The Bear Pit @ Focal Point Gallery
Focal Point Gallery’s new exhibition ‘The Bear Pit’:
21 July to 19 September 2015
Designed by Focal Point Gallery
Curated by Grand Union, Birmingham; Outpost, Norwich; Mexico, Leeds
This summer Focal Point Gallery presents an ambitious new project for Gallery 1. ‘The Bear Pit’ is a purpose-built installation, which simultaneously operates as both studio and exhibiting space. Visitors are restricted to a raised gantry which surrounds and creates a viewing point for an enclosed area below. Three artist-run spaces from around the UK have been invited to curate a programme of events, exhibitions or residencies for a period of three weeks each (details below).
The design for the construction is drawn from a student facility at Middlesex University, which was formerly based in an old industrial building in Wood Green, London, during the late 1990s. Nicknamed for its formal resemblance to the 19th century bear enclosures in parks and zoos, the space consisted of a series of raised walkways over a studio and performance area. This intimidating environment reinforced an intense interaction between audience and performer, shifting the power relationship more typically assumed.
This exploration of the conjuncture between institution, audience and artist will be further unpacked through Focal Point Gallery’s
installation, which will also provide access to the developmental stage of the projects – inviting viewers to observe development,
rehearsals and set-up from the gantry. A live-feed from the space will be displayed on the external Public Screen in Elmer Square, adjacent to the gallery.
‘The Bear Pit’ programme:
Slot 1: 20 July to 8 August
Grand Union, Birmingham: Residency | Alice Theobald
Performance: Saturday 8 August, 6.00pm to 8.00pm
During her three week residency in ‘The Bear Pit’, Alice Theobald will draw from research on ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’ a term coined by critic Martin Esslin in a 1960 essay. The term references a style of theatre associated with the work of a group of playwrights in the late 1950s, which cohered with philosopher Albert Camus’ existentialist view that the human situation is essentially absurd in its struggle to find purpose and to control its fate.
For Theobald’s project in Southend-on-Sea, the locality becomes a source of material and inspiration, while ‘The Bear Pit’ itself emerges as a site for experimentation, process, and performance. The space will simultaneously host the production and ‘the production’ itself. This paradox is relished, denying a sense of finality or ‘end product’ while, at the same time, presenting and playing itself out as something staged and worthy of observation. Plot will be eliminated through the use of dislocated language, word-play, clichés and repetitions allowing potential for a timeless, nonsense and circular quality to emerge.
The project will continue Alice Theobald’s interest in live performance, video, installation and music as a means to actively explore the division between stage and life, alongside the discrepancy between expression, appearance and feeling. Borrowing from the vocabulary of cinema, television, theatre, literature and musical scores, Theobald is interested in the make-up and construction of performance, the challenges of acting and the blurring of character creation on and off ‘stage’. Questions of representation, manipulation, sincerity and genuine behaviour circulate the action. Layered wordplay, gesture, repetition and double-entendres accumulate to multi-faceted compositions, which reflect and loop back on themselves – becoming slippery, tragicomic truths about relationships, everyday life and typically introspective paranoia and doubts.
Slot 2: 10 August to 29 August
OUTPOST, Norwich: Residency | Lucky Dragons ’Our Sun And The True Sun’
Performance: Saturday 22 August, 6.00pm to 8.00pm
Lucky Dragons’ three-week residency at Focal Point Gallery will make use of The Bear Pit as an experimental site for the study of long distance communication, co-location, and time-shifting. Streaming images, sound, and language in an array of feedback loops across a variety of scales, Fischbeck and Rara will open a direct channel of communication between Southend-on-Sea and Los Angeles, as well as testing out new forms of exchange between audience and performers within the gallery itself. Layers of live and delayed transmissions accumulated during the first half of the residency—video chats, webcam feeds, radio broadcasts, audio loops, etc—will be presented as unstable documents of uncertain origin, culminating in a focused performance that explores our sense of simultaneity, being-together, and common frames of reference across physical and temporal distance.
Following the performance, collected material will be translated, stored, and made apparent as residual effects: delayed sounds return, analyzed and re-synthesized; video images, converted to electricity through photovoltaic cells, begin again as generative patterns of light. Forms of display, performance, and interactivity will be found through on-site experimentation, taking shape, breaking down, and recombining over the course of the residency.
Slot 3: 1 September to 19 September
M-E-X-I-C-O, Leeds: Residency | ‘Zero Moments of Truth’ Inc. Jennifer Chan and Jaakko Pallasvuo
Performance: Saturday 19 September, 6.00pm to 8.00pm
‘Zero Moment of Truth’, a marketing term, refers to the behaviour of potential customers who have a question, need or interest. This moment is followed by the customer undertaking a period of research, comparison and awareness, as a means to decide upon which action may next be taken. ‘The First Moment of Truth’ is the point at which a product is purchased, or a decision made.
Being ‘interested’ in something positions us between these two points. A half-knowledge, initiated by curiosity, is sustained through indecision, non-commitment or dissatisfaction with the options.
For their residency at Focal Point Gallery, MEXICO will develop their current method of programming to investigate the points at which something becomes ‘interesting’, and the activity which satiates that moment. At what points can we plot our investment in something peaking and troughing? Why should interest be converted into another action?
A group of artists, including Jennifer Chan and Jaakko Pallasvuo, who have consistently been referred to throughout Mexico’s activity, although not directly shown before, will contribute to a series of works which will change over the duration of ‘The Bear Pit’ residency. Alongside this, a further group of artists and producers will act as a wider research group, feeding into the project remotely with material, opinions and ideas.
Focal Point Gallery address is: Elmer Ave, Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS1 1NB / 01702 534108