SOCIETY

Care & Destruction of a Childhood // Lemn Sissay

Where does one start with an energy like Lemn Sissay’s? Lemn appears on stage and immediately builds a rapport with the audience as only he can. Lemn takes us on an intensely personal journey full of humour and poignancy. I have been privileged to have heard many people speak about the care system, and it is indeed a privilege to listen to his thoughts and experiences.

Sissay’s story begins in 1966 when his mother came to England from Ethiopia whilst pregnant. As a single mother, she was sent to Lancashire to give birth to Lemn, who was then promptly placed into foster care in order for his mother to complete her studies in Berkshire. Lemn goes on to say that he was given the name ‘Norman’ and placed into the foster care of a white English family. “Norman?” he asks, “Do I look like a Norman?”. I feel stunned. He is talking of a system that is trying to take away his identity, his name, his culture, his background, his people. This is what that feels like.

Lemn is at pains to stress that to foster a child is amongst the greatest acts of humanity, and that his story should not deter from that. It is, after all, his story he is telling and no one else’s. Intertwined throughout his talk are profound observations like “Dysfunction is at the heart of all functioning families”. It takes a moment for that statement to truly sink in, but it makes complete and perfect sense.

Although it is the story of his journey, there are also life lessons. He talks of the need for people to be kind to themselves, to try and forgive, for it is only through forgiveness that Lemn has found redemption and a certain closure. I leave the auditorium reflecting on Lemn’s journey and what he has to say, and although there are moments where one feels dismay at the social care system, it is also a story of hope and never giving up on dreams and aspirations. Inspirational!

- Amar Hussein

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Lemn Sissay

Lemn Sissay (Profile) - Guardian

The Emperor’s Watchmaker (Lemn Sissay Blog)

Lemn Sissay: Why Does Society Hate Young People in Care? - The Big Issue

Poet sets out to help young care leavers - Channel 4 News

Who's Afraid of Ideology? (part 1) // Marwa Arsanios

A woman is standing in the middle of a valley, a brown landscape of mountains and rocks. She walks towards the camera and starts to talk. The camera retreats, slowly and continuously, keeping her in frame as we listen to her voice. But something seems to be off. The movement of her lips doesn’t match the voice we hear. There is a kind of displacement, something that we still cannot fully understand. By disconnecting the voice from the body in the image, Marwa Arsanios seems to suggest that we need to slow down a bit, to escape immediacy, to pay attention and listen carefully. 

The body will be later replaced by landscapes. Snowy mountains from elsewhere. The words reverberate in that space, and when they come back to us, they seemed to be charged with something else. The connections are there but we need to jump into a space of contemplation and reflection in order to find them. It’s as if it’s not necessary to find answers, but to inhabit the questions in-between the silence and the landscape. 

The film is built from material - images, interviews, conversations and thoughts - collected by Arsanios during a period in which she stayed with the Autonomous Women's Movement in Rojava in northern Iraq. It presents a series of stories and reflections that are linked to the experience of the Kurdish people’s resistance, and to the relationship between ecology and feminism within it. 

To think about ecology, especially about an ecological consciousness developed within the frame of war, makes me think about the very idea of protection, and the spaces of protection that we have left, or believe that we do. A later voice talks about a common understanding of the liberal system, that individuals and groups must surrender the means of protection to the State. The State, therefore, has the monopoly of violence as the only one authorized to exercise it. It reinforces that the use of force is most frequently a tool for the maintenance and the support of the established geometries of power. That is still constituted today by the definition of the bodies that must live and of those who can die, an idea that the philosopher Achille Mbeme has developed under the concept of necropolitics. 

When the state no longer defends us, what kind of strategies can we use in order to defend ourselves? Where do we flee and where could we find protection when the experience of life itself cannot be separated from the mediation of the state? 

The idea of protection as a right granted to a citizen of a certain state becomes especially problematic when the very notion of nation-state is falling apart, and if we take into consideration the huge amounts of individuals that are continuously pushed out of this system. In the same way, the idea of peace, or of living in peace, has become a strategy of governance in the systems that we live in. To live in peace means not only that we should surrender the fight but also to accept the conflict that is imposed on us by others. This dynamic might also be what allows the transfer of violence to the red zone of the world, far away from the centers of power. Violence became then a distant idea, something that happens outside of the safety of the west, making invisible the mechanisms of control that operate or our societies.

When the idea of peace became a strategy to govern bodies within certain geographies, how can we understand resistance and radicality? Is it possible to operate under a different paradigm? 

A voice from the screen talks about how the state works to break the relationship of the individual with nature, as the only possible way to legitimise its power. And I’m led to think that this is no longer just about safety or protection, but about the individual's ability to establish relationships of survival without the State as their intermediary: “existence is based on the ability to defend yourself”.

Who is afraid of ideology? opens space for us think about ecology, not only in relation to nature, but in the very set of relations that individuals establish with all their surroundings, with communities, knowledge and territories. And the question that remains is, as artists and individuals, how can we learn from the experiences of those who live in different communities, under different paradigms, to build strategies of resistance? When difference is continuously threatened, can art still be a space of protection?

- Túlio Rosa

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Who’s Afraid of Ideology? Ecofeminist Practices Between Internationalism and Globalism - E-Flux Journal

Kdo se boji ideologije? / Who is afraid of Ideology?

Thinking Projects - Marwa Arsanios

NECROPOLITICS - Warwick University

21 Pornographies // Mette Ingvartsen

The performance pivots on a body harsh in the light, with power, sex and violence evoked through the calm narration of decadent sexuality. Dukes, kings and magistrates taking part in an orgy of privilege are slowly revealed through a slow drip of context, delivered by the artist in a measured storyteller’s tone. Ingvartsen orients the audience within the geography of the narrative. The room within her description is layered over the top of the one we sit in. Watching quietly becomes participation and culpability, a rehearsal of our own participation in the desiring looks that run under the societies we walk through. It reveals our acceptance of sexualised interactions and of abuse used as a plot point, and the fictionalisation of experiences that are a reality to thousands across the world.  It raises the unequal dynamics of power at play in who gets to see and who gets to be seen as a sexual being.

Part of a series of choreographies (the ‘Red Pieces’) that explore sexuality, Ingvartsen draws those listening into the decadence she narrates. But this storytelling continually contrasts against the fierce and sudden use of movement. Ingvartsen barks like a dog through swift image flashes, unsettling the conventions of interaction with the audience set up moments before. Bare skin glows under naked strip light, and smoke, strobe and dance provide a parallel narrative to the text the artist recites. Occasionally aligning but rarely exact, the significance of the movement is one that builds to question looking itself through the brightness of light. Watching the body spin becomes impossible to sustain, forcing the audience to look away as their eyes involuntarily close against the glare. Noise explodes forth without warning to disrupt the passive listening to stories of sexual atrocity.

The dissonant combination of text and movement requires careful attention to the questions it asks. The piece offers no solution or remedy but stages and makes explicit the tension within the display of the body in a culture of desiring looks.

     Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Mette Ingvartsen - 21 Pornographies

Mette Ingvartsen - Delving into Dance

The Voice of the StorytellerThe New York Times

Sex, Health and Society - The Conversation

The Representation of Women in Advertising - AdAge

Wretched // Richard Stott

Richard Stott’s stand-up show documents his experiences as an actor with a disability. Born with Poland syndrome, a condition that resulted in an underdevelopment of his hand and chest, he recounts his experience of existing in an awkward position between identifying as disabled and not due to his ‘non-conformist left hand’. Re-enacting the misguided attention of casting agents and directors, his jokes orbit the fallibility of arbitrary labels, and the grim irony of his position. Once told that he was too young to play Richard III, it was nevertheless acceptable for a marginally older actor to adopt a clawed hand in the role. One incongruity with the character’s body as written was acceptable, whilst the other was not.

Stott’s performance traces the shifting attitudes to disability through the prism of the experience of a performer, from the Ancient Greece through the Victorian era to his own today. Drawing on a memory from a holiday in Athens, Stott asks what his potential as an actor in the Theatre of Dionysus might have been. He asks if he would have been able to perform, or thrown from the rocks in the distance as an ‘imperfect’ specimen. Or would he have participated in the Victorian freak show, making money from his difference? Is it better to hide his disability or engage with it?

The question of disabled actors and disabled roles is one that periodically emerges in high-profile public debate. Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Hanks and Sam Clafin have all engaged in this ‘disability drag’, as Roger Ebert once put it, to extended protest and debate. The ‘shortcut to an Oscar’ route for playing disabled characters is a cliché, and is now at least questioned when it emerges. The other side of this coin, the stereotyping of the disabled actors, within the work they are able to secure, is equally problematic. The pressure to resist poorly written characters that correspond to a disability is a dilemma within an ultra-competitive casting climate, where any work is to be treasured. Those who manage to negotiate this, are few and far between. Even disabled actors at the peak of their fame still face this difficult negotiation, as Peter Dinklage has attested to. Diversity quotas are a blunt instrument, and as Stott observes, it is one that often leaves actors like him, with a disability but not particularly disabled, in the moral dilemma of grasping the opportunity or denying the work.

-       Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Wretched - Richard Stott

Actor Has Fingers Replaced With ToesHuffington Post

Poland Syndrome - Genetics Home Reference

Disability Drag - Roger Ebert

Peter Dinklage on Choosing Roles Carefully - The Talks

Mobile / Paper Birds Theatre Company

Mobile / Paper Birds Theatre Company

Mobile marks the second installment of Paper Birds Theatre Company’s trilogy on social identity. Performed in a disused caravan before an audience of nine, the play aims to explore the emotional ambivalence caused by social mobility. After a brief, somewhat awkward ‘name game’ on deck chairs outside, the guests are invited in, offered biscuits and other hospitalities while our host gives us an overview of her situation. Her story is a familiar one: after the abrupt termination of a long term relationship, she finds herself without a flat to live in or a safety net to catch her. She is forced to return home. Perhaps in attempt to salvage some sense of progress, she shuns her mother’s actual home in preference for the caravan instead. 

MOBILE / Paper Birds Theatre Company

MOBILE / Paper Birds Theatre Company

Mobile marks the second installment of Paper Birds Theatre Company’s trilogy on social identity. Performed in a disused caravan before an audience of nine, the play aims to explore the emotional ambivalence caused by social mobility. After a brief, somewhat awkward ‘name game’ on deck chairs outside, the guests are invited in, offered biscuits and other hospitalities while our host gives us an overview of her situation. Her story is a familiar one: after the abrupt termination of a long term relationship, she finds herself without a flat to live in or a safety net to catch her. She is forced to return home. Perhaps in attempt to salvage some sense of progress, she shuns her mother’s actual home in preference for the caravan instead. 

DROPPED / Gobsmacked Theatre Company

DROPPED / Gobsmacked Theatre Company

It’s an irony as old as time. Women may be seen as fit subjects for every conceivable violence, but they are not suitable for fight in war. From recent conflicts in Iraq, Afganistan and elsewhere, women's roles in the armed forces seem to extend little past the 2D. Physical, mental, societal violence is fit and fair game. But for a woman to fight in times of conflict has, until very recently, been seen as a frightening or morally disgusting transgression.  

SPILL: A VERBATIM SHOW ABOUT SEX / Propolis Theatre

SPILL: A VERBATIM SHOW ABOUT SEX / Propolis Theatre

Verbatim theatre may have its limitations, but as a way of meshing together oral histories and competing testimonies it has an effectiveness that ‘conventional’ theatre and performance can be more leaden in conveying. 

A DREAM OF DYING / Fake Escape Theatre

A DREAM OF DYING / Fake Escape Theatre

Life is just a matter of appropriate planning. A good life is a well ordered life. The fullest life is the most neatly divided life. Birth, school (“with outstanding grades”), a lucrative job, a beautiful wife, a spacious suburban house, grinning suburban children, early retirement, grinning suburban grandchildren, a cheerful death and a well peopled funeral. It’s so simple, so simply broken down.

GENERATION ZERO / Lamphouse Theatre

GENERATION ZERO / Lamphouse Theatre

In a world increasingly mediated and sustained through ever more subtle technologies, it seems appropriate that the protagonists of Generation Zero meet through an online dating app. Their blossoming romance develops through a particular set of millennial anxieties and rituals. The strife at an unresponded message with a read receipt, the bonding over twee children's literature, the small unfoldings of mutual appreciations and desires.

 

COSMIC SURGERY / Alma Haser

COSMIC SURGERY / Alma Haser

Our modern Western perception of the world drives us to divide lines and shapes into two great antithetical groups; on the one hand, the curved lines and on the other, the straight ones. If the former instinctively recall an idea of organic unity, of a living and genuine shape, the latter can not but suggest the regularity programmed by humans, i.e. artificiality. 

BUBBLE SCHMEISIS / Nick Cassenbaum

BUBBLE SCHMEISIS / Nick Cassenbaum

Cultural identity is made out of little, everyday things, just as the character of a neighbourhood is made up of the everyday rather than the exceptional. The best sign of gentrification in London’s East End isn’t the Cereal Killer Café, but the slow closure of its greasy spoons and corner shops and their replacement with more Pret A Mangers. Nick Cassenbaum’s performance is about Jewish identity, and the self-care ritual of the Schvitz, an intergenerational steam bath that unfolds as a psychogeographic narrative of the Jewish East End. It has orbiting interests of personal, urban and cultural history, and through them questions the identities of individuals, groups and cities.

CAMILLE / Kamila Klamut

CAMILLE / Kamila Klamut

History has painted Camille Claudin as 'Rodin's tragic lover' - a muse-turned-artist-turned-asylum patient, desperate and alone. But although her 10 year love affair with the master of French sculpture has defined her, she's increasingly recognised as an artist in her own right: the 70th anniversary of her death was marked with asignificant retrospective of her work at the Rodin Museum.

5 OUT OF 10 MEN / Deep Diving Ensemble

5 OUT OF 10 MEN / Deep Diving Ensemble

Male suicide is at epidemic proportions, the leading cause of death for men between 20 and 34 in England and Wales, an undiscussed wave of futile waste. Like mental health provisions across the UK, support for young men has been eroded, and the new societies of the 21st century have less use for the strong, silent and stoic men still lionised by those who advocate ‘traditional values’ and roles.

LIFTED / Triad Pictures

LIFTED / Triad Pictures

The recent terror attacks in France and Belgium, have assured that Islamophobia is on the rise but it’s Fife that proves the culture battleground for Lifted. Ikram Gilani plays drug dealing secular Scottish Muslim Anwar with humor and intensity and the small hot stage at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall makes the audience genuinely feel part of Anwar's interrogation by invisible forces at Glenrothes Police Station.

BLUSH / Snuff Box Theatre

BLUSH / Snuff Box Theatre

The raw emotions on display in Blush are the primal responses to those whose lives have been detrimentally affected by pornography. Five candid stories address porn addiction, revenge porn, seeking approval and validation through porn, and as the characters and voices change, it’s apparent they are all defined by exposure to porn.

TWO MAN SHOW / RashDash

TWO MAN SHOW / RashDash

There is a crisis in masculinity. Men can no longer be bearded, belching monsters, retreating to their man-caves at the merest whiff of emotion. Women are in charge now, and men now have to stop solving problems with their fists. They have talk to each other. They have to have feelings, damn it.