Publication by Forest Fringe
Presented at Fierce Festival, 2013
Review by Maggie Gray
On a few occasions, bored of walking through a familiar neighbourhood, I’ve tried to imagine the road as if I were a tourist, newly arrived. It’s a good, if odd, way of passing the time, and also of finding time for places whose charm has been eroded away by too many routine footsteps. So the introduction to Paper Stages, a small publication put together by Forest Fringe, struck a familiar chord. The ‘festival disguised as a book’ gathers together instructions by 18 artists for self-led performances in everyday spaces, that invite you to look again at your surroundings:
To imagine the world differently
To see something that wasn’t there before
Or something that was always there
But you hadn’t ever noticed
Suggestions of how to do this range from Georgie Grace’s succinct escapist collage, which invites you to imagine a world beyond your immediate situation (‘Know nothing about your life… drift halfway across the lake… behave like air’) to Abigail Moffatt’s elaborate recipe for a ‘Seaside Bake Off’, which requires a paddling pool, 762 litres of warm water, 70 teaspoons of salt, a deckchair and a wind generator, among other things (‘Prep time: 20 minutes - 2 days dependent on immediacy of ingredients’). Victoria Melody’s suggestion that you let your dog lead the way next time you take it out is a fun echo of Klee’s definition of a line (a dot going for a walk), while Action Hero’s ‘House Music’ encourages you to discover the percussive potential of household chores and includes the ‘Scherzo for shower and shower cap’ (‘make the water dance on your shower cap’) and the ‘sonata for an electric toothbrush’ (a childhood favourite).
‘Play’ features heavily in the book, in the childhood as well as the performance sense of the term. Writing the recipe for Fun, constructing a makeshift sundial (Abigail Conway), or indulging in a bit of point-scoring I-Spy (Helen Stratford) all look back to the improvisatory, serious silliness of growing up and learning. It’s the soft side of what Diana Damian has called Forest Fringe’s ‘gentle protest’ against the restrictions that can settle over adult life - society’s bureaucratic impositions, and with them daily routine, habits, and a congealing and unquestioning personal sense of ‘how things work’. At the sharper end are works such as Shaun C Badham’s, which collusively suggests you text a given number for the username and password to a Facebook account, where you can read George Maciunas’ anti-establishment manifesto of 1963 and ‘consider your next move.’
On the whole the book is less a call to arms than an invitation to collaborate. The act of reading may be an individual experience, as are some of the performances, but the reader can only obtain a copy of Paper Stages by volunteering an hour of their time at the festival, and within the texts are links to websites and photo albums, phone numbers, facebook and twitter, which introduce an extended, remotely-organised community. The format of the book - which flits between instruction manual, recipe book, poetry, collage and prose - takes down some of the barriers between the author and the reader, who gets a sense of the rough drafts and experimentation behind each project, and, like an actor given a script, shares in the anticipation of seeing the idea through to its final, performed conclusion.
Paper Stages originated at the Edinburgh Fringe, one of those places where the rule-book is habitually thrown out the window, and the publication itself was a problem-solving exercise, something that had to be experimental or nothing: Forest Fringe were uprooted from their Edinburgh venue (Bristo Hall) in 2011 when the building closed, and had to find a new way of staging themselves. Their paper solution, unanchored and happily adrift, has quickly moved outside its original context. Not dependent on a particular space, the book is free to propose little interventions anywhere the performer happens to be; reminders of how flexible spaces can be when expectations and regulations are lifted, and how much we routinely neglect their potential.
As a format, the published performance feels new, and full of possibility at a time when increasing numbers of artists, curators and critics are exploring ways in which language can contribute to artistic practice instead of catching up with it after the event. The best works in the book recognise language as a performance in itself, with a central, imaginative role to play. Andy Field’s ‘Commutism’ is billed as a set of plays to perform on public transport for the beneficial bemusement of other passengers. If you were able to deliver the scenarios with deadpan sincerity (reconstructing a torn up £5 note using Sellotape on the tube; chasing a bus frantically but then glumly refusing to get on) they’d act as haunting little hiccups on the daily commute, but Field’s plays are more than suggestions for future events. They are beautiful reads, small vignettes of poignant absurdity that are as vivid and well-observed when read, imagined and stashed away in your pocket, as they might become on the tube carriage, staged for real.