Essays

Said & Done

May, 2014

 

Cally Spooner, ‘He’s in a Great Place!’ (A film trailer for And You Were Wonderful, On Stage), 2014. As part of BMW Tate Live: Performance Room, Tate Modern. Photo: Oliver Cowling for Tate Photography. Image courtesy of Tate and the artist.

 

I’m on the ground floor of the rotunda, surrounded by a small clan of singing women. They look like cyborgs in their silver latex, and sound like them too, as they sing an engineered language of bits and bytes. The chorus-line makes verbal gestures from the balcony, like plinthless, oral sculptures, singing in the moment, improvising an edifice of female noise. The Edouardo Paolozzi sculpture that is parked behind the CNN redhead shakes with their cries.

I think of the poet Ariana Reines’s 2009 play Telephone, an adaptation of Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book (1989), in which two inventors look to change the world with a wire. ‘Speech is silver, silence is golden,’ the computerized voice of the play’s promo trailer commands. The critical text, too, clings on, after the echo: ‘There is no off switch to the technological,’ Ronell writes in the preface, under the subheading ‘A User’s Manual’. It is a title that could just as easily be applied to Spooner’s year-long project that began at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in April 2013, before being adapted according to cast and space: KW Institute in Berlin was next; then Performa 13, New York; and now here, at Tate Britain. Although Spooner wrote the libretto, the music was composed by Peter Joslyn and developed by a group of six singers who have performed the musical in each location – the chorus line changing with each city.

I drink tea with the London performers during rehearsals: we’re sat in a circle and everyone introduces themselves. Lisa has just moved to London from Wales: ‘I’m a struggling artist,’ she tells Spooner: ‘You’re successful; I’m struggling.’ Sue is a management consultant specializing in airline it. Rebecca gets the biggest cheer: she was in Eastenders. Spooner’s role is as organizational as Sue’s, as she workshops the libretto at each location, and at other events in between. The open rehearsal at Wysing Arts Centre, and the four-day artist’s talk at Arnolfini in Bristol, during which Spooner produced and distributed images from the musical, reveals the work being done backstage – the annotations, the conversations and the herbal tea – to be as much a part of the work as the live performance.

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