Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Toke

Fred Butler, never knowingly underdressed.

Last week psychedelic hotpot Fred Butler asked me to contribute an image of my most treasured ornaments for her hit blog, and like any good cosmic collaborator I did so. See the results (amongst selections from a slew of other glitter fiends) here. Plus there's a new hit picture of yours truly by photograher du jour, Marcello.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Knock! Knock!

Tonight I had the pleasure of being installed in one of Marianne Vlaschits' pieces at the private view of her joint exhibition (with Eric Holmes) Knock! Knock!

I spent a few hours, fairly drunk, as a nymph inside Marianne's cartoonishly (homo)erotic baroque grotto - part R. Crumb, part Carlone. I flirted with the gallery attendees, pondering my very own being (perhaps inspired by the Heidegger I've been reading) and chatted with Marianne, earning myself one of her paintings in the process.

And that my friends is officially the end of my Summer.








Pictures by Marcello

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't Just Stand There


Earlier this year I was in Manchester with producer Earl Dax for a gig with my disco alterego ALEXANDER, at a party Earl was curating. We had a fairly interesting time of it, including a Sunday afternoon stroll which was documented by style blogger Charlotte Gush and which has now turned up on the Vogue website. The shirt and tie are from Burberry Prorsum years ago, and the football shorts are my little brothers. Sadly I left them in a bush in Warsaw last month - literally heartbroken.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Golden Years

UPDATE: As promised here is a video overview (including interview with myself and Jordan) of week two at Tete a Tete, the hit opera festival.

Tête à Tête - The Opera Festival 2010 - Week 2 review from Bill Bankes-Jones on Vimeo.



Here's a rather avant-guard edit of a bootleg video of the show.




And here's a review from nobody's favorite weekly,
The Stage
. Yes, really.

"In Jordan Hunt and JohnJoseph Bibby’s straightforwardly comic Golden Years, aging soprano Lavinia Greengarden - effectively Hyacinth Bouquet cast as a parochial opera starlet - has a violent intolerance of pre-show bonbons, causing her apparently to pop her clogs just before a crucial performance for the local light opera society in the presence of the local arts-funding tsarina. At the last minute, Lavinia’s faithful friend Toots Mulholland is thrust into the limelight, later joined in a triumphant duo as Lavinia recovers. Jordan Hunt sets the quick-fire text with skill, taking Britten as his benchmark. While in some ways unambitious, the piece is well executed and genuinely, if lightly, entertaining."

Gee thanks guys.

Sarah Kershaw as Toots Mulholland and Katherine Broderick as Lavinia Greengarden

My hit libretto "Golden Years" finally got what it deserved, a full staging at the Tete a Tete festival. The masterpiece that I created with composer/performer/biohazard Jordan Hunt, had been shown previously in a horribly butchered form, but this time it really shone - in the way that only an operetta about grandmothers eating too many dolly mixtures and feeling a little queer can. And here's the evidence, as seen by Claire Shovelton.

Olivia Duque as Nora Queensway

Working on this project, in a directorial capacity was a very new, very different challenge for me. We had very little time, and obviously absolutely no resources. Luckily we were given rehearsal space (in a primary school, which I thought was most fitting) and we had a cast of absolute gems to work with in Sarah Kershaw, Katherine Broderick, Olivia Duque, Karen O'Novak and Jordan Hunt himself. Not only were the performers beautiful singers, actresses and musicians, but they were a total delight to work with, accommodating, inventive, flexible, diligent.

If I'm honest I didn't expect to enjoy directing, I am horribly impatient and can barely watch a show without deconstructing it, let alone sitting through the same show for four days! However, I quickly became enamored of the process, the capacity to oversee the piece from such a point of objectivity I had never been able to hold when putting together work which I was to perform. In the director's role one becomes a sort of fixer upper of disjointed movements and unclear stage dressings, and it's super exciting to spot those problems and know that you can fix them.

I was nervous to begin with but the cast showed such a charming confidence in what I was doing, that, even though they are by far more experienced in this type of production than I am, I felt totally capable of saying what I really thought should happen. No bruised egos, no demanding divas, just dedication and professionalism regardless of the almost total lack of financial remuneration, and in spite of the fact that really the whole piece is ever so slightly absurd.

Toots and Lavinia with Jordan Hunt as Jeremy Patent-Leather

Of course the whole project was so markedly different from the show I'd been performing in myself this month ("Underclass Hero"), and I think that contrast was probably very helpful in dealing with the post-show fall out. Moving onto something light hearted and fun, after such a dark, heavy piece was a good way to regain equilibrium.

Jeremy and Toots bring it home

Tete a Tete were also very helpful, as were the staff at the Riverside Studios, and as always Jordan was marvelously prescient in his multi-tasking. There was a lovely family feel to it all by the time the show was actually on the stage for the first time, and dashing about to get Sarah's pre-show Dutch courage, or having a last minute sprinkle of talc on someone's wig, I felt really a part of something. Watching the show both nights I thought to myself how lucky I was to have this experience, to watch what I'd written float off into orbit like that. It was one of those occasions when one can hardly believe that this is actually one's own life. There's now talk of this piece going to a very prestigious venue (like, the most prestigious) this Autumn, and if that happens I'll probably die laughing.

Hit photographer Claire Shovelton with the hit composer and the hit librettist.

There's an interview and footage coming soon, so stay posted for that lover.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Only Kylie knows how I feel

Hello Lovers,
As if my hit show "Underclass Hero" and hit opera "Golden Years" wasn't enough for one month, I'll also be doing all of this later this month.

Edinburgh Fringe with Eat Your Heart Out Aug 19-22nd
Look here: EYHO

EROTIC at the Barbican on Aug 26th
Look here: Barbican

And the private view of a show from Berlin's STYX Gallery Aug 27th
Look here: STYX

Literally, put yourself in my place, I dare you.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coffure et chapeau.

I'm working in the medium of new hats and hairdos right now. Here are some highlights.





Scotee and Kate


Promotional images from Scottee's Cognitive (2010)

Well now, it has been a busy old week of buying handbags and drinking rose martinis on roof terraces around London, but fear not lover, I've been bearing witness to art in the interim. As part of the RVT's Hot August Fringe performance protagonist Scottee presented a new one-on-one installation occurrence called "Cognitive", in which the (singular) audience member is invited into a recreation of Scottee's teenage unconscious, lovingly (and rather minimally) staged in the upstairs bedroom of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern itself.



Stills from a performance of Cognitive.

The room has something of a dream quality to it, painted as it is entirely white, with accents of looped white handwriting (the kind of text junior school children call "joined up" writing") sharpied on the walls. Being apparently alone in the room before the performance begins is both a calm and sinister moment. In the corner is a bare white bed, stripped and without linens. Scottee emerges, part chyrsalis, part amorphous Croenenburg shape shifter, from the folds of the somewhat grubby duvet, to the mellow sounds of the Mamas and The Papas, the first of several nostalgic musical pieces which soundtrack the performance. The image, in its off-whiteness, is reminiscent of both Tracey Emin's "My Bed" and Benjamin Smoke's "Clean White Bed"; although this is a piece ostensibly about childhood reverie, there is no rose tinting, nothing of Bachelard about the poetics of this space. Instead what we have is a very intimate, strangely hallucinatory, unsanitized (though specifically shaped) exploration of that indescribable area, the waking dream. But it is also a thoroughly emotive examination of performance itself.

My Bed, Tracey Emin (1999)

The lone audience member watches Scottee in a mirror, for the most part the performance happens behind the viewer, giving the room an uncanny, psychologically dysphoric atmosphere, a sense of watching yourself being chased through a nightmare. And of course the audience member is actually , literally watching herself because her face is actually present in the mirror that presents the performance. The whole set up is one of dislocation, genuinely hypnotic, almost akin to the startled and confused rush to locate oneself felt upon the first encounter with that famous floating face behind the barmaid's head, in Manet's Bar at the Follie Berge.

Bar at the Follie Bergere, Edouard Manet (1882)

Cognitive requires the audience member to participate, not in a demanding or pressured way, but rather the intimacy of the situation, and the directness of Scottee's requests for secrets and white lies obliges one. There is a moment in the piece when Scottee and the audience member, sat next to each other, join together to stare at themselves and try to make themselves cry, all to the strains of Nina Simone singing "I love you Porgy." If it sounds a little sentimental, it is, but it's beautifully affecting, and this participant most certainly welled up. I was left with the feeling that I had vacated my body for a little while, it felt as though I'd finally succeeded in astral projection. It also made me muse on the meaning of performance. Who is the performer? When are they the performer? How does it change the performance when one performer (myself for example) becomes the audience? Performance is a nebulous thing, there are some qualifications as to what can be considered a work of art, and the extent of what is performance has some limits but, to quote Saki, "The trouble is that the limits are not always in the same place."

Likewise Kate Pelling's new video piece The Proxy Hypothesis takes a rather psychological slant on the topic of performing and perfromers and where the line between the two is drawn. Ms Pelling is, like Scottee, an omnipresence at the RVT, hosting the door, showing work, feeding back on the work of others, generally being a community participant. For this new work she has chosen five of the RVT's most loved performers, Ophelia Bitz, Fancy Chance, Nathan Evans, Michael Twaits and David Hoyle, and placed them individually, alone in a room with a camera and a microphone. Guess what they talk about? Themselves, and brilliantly.

David Hoyle in a still from Kate Pelling's The Proxy Hypothesis (2010)

They dissect their egos, their personae, their racial make-up and their roles as artists, often with great pathos. Burlesque dancer Fancy Chance exploring her status as a Korean-American is sweetly straight forward in her observations, and the near silence of cabaret chanteuse Ophelia Bitz, after discussing her on-stage/off-stage dichotomy, is disarmingly intimate. A lot of the magical introspection is down to Kate's smart editing, which leaves the viewer with the isolated performer for just long enough to start to feel their squirming boredom, but then jumps to moments of revelation and campy showing off, before it becomes tedious, and then back again for more awkward huffing, stammering, a bit of raving, a bit more tense silence and the occasional profound hiccup of genius, such as David Hoyle announcing: "When I'm not possessed I can feel very much like an empty husk, there's really no point to my existence, other than when I'm onstage."

Both The Proxy Hypothesis and Cognitive do strange and wonderful things to the notion of performer and performance. They are both intimate looks at the psychological processes that an artist works through when creating for the public's consumption and both of them fill us in on certain aspects of the performers backstory. In isolating her performers (all of whom come on camera as "themselves", somewhat if not entirely removed from their stage persona) in a room, alone with everybody so to speak, Kate Pelling creates a sort of mad house on camera, forcing her performers to stare into themselves and forcing us to watch them do so. And there is no escape, because the video is mesmerizing and deeply entrancing. It's a coincidental replication of the experience one has staring into the mirror and watching Scottee perform (alongside one) in his bedroom during Cognitive.

It's a probing, there's something most definitely existential about it, but charmingly cracked, quirkily dream like, undeiably druggy about both pieces, sort of like watching someone trip too hard and running to their bedroom and talk to the walls for hours, whilst you do your best to babysit them, from a safe distance. Of course, the unanswered question is, "can a performer ever not be a performer?" Is it in their DNA? Even when requested to come to a video shoot with no prepared material, without make-up, can a performer ever stop mugging? Will they always have an anecdote up their sleeves or a clever way to word a thought? The performers in Kate's video never quite seem sure if they are giving a performance, or just talking, or rather what's the difference, and the confusion leaks out into the realm of the audience too. Of course, if this isn't a performance are the audience actually just voyeurs? The meaning of what is performed changes what it means to view. Likewise when a performer is required to sit quietly through another artist's work(during which they are presented with their own reflection) can that performer ever lose their sense of performing? Perhaps I was performing the role of Engaged Audience Member #1 during Cognitive.

Can a person (any person, performer or politican) ever shake off the weight of being, the knowledge that they're always performing themselves? Can we ever just be? I think it's fair to say that living on fault lines of body/work, male/female, acknowledged artist/DSS payments makes a person more aware that they are performing at all times, that it's inescapable, I suppose the trick is not to let it drive you totally mad. If you have less of an awareness of yourself, if you believe that the body you are in, the clothes you are in, the life you are in are purely natural, unremarkable, and fixed then perhaps you are freed (somewhat) by that in-ness from regarding yourself, critically, from the outside, examining your existence once removed. I'm not entirely sure that this is a good thing to lack this strain of objectivity, though it maybe an easier thing, I've never really believed that ignorance is bliss. But I do think that it is one of the decided differences between people who perform (in situations framed as performances) and people who don't. And the attended body drama is just a bonus.

Nathan Evan's in a still from The Proxy Hypothesis

You can see Kate Pelling's The Proxy Hypothesis at her website http://www.katepelling.com/ whilst Cognitive by Scottee will return for more showings this Fall. See http://scottee.co.uk/ for more.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In Review



UPDATE: A second review added.

Here are the first reviews from the debut performance of my new hit show "Underclass Hero".

This is from theatre website remote goat

"La JohnJoseph: Underclass Sans Irony"

There was a small portion of the audience in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern at La JohnJoseph's show on Tuesday night, that were disrespectfully chattering for most of the hour. Probably leftovers, lost on their way out of the inane comedy acts that went on beforehand. But the several times I glanced around the room during the performance of Underclass Hero, the self-proclaimed 'Transdrogynous' performance artist's new full length solo work, at least 90% of faces were staring back with a look of - albeit slightly perplexed, almost puzzled - fierce concentration. I think they were searching for irony.

It must be said, La JohnJoseph is simply a bizarre creature to behold. You never quite know what you are looking at, the remarkable thing being that what you see seems to shift right before your eyes. You would swear he was a drag queen, and he was wearing a bit of sparkly eye make-up above his impossibly high cheekbones, but he was dressed in what looked like a bargain store tracksuit and trainers. His facial features are so naturally grandiose and expressive, in most contexts he could pass for a Grand middle-aged (or even older) woman, but there is a little boy hiding behind the long-lashed sleepy eyes. And it is certainly the tragicomic, if at times brutally blunt, portrait of a youngster that he tells in the meticulously crafted text of Underclass Hero.

The curiously focused looks of the audience I put down primarily to the mesmerising candour of La JJ's story, but also to the aforementioned lack of irony. Perhaps the only ironical elements to the work are a few sardonic snarls on the part of the storyteller, or the gender disorientation and expectation on the part of some, that they would be seeing a proper drag show. I guess a case could be made for there being some inherent contrast between Tina Turner's We Don't Need Another Hero, the statuesque opening number, and the bleak descriptions of council estate life that follow, but a close examination of the lyrics reveals this, like all of the other well-chosen numbers, to be pretty much straightforwardly illustrative of the hard-knock-yet-hopeful tale he tells.

The brave-faced and chipper way La JohnJoseph speaks of narrowly escaping being handed in to the Family Services office by his mother, like so much broken merchandise, commingles with the strains of Guns & Rose's Sweet Child O' Mine so poignantly that the song could have been written for the piece. During the bridge of another song, when he sits down in a gangly-teenager posture to the side of the stage, and watches a long string of spit unceremoniously slide out of his rouged lips onto the floor, its simply an effective way to emphasise how he felt the first time he was the victim of a hateful slur and gesture. Indeed, it is in these moments where he sort of gives up 'performing', that the piece is the most moving. A couple of times he disappears altogether, continuing his narration as a disembodied voice, a powerful metaphor for the adolescent invisibility upon which his performance art seems to be a direct assault.

Comparisons have been made between La JohnJoseph and Bowie and there is something to be said for that visually and perhaps vocally, but I am put more in mind of Johnny Cash - 'a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction' - or Bob Dylan, storytellers of legendary proportions, but who lack the ostentation of less intelligent counterparts. The piece does seem to be a written work first, diligently recited - at times as though he were reading off of the inside of his droopy eyelids - but oddly no less engaging for this. This is apparently a work-in-progress and he could use some work on the confidence of his delivery. On occasion I wanted to scream for him to just stand still and talk, instead of punctuating every second word with a gesture and nervously prowling around the stage. But the ornate poses he sometimes struck, the spell of which was often broken by throwaway shrugs, gave off a child-playing-in-his-mother's-clothes quality that sweetly suited the material. In all, you'll be hard pressed to find a more effective spinner of True Tales - '…entirely true (even the bits I made up)' as the programme boasts.

At the end, in an unnecessary and perfunctory attempt to neatly wrap up the themes of the piece, La JohnJoseph pays homage to a list of some of the stalwarts of post-Punk Queer performance art. Most of the artists he lists I've seen perform more than once, some of them many times. The pastiche and brassiness of his style I suppose owes a debt of influence to this group, and most of them are probably more polished and poised as performers, but I promise you, none of them is as honest.


This is from the esteemed cultural junkyard that is Loserville.

"LV was feeling pretty thirsty at this point, so we chugged down more of the good stuff and then made ourselves comfortable for the arrival of Liverpool’s own La JohnJoseph, whose Underclass Hero began with our transdrogynous (I can’t take credit for this word) titular starlet channelling Tina Turner from a table in the front row. Let it be said here and now that we just don’t hear “We Don’t Need Another Hero” anywhere near enough these days – any song that manages to squeeze in the lyric “all we want is life beyond the thunderdome” deserves undying admiration.

An hour later, as La JJ (ably supported throughout by The Desperate Housewives on keyboard and guitar) finished things off with a rousing rendition of Bowie’s “Heroes”, LV reflected on what had been a roller-coaster ride of emotions – there had been laughs, there had been quiet reflection, there had been an amusing segment where La JJ addressed the audience from the toilets. The rabble at the back, who chatted throughout, may not have noticed, but the RVT had just played host to a quite beautiful cabaret-monologue which not only erased the memory of Lembit Opik’s grinning mug, but also thoroughly distracted LV from the lure of the bar – this achievement can not be overstated!"




Images from the show by the one man creative industry that is Christopher Auf Der Sutton.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Inspiration


“Limited by the world, which I oppose, jagged by it, I shall be all the more handsome and sparkling as the angles which wound me and give me shape are more acute and the jagging more cruel.”

– Jean Genet, “The Thief’s Journal”