invitation? You could argue that we didn’t see Tom do anything: rather, we saw lots of other people, offstage, off-camera, doing and saying things via Tom. It is his strongest work yet, and the subtle beauty of The Invitation is that, as a show about memory, it sits best in the memory, a catalyst for future recollection. Even now, I have it… underwear made out of a WWII parachute. Yatton to Cheddar, over the footbridge. Memories like folds of the brain: a crystal bowl that meant so much more than a crystal bowl, but “it’s just a crystal bowl.”
Why do people of my grandparent’s generation sound so different when captured on tape? What is it that makes their tones so identifiable? It’s not just the wistful crack of their ageing vocal chords – it’s something less superficial than that. Maybe it’s because they can remember a time before voicemail, dictaphones and home recording; a time before it was assumed you’d know the sound of your own words coming back at you. Now and then during The Invitation, playback of their tales breezes between the auditorium speakers, fragmentary, quiet, conversational. The entire performance ends with laughter. Communal laughter, whooping, hooting, louder and louder, the type of exhilarating laughter that’s simply overjoyed with itself. “I didn’t want it to be just about the past,” says Tom, “That’s why I ended the piece with a future memory, the itinerary for a holiday put together by two of the ladies.”
Finishing his coffee, Tom says “You know that story about her getting drunk and spending all night on the floor of the ladies loos? I thought of doing that. And maybe filming it.”
And at the close, Marshman quietly leaves the stage, sitting alongside the rest of the audience (which this afternoon includes many of the original storytellers, on the front row, some unexpectedly close to their memories.) Images appear on the screen, portraits of the people whose stories Marshman has framed, scored and sketched. It’s here at the end that we see the starting point for each branch of the show, the objects themselves. The bits of wood, lumps of crystal, the postcards and clothes, the lovely detritus that has somehow clung to these smiling folks. And I go home, and I open up an old chocolate box on top of my vinyl collection. It’s jam packed full of sugar cubes collected by my paternal Grandma, from all over Yorkshire and all over the world. After her funeral my Dad had clumped down the stairs, shown it to the gathered family, and said: “What the bloody hell are we going to do with these?” And I think: Tom would know.
The Invitation is inspired by the memories and stories of older people in response to my earlier trilogy of performance work Everyone's Companion to Life & Love. Over the past year, myself and my facilitator Clare Thornton have toured the trilogy for older adult groups who have little or no experience of this kind of performance work. The Invitation is the result of these meetings where many memories and stories were shared.
Within the work, I knit together some of the fascinating and rich stores from the memory banks of the participants. The show re-examines and remembers the abdication speech of the king, a childhood journey on the strawberry line, a debutante lying drunk on the floor of the Savoy and explores the possibility of what can happen when parachutes are remade into blouses.
The show’s research and development methods are socially engaged and share a similar ethos within community engaged projects and participatory practices. The performance strategies that are employed are postmodern and come from an experiential theatre and live art trajectory.
Following a number of forays over recent months where he has been found around Arnolfini in a sailor costume, Marshman will set out to saturate his life with all things sailory. A companion piece to last year’s Finding my Inner Cowboy, Tom and some new sailor friends will be taking boat trips, scrubbing the decks, recreating battles, making rum cocktails and of course getting a tattoo. Somewhere late and in the city, he will reveal his new identity especially for Mayfest.
I fall in love with someone or some place every single day, and now I’m here, back on my father land, I look out to sea and I see this cruel mistress and remember remembering the smell of the land, I peer through port halls, of memories and I try to look beyond, past the sea and yearn for another dry patch, a place to be my port in any kind of storm .........
Oh for the twenty four hours of leave, where the city is presented as a unanswered question, full of possibilities, a place to make an instant impressions, a place to fall in love with over night, a place to live and to die within the space of a single day, twenty four hours of leave.
This shifting home, these shifting sequences of detachments could not hold regrets or compassions of any kind. Just the promise of a new day as I wake up in the arms of a new town.
Now, a toast to the places and the people and the things we said, the things we did. My heart it stands still on the crest of a wave. And once again I’m thrust into an ocean of goodbyes, a sea of yesterdays lies carry me into a no-man’s land with not a glimpse of land , just the big deep blue. No strings, just the drift.
In the darkest of nights, you know where to find me, on the helm of the boat, not looking out but looking up, into the sky at night. Lying on my back, I am transported upwards I try to grasp the shiftings in atmospheres, try to acclimatise to the changes as I rise upwards into the heavens and prepare to make contact .
Looking upwards at the stars makes me feel closer to you. You are the people and the places I have travelled to and I see you once again in the brightness of the stars. The sparkling, shining, gleaming, glistening, glittering, flickering light seems to whisper hello sailor goodbye heart.
Confused about the manly codes of etiquette he struggles on, in search of enlightenment. Follow his progress as he takes up various cowboy pursuits from bucking broncos to learning to lasso in this intimate, funny and wonderfully offbeat piece.
The piece is a ‘research project’ where I present my findings of living my life as a cowboy during the month of May. The various activities that I have been involved in range from riding a bucking bronco, learning to lasso, line dancing to sliding whisky tumblers down bars. The piece is a mix of visual images and text derived from real life incidences during my month of research to more poetic narratives for example the break down of the relationship between a cowboy and a spaceman due to the differing views on ‘the land’ and how it should be used. The film projections show the activities, from becoming a rodeo to making friends with the cows.
The piece sits between a lecture presentation and a movement piece. The theme is light and playful but scratch the surface and deeper political themes emerge. In the piece I comment on my struggle with traditional assumptions of masculinity through my explorations of finding numerous cowboy personas, in turn these question ideas of sexuality and gender. In Finding My Inner Cowboy the iconic cowboy landscape is used as a metaphor for an emotional state. Through becoming the cowboy the land becomes a place that I must choice to use as an endless resource and not just passively admire.